The Sam Houston State University Bearkats baseball team bounced back from last night’s loss and defeated the Kent State University Golden Flashes 5-1 on Saturday. Fans were treated to an excellent pitching performance by sophomore Hayden Wesneski.
The right-hander started the game on a high note as he retired senior right fielder Nick Kavanas on a sharp groundout to second base. Wesneski followed that up with swinging strikeouts of redshirt senior center fielder Manny Mamarella and junior second baseman Kian O’Brien on each side of a harmless single to keep the Golden Flashes off the board.
Junior left fielder Darien Simms led off for the Kats and used some small ball to set the table with a bunt single. A failed sacrifice bunt attempt and a caught stealing kept SHSU from capitalizing, though, and the game was scoreless heading to the second inning.
The wind played a factor in the bottom of the second inning as KSU junior starting pitcher Joey Murray had to work around an E7 on a towering fly ball to left field. He was able to get junior catcher Jordan Cannon to ground out to third to end the inning and keep the game 0-0 going to the third.
A pair of strikeouts in both halves of the frame made for a quick third inning as both teams had yet to crack the run column heading to the fourth. Junior third baseman Andrew Fregia made some noise for the Kats in the home half of the inning with a one-out triple to the left center field gap. Junior first baseman Hunter Hearn picked up an RBI to put the Kats on the board with a sacrifice fly. SHSU took a 1-0 lead into the fifth.
“I had my two-strike approach,” Fregia said. “He left a fastball up, and I did what I thought I was supposed to do with it. He kind of left it elevated, and I got the better half of it.”
Despite a one-out single by KSU senior catcher Tim Dalporto, the Bearkats battery continued to work quickly as Cannon threw him out trying to swipe second base. Wesneski followed that by getting freshman third baseman Michael Turner to ground out to the mound to end the inning.
The bottom of the fifth and top of the sixth produced two more zeros on the scoreboard before SHSU got some traffic on the bases in the bottom of the sixth. After singles by Simms and junior shortstop Trey Ochoa, KSU went to their bullpen to bring in junior lefty pitcher Connor Wollersheim. Murray departed after 5 1/3 innings, allowing two earned runs on four hits and picking up four strikeouts.
A double steal put Bearkats at second and third with only one away. The Golden Flashes brought their infield in, but a high chopper by Fregia did the job as Simms was able to score on a groundout to third, and SHSU took a 2-0 lead heading to the seventh inning.
Wesneski continued to dominate as another groundout back to the mound sparked a 1-2-3 frame. He picked up his seventh punchout of the game to end the inning—a new career high. It was all Bearkats as SHSU led 2-0 at the seventh inning stretch.
“The offseason helped a little bit,” Wesneski said. “I developed a second pitch, and being able to locate is important. They’re a very good team. Seth [Ballew] gave me a good scouting report, and it paid off.”
Wesneski picked up another strikeout as he set the Golden Flashes down in order in the top of the eighth. SHSU’s bullpen was quiet; it was Wesneski’s game to finish.
“He was going to pitch the rest of that game no matter what,” head coach Matt Deggs said. “I felt like he was in control. He was in a rocking chair out there, just pounding the zone.”
Before he took the mound to try and close out his complete game effort, the Bearkats tacked on three insurance runs on a sacrifice fly by Ochoa and a two-RBI single by junior first baseman Hunter Hearn. The Kats took a 5-0 lead to the ninth inning for Wesneski.
The Golden Flashes loaded the bases with one out, and that prompted a meeting on the mound by Deggs. Redshirt senior left fielder Reilly Hawkins then grounded out to first base for the second out, but a run crossed the plate on the play. Wesneski got sophomore pinch hitter Patrick Ferguson to ground out back to the mound to seal a Bearkat victory.
Wesneski picked up his first victory of the season with a complete game four-hitter, giving up just one unearned run and racking up a career high eight strikeouts.
“The way you stop momentum is with good pitching,” Deggs said. “Hayden is a super talented kid. He’s got a chance to do some special things, and he threw the ball like a legitimate number one today.”
The rubber match of the three-game series will be Sunday at (an updated start time of) noon at Don Sanders Stadium in Huntsville.