The No. 18 Sam Houston State Bearkats avoided the weekend series sweep Sunday afternoon as the team used its hot bats to defeat the No. 13 University of Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns 8-3 at Don Sanders Stadium.
“It was great to see us respond [after losing three straight games] and come back out to get a big win,” head coach Matt Deggs said. “It salvaged the week and championships are won on Sunday. Whether you’re working to sweep somebody, working to take a series or working not to get swept, so that was gigantic for us.”
Freshman right-handed pitcher Hayden Wesneski made his second career start on the mound for the Kats. He notched a win in his first outing last week against Nevada. However, Sunday’s win against the Ragin’ Cajuns would not come easy.
The Ragin’ Cajuns’ bats have been able to put metal on the ball all series and the No. 13 team in the country continued that trend in the top of the first.
UL’s senior center fielder Ishmael Edwards and freshman designated hitter Todd Lott got the inning started with two singles to right field. Junior right fielder Steven Sensley drove in the first run of the game for the Ragin’ Cajuns on an RBI single to right field. Senior first baseman Alex Pinero then replicated Sensley’s at bat and drove a full-count pitch to right field, bringing home Lott on an RBI single.
By the time the Bearkats got three outs, the Ragin’ Cajuns were already leading by two runs and Wesneski’s pitch count was already up to 38 pitches thrown.
SHSU wasted no time cutting into its 2-0 deficit when the Kats picked up the bats in the bottom of the first.
The bottom of the frame began with UL’s starting right-handed pitcher Evan Guillory drilling Bearkat junior center fielder Bryce Johnson on the first pitch of the inning. Sophomore left fielder Mac Odom, who received the starting nod for the first time this season, advanced Johnson to second on a sacrifice bunt. Following the move into scoring position, sophomore third baseman Andrew Fregia, who ranked seventh in the nation last season in triples (7), crushed a ball to right field for his first triple of the season, which drove in Johnson for SHSU’s first run of the game.
“I just saw a fastball low,” Fregia said. “That’s all I was hunting for. I was laying off everything else and I just saw that fastball low.”
The Bearkats kept their momentum in the bottom of the second and third innings to regain the lead 3-2.
Junior designated hitter Blake Chisolm started the second frame with a leadoff double. The JUCO transfer from Alvin Community College advanced to third on a shot to left field from sophomore first baseman Hunter Hearn. However, SHSU attempted a double steal, which moved Hearn to second, but caused Chisolm to be thrown out at home plate. Following the miscue, senior shortstop Taylor Beene drove in Hearn on an RBI single up the middle to tie the game 2-2.
Fregia put the Bearkats out in front 3-2 in the third inning with his second RBI of the game on a groundout to second base.
“We slowed down and kept our wits about us,” Deggs said. “We did a terrific job of coming in and punching back after they punched us, we came back and punched some runs across. I thought we did a great job with our approach today offensively.”
On the defensive end, Wesneski recovered from his first inning workload and started settling into the game.
The Tampa Bay Rays draftee retired seven consecutive Ragin’ Cajun batters, until junior catcher Handsome Monica snapped the streak in the top of the fourth with a two out single to left field. UL’s sophomore short stop Hunter Kasuls finally got to Wesneski in the top of the fifth with a leadoff home run to left center field to bring the game back to a 3-3 tie.
The bottom of the fifth inning turned out to be the breakaway inning for SHSU as the Bearkats added four runs to reclaim the lead 7-3.
Odom started the scoring spree by driving in Beene on an RBI groundout to short, which caused the Ragin’ Cajuns to call on freshman right-handed pitcher Jack Burke to relieve Guillory of UL’s pitching duties. With a new pitcher on the mound, the Kats took advantage. Fregia hit a hopper to third base, but the throw to first was wild bringing Johnson and Odom across to score. Senior catcher Robie Rojas capped off the Bearkat scoring with an RBI double to left center field.
With a stable 7-3 lead behind them, the Bearkats went to the bullpen and brought out freshman left-handed pitcher Kyle Backus, ending Wesneski’s day.
Wesneski notched his second career win and moved his record to 2-0 this season after dealing with miscues early in the ballgame. Wesneski’s final stat line ended with him pitching five innings, allowing three runs on seven hits, while adding two strikeouts.
“I was trying to get the other eight guys involved and to give myself and my team a chance to get a win,” Wesneski said. “I started to get into a rhythm and I kept shutting them down and we kept scoring runs.”
Backus entered the game with run support, but the Kats added more in the bottom of the sixth inning. With UL’s senior right-handed pitcher Jevin Huval now on the mound, Hearn started the inning with a leadoff double, which marked the sixth consecutive inning the Kats got their leadoff man aboard. Beene then advanced Hearn to third on a sacrifice bunt and Johnson hit into a fielder’s choice, which brought home SHSU’s eighth run of the game and brining the score to 8-3.
However, the spotlight was on Backus’ pitching. He entered the game in the top of the sixth and completely shutdown the Ragin’ Cajuns. Backus completed the four inning save, while punching out one UL batter and allowing three hits.
Wesneski praised Backus for the work he put in on the mound Sunday.
“His ball moves a lot and he has good stuff,” Wesneski said. “He fills up the zone and he uses the eight other guys that are playing behind him. He knows how to pitch.”
Unlike the first two games of the series, the Bearkats finished the game with 10 hits and had three players record multiple hits. Odom, Hearn and Beene all went two-for-three at the plate, but Fregia went one-for three while collecting a team-high three RBIs.
“We’ve been out of kilter, out of whack and we had great early work this morning,” Deggs said. “We made a couple of adjustments and I really like the way we competed at the plate today.”
The SHSU baseball team will next see action on Tuesday against Texas State in San Marcos.