SHSU sweeps Cincinnati with 10-6 victory

The Sam Houston State University Bearkats baseball team continued to play inspired baseball as they swept the three-game series against the University of Cincinnati Bearcats (with a ‘c’) Friday and Saturday.

Friday produced an exciting double-header in which SHSU won both games before Saturday’s matchup. After a 5-3 win in the first game, the second game ended in dramatic fashion as redshirt senior infielder Ben Haefner walked it off in the bottom of the ninth with a two-RBI base hit to finalize a 3-2 victory.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Hayden Wesneski started Saturday’s game with a first-pitch strike at noon, but a lengthy weather delay caused his second pitch of the game to be at 1:15 p.m. Despite the long rest period, Wesneski seemed unfazed as he set the Bearcats down in order to begin the game.

Junior left-handed pitcher Cam Alldred got the start for UC. The hard-throwing southpaw struck out the side in the bottom of the first, and it seemed like a pitchers’ duel early on as the game was scoreless heading to the second inning. 

The strike out trend continued as Wesneski struck out junior right fielder AJ Bumpass and junior first baseman Cole Murphy on a pair of changeups to begin a scoreless second inning. 

A single by junior right fielder Hunter Hearn and a hit by pitch with junior third baseman Chase Cryer at the plate had SHSU in business in the bottom of the second. A sacrifice bunt by Haefner put runners at second and third with one away for junior designated hitter Josh Biles. A bloop-single to left field got the Kats on the board as Biles’s RBI base hit put SHSU up 1-0. Junior catcher Jordan Cannon followed that up with a single through the right side to push SHSU’s lead to 2-0.

“Game plan today was pretty much to stay focused,” Cannon said. “That’s a good team. We knew they weren’t going to just lay down and give it to us.”

UC answered immediately in the top of the third, though, when senior shortstop Manny Rodriguez demolished a ball over the batter’s eye in center field for a game-tying two-run homerun. The Bearcats went back-to-back as redshirt senior third baseman Connor McVey hit a solo shot over the left field wall to put UC up 3-2 heading to the bottom of the third inning. Rodriguez’s homer was just the second to go directly over the batter’s eye 400 feet away in the history of Don Sanders Stadium; the first was by Arizona Diamondbacks superstar first-baseman Paul Goldschmidt.

UC got right back to work as the rain started to fall in the top of the fourth, loading the bases with nobody out for senior center fielder Treg Haberkorn who delivered an RBI single to deep left field to push the lead to 4-2. A fielder’s choice extended the Bearcats lead to 5-2 before a caught stealing and a strikeout ended the top of the fourth.

A double by Cannon sparked a one-out rally by SHSU in the bottom of the fourth inning as there were runners on second and third with only one out.  

An RBI fielder’s choice made it 5-3 and brought up sophomore pinch hitter Cross Austin who came through with a rocket down the third base line to close the gap to 5-4. 

“Cross had a gigantic knock right there,” head coach Mart Deggs said. “We have a lot of depth. We’re able to match up, play some different guys, and stay fresh.”

Junior short stop Trey Ochoa hit a frozen rope off the top of the left field wall for an RBI double that scored junior pinch runner Mac Odom to tie the game 5-5 in the bottom of the fourth. That ended Alldred’s day on the mound as UC went to sophomore right-handed pitcher Nathan Kroger. 

The teams exchanged zeros in the fifth inning before back-to-back doubles in the top of the sixth by freshman designated hitter Dondrae Bremner and Haberkorn pushed UC out in front 6-5. A walk to senior second baseman Kyle Mottice chased Wesneski from the game. He departed after 5 2/3 innings, allowing 6 runs on 10 hits as he turned the ball over to junior right-hander Colin Cameron to face the dangerous Rodriguez with runners on first and second with two outs. Cameron got Rodriguez to roll over and ground to shortstop to end the top of the sixth, but the damage had been done as SHSU came back up to the plate trailing by a run.

The first pitch of the frame ran up and in and hit Cannon on the elbow, giving SHSU a base runner for senior pinch hitter Blake Chisolm. A stolen base put Cannon at second with no outs and a 2-1 count to Chisolm. He eventually worked the count full before drawing a walk and turning the lineup over for Odom with two on and nobody out. SHSU showed off its PAC baseball style as a sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third with only one out for Ochoa. A wild pitch on ball four not only put Ochoa on base, but it brought across the tying run to even the contest up 6-6. Ochoa swiped second to put a pair of runners in scoring position for junior infielder Andrew Fregia who produced a sacrifice fly to put SHSU on top 7-6 as the game progressed to the seventh inning.

Cameron got McVey to ground out back to the mound on a 3-0 count to begin the inning. Deggs went to his bullpen to bring in redshirt senior southpaw Riley Cooper with the left-handed hitters Bumpass and junior first baseman Cole Murphy waiting in the wings. The move proved valuable as a pair of ground outs moved the game to the seventh inning stretch with SHSU still on top 7-6.

“Whenever you go out there and you have a group of guys like I do behind me, you don’t think too much about what you’re throwing, when you’re throwing it, or what the other team is doing,” Cooper said. “You focus on us and how we’re playing, and it gives you confidence.”

Freshman right-handed pitcher Jalen Wade entered the game for UC, and Cryer greeted him with a leadoff double. A line drive single by junior pinch hitter Jaxxon Grisham tacked on another run as SHSU pushed its lead to 8-6 in the bottom of the seventh. A single by Cannon ended Wade’s day as UC called in redshirt junior lefty pitcher Doug Lowe II to face Chisolm. After an errant throw on a pickoff attempt advanced both runners, a ground out scored another run, and SHSU grabbed a 9-6 lead. With two strikes and two outs and a man on third, Ochoa shocked the world with a bunt down the third base line that turned into an RBI single, and the Kats took a 10-6 lead to the eighth inning.

Cooper was able to hold that 10-6 lead as he picked up an eight-out save to finish off a three-game sweep by SHSU. 

“I know my job is to come in and get a lefty,” Cooper said. “If it progresses to more then that’s what it does. We don’t really plan out stuff like that.”

The trio of victories over the weekend improved the Bearkats overall record to 5-1. SHSU’s next matchup will be a short two-game series against Wright State University Tuesday and Wednesday at Don Sanders Stadium in Huntsville. 

“We’ve got a heck of a week coming up,” Deggs said. “Our entire schedule is a grinder.”

First pitch for both games will be at 6:30 p.m., and Tuesday’s will be televised live on ESPN3.

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