HUNTSVILLE – After a heartbreaking loss in the season opener on Friday night, the Sam Houston State Bearkats responded on Saturday afternoon, riding the right arm of Hayden Wesneski to a 5-1 win over Kent State to even the series at Don Sanders Stadium.
The sophomore, who was the Southland Conference Freshman of the Year in 2017, earned his first win of the season behind a dominating complete-game effort that included a career-high eight strikeouts. Wesneski needed just 97 pitches and exactly two hours of game time to navigate past the Golden Flashes (1-1), keeping Kent State off the board until an unearned crossed with two outs in the ninth.
He would not allow a walk and got 15 of his 27 outs on the ground while allowing just four hits, two of which came in the ninth when the Kats (1-1) already held a 5-0 lead.
Sam Houston picked up eight hits on the day, but just one for extra bases; however, that was plenty for Wesneski. The Kats manufactured runs in both the fourth and sixth before a three-run eighth gave them enough cushion with just three outs left to go.
Cleanup hitter Hunter Hearn was the beneficiary of a top-third of the order which produced six of the team’s eight hits. He drove in three more runs after two on Friday night, including a key two-run single in the eighth. Darien Simms got his first start and had three hits and two runs scored from the leadoff spot while Andrew Fregia finished the day 2-for-4 with a triple, RBI and a pair of runs scored.
For Kent State, Joey Murray took the loss as the first of three pitchers to see action on the day. The Kats got to him for a pair of runs in 5.1 innings before chasing him in the sixth and got two more off of reliever Connor Wollersheim.
The Kats and Golden Flashes will finish their three-game series on Saturday afternoon with first pitch set for 12 p.m. Dominic Robinson is set to get the ball for the Bearkats while left-hander Jake Skolnicki will get the start for Kent State.
Wesneski and Murray put up dueling zeros in the first three frames before the Kats were finally able to break through in efficient style in the fourth. Fregia got it going, legging out a triple deep into the left-center field gap, his first of the year and 13th of his career. One batter later, Hearn picked up his third RBI of the series, staking the Kats to a 1-0 lead with a sacrifice fly to center field.
The Bearkats used speed to tack on another run in the home half of the sixth with Simms reaching on a one-out bunt single, his second of the day, and Trey Ochoa following with a clean base hit to left. A double steal by the pair put them both in scoring position, setting up Fregia who picked up an RBI to make it 2-0 with a grounder to third.
The speed attack continued again in the eighth, this time with Mac Odom starting it off with the third bunt single of the day for Sam Houston. A hit-and-run with Simms followed and Ochoa got Odom home to make it 3-0 with a sacrifice fly into foul ground in right. Fregia would then beat out an infield single and after swiping second base Hearn would ice things with a two-run single to left.
QUOTABLES Coach Deggs on Hayden Wesneski’s performance ...
"The way you stop momentum is with good pitching. They had all the momentum coming into today after we lost the game the way we did last night. The way you stop that is by pounding the strike zone with really good pitching and Hayden (Wesneski) is a really talented kid who has a chance to do some special things and he threw the ball like a legitimate No. 1 today. That was as well of a pitched game as I’ve seen since I got here, and I’ve seen several with guys like Heath (Donica) and other guys. It was really good to see.”
Deggs on the lineup …
“We played what we call our Lightning Lineshift lineup, which allowed us to do some different things. Especially with the conditions being what they are with the wind, rain and cold all on their way in. We were able to attack them with some speed, which I think was a big difference in the game today.”
Deggs on Game 3 vs Kent State …
“On Sunday it’s either a rubber match, a chance to sweep or a need to not get swept. Every Sunday is for a championship. What we need to do is to stay focused on the journey and what we need to do, which is to get better every single day to master our game. The Astros could show up tomorrow and it wouldn’t matter, the game is against ourselves. Kent State is a really good ball club and they’ll be hungry to bounce back tomorrow, but what we need to do is see how well we can play the game of baseball together.”
Hayden Wesneski on his complete game …
“The off-season helped. I was able to develop a second pitch and be able to locate, but that is a very good team over there. I had a great scouting report and it paid off. I know I have to go out there every day and throw strikes, and the offense will help me out. In the end, you are facing the other team’s lineup.”
Andrew Fregia on the team bouncing back after Friday’s loss …
“I think it’s huge for us to bounce back the way we did. Especially how we lost yesterday. For us to come back and be the ball club that we know we are is big, and very hard to do against a team like Kent State.”
Fregia on the Bearkats’ dynamic offense …
“We are so dynamic right now that it is crazy. We actually have two lineups – Thunder and Lightning – and today we showed off the lightning lineup where everyone can run. I think it helps a lot, having guys like that who can fly around the field and come in when they are called upon and make plays.”