HAMMOND, La. – Sam Houston State had every reason Sunday to throw in the towel. The team, which suffered an extra-inning walk-off loss before succumbing to a late-game defeat in the first two games, added a spell of food poisoning to its tough-luck weekend on Saturday night.
The Bearkats did just the opposite, erupting early and late in the game while using a strong start from right-hander Hayden Wesneski to salvage the finale, 10-3 from Pat Kenelly Diamond at Alumni Field.
Sam Houston (31-17, 16-8 Southland) taxed Lions starter Carlisle Koestler (3-3) for 46 first-inning pitches, including four six-pitch at-bats and added single runs in the second and third for a five-run advantage. Wesneski (8-2) scattered six hits across seven innings while allowing three runs. The freshman fanned four without allowing a walk.
Southeastern (31-16, 17-10 SLC) trimmed the deficit to a pair, scoring three straight between the fifth and seventh but Sam Houston answered in a big way, breaking things open with five ninth-inning runs including a two-run home run from Robie Rojas and two-run triple courtesy of Riley McKnight.
The Bearkats return to Huntsville for their final home midweek game on Wednesday, welcoming Dallas Baptist to Don Sanders Stadium for a 6:30 p.m. first pitch. Sam Houston is back in Southland Conference action next weekend at Houston Baptist, trailing first-place McNeese by 2 ½ games with six league matchups remaining.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The Kats sent all nine hitters to the plate in the first inning, capitalizing on a Clayton Harp one-out RBI double into center, scoring Johnson who worked a leadoff six-pitch walk. Sam Houston loaded the bases as Andrew Fregia and Blake Chisolm each reached on the hit by pitch.
Patience at the plate continued to prevail with Hunter Hearn and Josh Biles each drawing consecutive full-count, bases-loaded walks, giving the Kats a 3-0 lead after scoring as many combined runs in the first two games of the series.
The Kats struck for another in the second as Johnson reached for a second-straight inning, this time courtesy of a leadoff single, and came home to score two hitters later as Fregia laced an RBI single through the left side, plating Johnson.
Sam Houston made its way into the Lions bullpen in the second and continued its assault an inning later as Johnson hit an infield chopper, allowing Hearn, who led off with a single, to come home. The sophomore slid behind the plate, alluding the tag for the 5-0 lead.
The Lions found the scoreboard in the fifth on a two-out single from Daniel Wasinger and struck for two more in the seventh. Carson Crites, who provided the game-winning hits in the two previous games, belted a leadoff solo homer and Webb Bobo registered an RBI single as part of the three-hit frame.
With Wesneski exiting after the seventh, reliever Dakota Mills stranded one in scoring position in the eighth, striking out two straight. In the ensuing frame, the Bearkats used three hits, including a two-run homer from Rojas and two-run triple from McKnight, to tack on five runs.
Despite not making the start, Lance Miles entered off the bench, extending his reached-base streak to 23 games with a one-out single in the ninth. Taylor Beene extended his reached-base streak to 15, taking a hit by pitch in the eighth. Clayton Harp pushed his hitting streak to eight with a first-inning RBI double.
Hayden Wesnesi's three earned runs marked the eighth time in 10 starts the freshman had allowed three runs or fewer in a start. Offensively, the five runs in the ninth marked the most runs in the frame this season. It was the 23rd time this year the Kats had scored four-plus runs in an inning.
Head coach Matt Deggs on overcoming adversity…
“This is a really mentally tenacious ballclub. We were hit with a little adversity. You lose two heartbreakers then you get half the team and coaches battling food poisoning over night … nobody's got any sleep. It was up to the rest of the ballclub to pick up the slack. There were even some guys who were sick that did too. It was a complete team effort. I thought the coaches did an unbelievable job getting the team ready. It was a great job by the players answering the bell. We knew our back was against the wall and we refused to let there be any excuses. This was what it was today. We had to get out of here with a victory. We had a job to do and we found a way to get it done.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on the three-run first…
“Any time you (Bryce) have a 12-pitch at-bat and find a way to reach, something good is going to happen. We were able to move him over. Slim got a big double to the centerfield gap and we were able to tack on a couple more there.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on responding with a five-run ninth…
“It was good for us mentally because that's where we've made hay all year. We felt like, no disrespect to Southeastern, they have a great ballclub, we were two big hits away from winning the series. We just weren't able to finish in the first game and had bases loaded with one out in the second game. It was big to see us get in the exact same spot today and finish the game. To do so with the adversity we had hit us just goes to show you what these guys are made of.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on the performance from Hayden Wesneski and Dakota Mills…
“I thought the story of the day was a freshman going out, when we had to have him the most, hooking us to his trailer and saying ‘let's go boys.' He did a great job attacking the zone with three or four different pitches. One thing that Wizard does, is he never gives you the same look twice. He's able to locate a fastball and keeps you off-balance with a slider, changeup and breaking ball. Dakota Mills did a really impressive job finishing the game as well. To see him go out and throw the way he did was outstanding.”