The Sam Houston State University Bearkats baseball team won two out of three games against the Kent State University Golden Flashes to win the opening series of the 2018 season.
KSU shocked the Kats on opening night Friday with a go-ahead grand slam in the top of the ninth that eventually resulted in a 7-4 loss for SHSU.
One bright spot in the Opening Day loss was junior outfielder Hunter Hearn, who notched his first dinger of the season with a go-ahead two-run homerun in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Kats carried a 4-2 lead into the ninth, but the Golden Flashes put up five runs on the strength of a grand slam from junior shortstop Josh Hollander. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Nick Mikolajchak was a strike away from closing out a 4-3 win for the Kats, but a full-count fastball to Hollander changed the tale. The late-inning dramatics gave KSU a 7-4 lead, and it held on through the bottom of the ninth to steal a road victory to open up the season.
The Bearkats bounced back Saturday afternoon with a 5-1 victory on the arm of sophomore pitcher Hayden Wesneski.
The 6-foot-3-inch righty had the outing of his young career, throwing a complete game and racking up a career high eight strikeouts. He allowed just one unearned run on four hits over 97 pitches to notch his first victory of the new campaign. Wesneski was a ground ball machine, getting 15 ground outs and just three fly outs to accompany his eight K’s.
After an exciting pair of games to open up the regular season, Bearkats and Golden Flashes were faced with a rubber match Sunday, and fans were not disappointed. The 12-6 SHSU victory had plenty of offensive fireworks as well as an eruption between the two teams that cleared the benches in the sixth inning.
At the end of the fourth inning, KSU looked well in control of the game after jumping out to a 5-0 lead thanks to some power at the bottom of their order. Senior first baseman Brad Hamilton delivered a pair of solo homeruns out of the eight-hole to give the Golden Flashes the spark they needed to get on top. Hamilton got the scoring started with a solo shot that banked off the top of the scoreboard at Don Sanders Stadium to lead off the top of the third inning. His team rallied around his offensive outburst as they put up a four-spot on SHSU that inning. Hamilton came to the plate to lead off the fourth, as well, and doubled-up on the long ball as he took a first-pitch breaking ball and deposited it over the left field wall.
SHSU’s bats came alive in the bottom of the fifth inning, though. Freshman left-handed outfielder Jack Rogers set the table with a double to right field, and junior Clayton Harp traded places with him in the next at-bat. Harp’s RBI double got the Kats on the board. After a single by Hearn, junior short stop Andrew Fregia brought the crowd to its feet as he unloaded on a fastball for a game-tying three-run homerun.
KSU regained the lead 6-5 in the top of the sixth, but an explosive home half of the inning saw seven Bearkats cross home plate. Junior second baseman Chase Cryer doubled to start the bottom of the frame, and Rogers followed that up with a go-ahead two-run bomb to put the Kats on top 7-6. Next up to the plate was junior right fielder Josh Biles, who was hit in the arm by the first pitch.
Golden Flashes senior third baseman Tim Dalporto came charging in from his position toward Biles heading to first base, and the benches cleared at The Don. SHSU head coach Matt Deggs got in a bit of shoving match with KSU head coach Jeff Duncan as tempers flared. Once both teams returned to their respective dugouts, SHSU picked up right where it left off. The Kats loaded the bases and Cryer came to the plate with two outs. He worked the count full before poking an outside corner fastball out to right field, clearing the bases and scoring three runs that extended SHSU’s lead to 12-6.
The Kats beat the Golden Flashes by that 12-6 score to cap off an exciting home stand to open 2018.
SHSU was supposed to battle the University of Houston Cougars Tuesday night at Don Sanders Stadium in Huntsville, but heavy rains postponed the game; the two teams will match up on April 18 at 6:30 p.m. in Huntsville to make up the game.
The Bearkats and Cougars match-up three times a year for a season-long competition known as the Sanders Cup. SHSU swept all three games against UH in 2017, winning 5-4 on April 18 at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, 12-2 on April 25 in Houston, and 3-2 on May 2 in Huntsville.
Tuesday was supposed to be the first matchup of 2018, but the postponement means the two opponents will play back-to-back nights: April 17 at 6:30 p.m. in Houston and April 18 at 6:30 p.m. in Huntsville. The finale of the season series will be May 1 at Constellation Field.
SHSU’s next game will be Friday at 6:30p.m. against Cincinnati. The Bearkats with a ‘k’ will welcome the Bearcats with a ‘c’ to The Don for a three-game series Friday through Sunday. The other two games will take place Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at noon. Friday and Saturday’s games will be televised live on ESPN3. Sunday’s matchup will be broadcast on 90.5 KSHU-FM. Wright State will travel to Huntsville for a quick two-game set Tuesday and Wednesday. First pitch for both of those games will be at 6:30 p.m.