The weekend didn’t start out the way the Bearkats hoped for but they provided quite the wild finish to end the series on a strong note.

On the heels of Friday night’s tough 6-5 loss, coupled with dropping an 8-0 loss in the first game of a doubleheader against Connecticut on Saturday, Sam Houston State responded in a big way. 

The Kats won the finale 6-4 against the Huskies with a walk-off home run by Hayden Simerly to salvage the series and prevent a sweep.

“It comes down to pride,” Bearkats junior left fielder Luke Plucheck said. “When you lose the first two games of a series in your home ballpark, it’s crushing, to be honest. Most teams are going to come out flat and lay down after losing two. We talked about it and we were playing for pride.”

In the finale, the Bearkats, who had trailed for most of the series, took the upper hand in the early innings.

Connecticut (8-4 overall) scored the game’s first run in the top of the second, but Sam Houston responded in the home half of the inning. 

Right fielder Ryan O’Hearn drilled the ball into the right-center-field gap for a one-out triple. Catcher Jessie Plumlee then roped a two-out shot down the right-field line that dropped, in part, because Huskies right fielder Jon Testani misjudged it and took a bad angle toward it.

With the tying run already across, Plucheck drove in the go-ahead run on a single to right field to give the Kats (8-7) a 2-1 lead.

In the third and the fifth, the Huskies hit the ball to holes in Sam Houston defense early in those innings to plate a couple of runs and take a 3-2 advantage.

In the sixth, the bottom of lineup again came through for the Kats.

Following a lead-off fly out, O’Hearn and Plumlee sandwiched a pair of walks between third baseman Kevin Miller’s single to load the bases for Plucheck.

“I was just looking for the right pitch to hit,” Plucheck said. “They had just made a pitching change and the guy pitching (Will Jolin) had more pressure on him than I did. That’s the way I looked at it. All I have to do is put the ball in play and the run scores.”

Plucheck, after working the count full, roped the ball into left field and drove in a pair of runs to give Sam Houston the lead again.

Through the next few innings, Bearkats relief pitcher Michael Burchett kept Sam Houston in front by keeping Connecticut from putting together any significant rallies.

“I was just trying to keep it close because I knew our offense was going to come through in the end,” Burchett said. “I was just trying to make my defense work and throw strikes.”

In each of the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, the senior righthander allow one hit, but found a way to keep the Huskies from turning those into scoring scenarios.

In the ninth, Connecticut started to put something together after No. 9 hitter Jack Sundberg led off the inning with a single. Sundberg got into scoring position thanks to a sacrifice bunt down the first-base line.

Following a diving snare by Bearkats shortstop Carter Burgess, Burchett was relieved by lefthander Alan Scott with the left-handed first baseman Bobby Melley due up.

The plan didn’t work as Scott hit Melley with a pitch to load the bases with one out.

Scott was pulled in favor of Jason Simms to try and close out the game but a wild pitch, which brought in the eventual game-winning run in the series opener on Friday night, allowed Connecticut to tie the game at 4.

“With (baserunners on) first and third with the big lefty facing Michael and already seen him, we felt the matchup was very good with Alan and that kid,” Bearkats coach David Pierce said. “We thought that’s what we should’ve done and knew that we had (reliever Jason) Simms behind him, so Alan was going in to face on hitter.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t work out and we threw another wild pitch and they tied the game. Again, our offense stayed the course.”

With a pair of Huskies in scoring position, Simms fanned designated hitter Eric Yavarone to retire the side.

In the bottom of the ninth, Burgess legged out an infield single that set the stage for Simerly’s heroics.

Simerly towered his pitch high into the night down the right-field line and the ball stayed fair for the walk-off homer.

“All I tried to do after Carter’s base hit was extend the inning. I didn’t try to do anything too special. I was just lucky enough to get the pitch that I could drive and lucky enough, it went over,” Simerly said.

“I’ve never had a walk-off hit, period. It’s sweeter that it happens in college with guys you fight for every day. It’s great.”

In the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, Sam Houston didn’t have a whole lot to write home about. 

Connecticut broke the game open with two runs in the third and three in the fourth.
The Bearkats couldn’t offer much resistance, only managing three hits through the first seven innings.

The Huskies tacked on three more insurance runs in the ninth to cruise to the 8-0 victory.

“It was a tough weekend. I wouldn’t even call that win satisfying because you’ve always got to be hungry to win,” Simerly said. “We should’ve came out of the gates just as hungry as we were in the last part of that (last) game. We need to be like that all the time.”

In the early portion of the season, it was the first time in three weekends that the Bearkats have lost a series.

“From the positive standpoint, we played two very good teams (Rice and Connecticut) this week. We ended up 2-2 against two very good teams. I think we were able to learn a lot in the process of playing those two teams,” Pierce said. “No matter who we play, if we don’t start attacking the strike zone, it’s going to be a long season for us. We have the capability to begin being a championship team, but we must make people earn their runs. 

“That’s just our nemesis. We know it and we’re working at it. It’s a process. We’re in a funk right now, but we’ll get out of it.”

While the Bearkats have had the advantage of playing at home the last two weekends, they’ll have to take the show on the road as they’ll take on Dallas Baptist (7-8) in a three-game series that gets under way Thursday night.