HUNTSVILLE – The Sam Houston State Bearkats rallied and put up seven runs in the bottom of the sixth and got strong work on the mound from starter Hayden Wesneski to pick up an 8-5 win over UConn in the series opener on Friday night at Don Sanders Stadium.
The Bearkats (23-16) had dropped five in a row and had not put together an inning of four or more runs since April 6 before putting it all together in the sixth on Friday. In that span big innings had been a hurdle SHSU had run into multiple times, and it looked as though the Huskies (25-17) were following the same blueprint when they struck for five unearned runs on just two, two-out swings in the top of the sixth to go up 5-1.
On a heavily-billed night featuring two of the top starting pitchers in the nation, Wesneski was nearly at his best. The senior did not allow a hit through the first five innings, and although he walked four on the night, finished with just three hits allowed in 8.0 innings and just 97 pitches used.
He picked up his seventh win of the year and recorded four strikeouts in the game, becoming just the eight Bearkat in program history to go over 200 punchouts for a career. The Huskies got to him for five runs in that sixth inning, but all were unearned.
Offensively, SHSU finished with nine hits while also drawing six walks and being hit by four pitches. UConn starter Mason Feole struck out five in 5.0 innings, but also walked four and allowed four runs on six hits before eventually taking a no-decision. Reliever Karl Johnson did not retire either of the two hitters he faced, falling to 2-1 with the loss.
Nick Mikolajchak also picked up his sixth save of the year with a dominant ninth inning that included a pair of strikeouts. It was his 21st career save, tying him with former Bearkat Michael Burchett for second all-time at SHSU.
The Bearkats will try to clinch the series with the Huskies on Saturday with the middle game of the three-game set. First pitch is set for 3:00 p.m. at The Don and can be viewed on the Bearkat Sports Network YouTube page.
Sam Houston left five men on base in the first two innings before finally breaking through to get on the scoreboard in the third. The inning started with a single by Cowser and two batters later a single by Cryer had a pair of men on base, setting up Harp who pulled a pitch from Feole into right field to plate the first Bearkat run of the game.
Wesneski retired six of the seven hitters he faced in the fourth and fifth frames, but things changed in the sixth. Conor Moriarty reached base to open the inning for the Huskies on an error, but it took a two-out walk by Michael Woodworth to keep the inning going. Christian Fedko took advantage of that extra out by lining a two-run double into the left field corner for the first UConn hit of the game, surging them ahead 2-1. Two pitches later his brother, Kyler Fedko, blasted a three-run home run out to left field to put UConn ahead 5-1 with just two hits in the game to their credit.
But the Bearkats responded in the home half of the inning with their first seven hitters reaching base on their way to scoring seven times. Harp opened it with a sure single to center field and Jackson Loftin followed with a walk. Gavin Johnson then shot an RBI double into the left-field corner off of Feole, scoring a run and forcing the Husky starter from the game. Hunter Hearn then greeted reliever Karl Johnson by lining the first pitch he saw into left field for an RBI single and two batters later Cowser picked up an easy RBI when he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, making it a 5-4 UConn lead.
One batter later Cannon shot a two-run single back up the middle to put the Kats ahead 6-5. Cryer added a two-run single of his own, capping the seven-run frame and giving SHSU an 8-5 lead.