The Sam Houston State University Bearkats baseball team dropped its season opener Friday night to the Kent State University Golden Flashes 7-4 in a thriller at Don Sanders Stadium in Huntsville.
“It’s a very humbling game,” head coach Matt Deggs said. “I’m thankful for the night that we had. Regardless of the result on the scoreboard, I thought we played a pretty good ball game against a really good team.”
SHSU redshirt junior pitcher Seth Ballew surrendered back-to-back walks to begin the game, but a trip to the mound by junior catcher Jordan Cannon seemed to be the answer as a pair of strikeouts helped the lefty strand a couple runners to keep KSU off the board.
The Golden Flashes launched a southpaw of their own as senior pitcher Eli Kraus had a fairly painless bottom of the first with a couple punchouts of his own.
SHSU drew first blood in the bottom of the second when junior designated hitter Jaxxon Grisham delivered a clutch two out single that scored junior second baseman Chase Cryer to give the Kats a 1-0 lead.
The Golden Flashes were able to pull back even in the top of the next frame with back-to-back two out hits from redshirt senior left fielder Reilly Hawkins and junior second baseman Kian O’Brien. A double to the left-center field gap by junior first baseman Pete Schuler tacked on the go-ahead run as KSU took a 2-1 lead heading to the bottom of the third inning.
SHSU got a couple men aboard with only one out in the bottom of the fourth thanks to a little help from an E5, but the Kats were turned away after a couple of popouts thwarted any potential rally.
The Golden Flashes’ 3-4-5 hitters were back at it in the top of the fifth. Hawkins had a two-out opposite field double which led to an intentional walk of O’Brien that brought Schuler to the plate in another RBI situation. Ballew won the battle this time as an offspeed pitch got Schuler swinging to end the inning and keep it a 2-1 contest.
Both offenses were quiet until junior shortstop Andrew Fregia reached base with a lead-off single in the home half of the sixth inning. Senior first baseman Blake Chisolm followed that up with a base hit past a diving KSU shortstop to give the Kats runners on first and second with no outs. Junior Darien Simms came on as a pinch runner for Chisolm and a KSU pitching change followed as redshirt sophomore Austin Havekost replaced Krauss who finished the night with 5+ innings, one earned run on six hits and four strikeouts.
Cryer was the first Bearkat batter to greet the right-hander, and a fielder’s choice promptly loaded the bases for SHSU with nobody out. A strike out of redshirt senior third baseman Ben Haefner and a pop out to first base by Cannon brought Grisham to the dish—who was 2-2 with an RBI prior to that at bat. The Bearkats picked up the tying run on a balk with two strikes and two outs before Grisham struck out on the next pitch. The damage had been done, though, as SHSU tied the game 2-2 against KSU heading into the seventh inning.
Redshirt sophomore pitcher Riley Gossett took over on the mound for SHSU. Ballew departed with a quality start, allowing a couple of earned runs over six innings and picking up seven strikeouts. After punching out the leadoff hitter, Gossett allowed three straight singles to load the bases. A huge strikeout of Hawkins brought Schuler to the plate with two outs, and Gossett kept him off balance with offspeed pitches, picking up the third strikeout of the inning to keep it tied 2-2 at the seventh inning stretch.
“The changeup was working,” Gossett said. “They’re a great hitting team. They had six hits against me. But I just stayed back, made the pitches, and things worked out. It was definitely my teammates behind me giving me that confidence for sure.”
Sophomore Cross Austin led off the seventh inning for the Kats as a pinch hitter, and he entered the game with a bang by tripling off the left field wall. He was lifted for junior pinch runner Mac Odom who scored on a homerun by junior center fielder Hunter Hearn that gave SHSU a 4-2 lead heading to the eighth.
“I knew when Coach Deggs called Cross’s name and that guy was on the bump that he was fixing to do something big,” Hearn said.” I didn’t know what he was going to do, but I was fired up for Cross and super happy for him. That was a nice hit.”
Three consecutive singles by KSU to lead off the eighth kept it interesting as the Golden Flashes loaded the bases for junior shortstop Josh Hollander who fell victim to a 5-2 groundout as the Kats cut down a runner at the plate. A pop out in foul territory got the second out of the inning as redshirt senior center fielder Mason Mamarella came to the plate with the game on his shoulders. Gossett wrapped up his second scoreless inning of relief by getting Mamarella to chase a high fastball for strike three and KSU left the bases juiced.
“It was good to see Goose [Gossett] get back out there,” Deggs said. “We didn’t have him at all last year. He threw the ball extremely well.”
Nick Mikolajchak took the mound for SHSU in the top of the ninth looking to pick up the save. After a quick popout, he ran into some trouble when a couple Golden Flashers reached base. A fly out put runners on the corners with two down, but a hard shot up the middle by Carew kicked off Mikolajchak’s foot and resulted in an RBI single that closed the gap to 4-3. A walk loaded the bases for Hollander who ended a nine-pitch battle with a grand slam to left center field that changed the story of the game. KSU took a 7-4 lead to the bottom of the ninth.
Redshirt senior pitcher Robert Ziegler took over on the mound for the Golden Flashers and rode a perfect ninth inning to KSU’s first victory of the season as he picked up save number one on the year. Mikolajchak suffered the loss and is 0-1 now on the new campaign, while senior pitcher Chris Martin improved to 1-0.
“It was the first game,” Deggs said. “We plan on playing a bunch of these, so we’ve got a lot to work on and a chance to get better. It’ll toughen us. We’ll come back from this and get back in this thing.”
Game two of the series will be Saturday at Don Sanders Stadium in Huntsville. First pitch is at 3 p.m. and the game will be televised live on ESPN3.