CORPUS CHRISTI – The Sam Houston State pitching staff struck out 14 and the Bearkat offense got four runs off one of the top arms in the Southland Conference on Saturday, clinching the series with a 5-3 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at Chapman Field.
Hunter Hearn had a pair of RBI doubles off of Islander (12-7, 0-2 SLC) starter Aaron Hernandez, helping Sam Houston (15-4, 5-0 SLC) build a 5-1 lead that it would hang on to for its eighth straight victory despite TAMUCC getting the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning.
Hernandez entered the game with double-digit strikeouts in two of his first four starts of the season, but punched out just four and allowed four runs on six hits before being chased in the sixth. Meanwhile, the Bearkats used their pitching depth to continue to barrage the Islanders with quality arms, using four pitchers who combined to strike out 14 hitters while only issuing three free passes.
Freshman Landon Ausley got his first win with 1.1 innings of scoreless relief of starter Riley Gossett who struck out five and allowed just one unearned run in 4.0 frames. From there the Kats got three strikeouts in 1.1 innings from Kyle Backhus before turning it over to Dakota Mills who struck out four of the first five hitters he saw, pitching 2.1 innings to convert his fourth consecutive save opportunity.
TAMUCC out-hit the Kats 10-8 in the game, but Sam Houston managed to bunch theirs up, and saw half of their hits come with two outs. Hearn led the way with his two run-scoring doubles in both the second and third innings, while Andrew Fregia and Trey Ochoa both picked up two hits apiece.
Sam Houston will go for its first ever three-game sweep on The Island on Sunday with the series finale set to start at 1:00 p.m. Left-handed sophomore Gabriel Sequeira is scheduled to get the start opposite Islander right-hander Jackson Owens.
Gossett left a runner on base and then was quickly handed a lead an inning later by the Bearkat offense. Consecutive one-out singles by Fregia and Clayton Harp set things up for Hearn who rocketed an 0-2 pitch from Hernandez off the third-base bag and into left field, scoring Harp with the inning’s second run after Fregia had scored on a wild pitch to open the scoring.
The Islanders managed to get an unearned run off of Gossett on an RBI grounder from RJ Ruiz in the second, but that would be all they would get until the ninth. Sam Houston tacked on a pair of runs again in the third, the first coming when Ben Haefner crossed home on Hernandez’s second wild pitch in as many innings. That came with Hearn at the plate once again, and again the junior delivered, smashing an RBI double off the right-center field wall with two outs that scored Fregia from third base to put Sam Houston up 4-1.
Ausley entered in the fifth and had no issues with the Islanders in that frame, but found some trouble in the sixth. A leadoff single from Nick Anderson was followed two batters later by a walk to Jackson Owens, bringing the tying run to the plate. Sam Houston then turned to Backhus who promptly got a strikeout of Andruid Martinez before getting Dalton Stark to ground out harmlessly for the inning’s final out.
Sam Houston added a key insurance run in the seventh, taking advantage of a flared double off the bat of Blake Chisolm to open the inning off of reliever Payton Bauer. A deep fly ball from Fregia would move pinch runner Riley McKnight up 90 feet before Harp picked up his first RBI of the game on a grounder to first base that was misplayed by Harrison Dinicola, upping the lead to 5-1.
Backhus looked to be cruising two batters into the seventh, getting both Ruiz and Luke Marbach on strikes; however, the sophomore proceeded to issue walks to both Dinicola and Drake Osborn with two outs. A wild pitch moved them both into scoring position for Anderson and the Kats chose to make the move to Mills one pitch into the at-bat. The Bearkat stopper needed just three pitches to ring Anderson up looking to maintain the four-run lead.
Mills struck out the side in the eighth, but had to work for his fourth straight save in the ninth. Still down 5-1, the Islanders quickly had two runners in scoring position with one out after a single by Enrique Sanchez and a double from Dinicola. Osborn then shot a single into right field to that scored a pair and brought the tying run to the plate with TAMUCC now down just 5-3. But Mills rebounded, getting Anderson to fly out to right field before coaxing a routine fly ball from Thomas Jeffries IV to McKnight in center field to close it out.
Coach Matt Deggs on the series-clinching win …
“It was a grind-it-out day. They had a really good arm they ran out there today, a potential first or second-round pick, and he’s got electric stuff. I thought we came out and had a rock-solid approach and some really tenacious at-bats. We were able to reach base, move guys around and then get big hits off of him. I thought Riley Gossett settled in and gave us four strong innings, allowing us to get it to the bullpen. Ausley and Backhus each gave us a good inning, and Dakota had a low pitch count last night so we thought we would go ahead and use him up today. We needed a guy who could come in and pound the strike zone and Dakota is that guy.”
“I thought we did a good job, again, of pitching pretty efficiently. We got some big strikeouts when we needed them today in some key spots, and then we dominated routine plays. Had a couple of free outs at second base, which was good to see for us. And again, we were able to move guys around and get big hits. I thought Hunter Hearn came up big today as well.”
Deggs on the ninth inning …
“You never know in this game. Those last three outs are the hardest to get and that’s a good team over there. They are not going to quit or give up and we are going to have our hands full tomorrow. But what you are looking for there is someone who will pound the strike zone and that’s what Dakota did. They were going to have to collect hits to beat him.”