The Sam Houston State University Bearkats baseball team battled the No. 12 Vanderbilt University Commodores and ended up walking it off with a 7-6 victory after 10 innings in a thriller that saw SHSU score all of its runs on homeruns.
Redshirt sophomore right-hander Riley Gossett got the ball for SHSU and had a perfect start to the game, retiring the Commodores in order in the top of the first.
The Bearkats put out a blend of their lightning and thunder lineups, with the speedy junior left fielder Darien Simms leading off. An infield single followed by a sacrifice bunt by junior short stop Trey Ochoa had a runner in scoring position for the power part of SHSU’s lineup. Vandy’s sophomore starting pitcher Drake Fellows picked up back-to-back strikeouts, though, to strand Simms and send a scoreless game to the second inning.
Vandy got a runner aboard in each of the second and third innings, but a pair of double plays wiped the Commodores of the base paths as Gossett faced the minimum through three innings. Fellows held up his end of the pitchers’ duel early as he picked up five strikeouts through three frames, and the game remained scoreless heading to the fourth inning.
Junior shortstop Connor Kaiser connected on a fastball with one out in the top of the fourth to collect the first extra base hit of the day for either team. Junior second baseman Ethan Paul wasted no time in picking up the RBI as he traded places with Kaiser on an RBI-double that one hopped the bullpen wall in right center field, and Vandy took a 1-0 lead. After a mound visit from Kats head coach Matt Deggs, a little trickery wiped Paul off the bases with a slick pickoff by Gossett to junior shortstop Andrew Fregia.
A leadoff single in the top of the fifth by junior JJ Bleday opened the flood gates as the Commodores went to work. A walk followed by back-to-back singles from junior Stephen Scott and junior Julian Infante extended Vandy’s lead to 3-0. A balk advanced runners to second and third with nobody out, but Gossett settled down, getting a pop-up to short and a strikeout as he tried to work out of the jam. Kaiser continued his hot day at the plate, however, as a two-out, two-RBI single chased Gossett from the game with SHSU trailing 5-0. Gossett departed after 4 2/3 innings, allowing five earned runs on seven hits with two walks and two strikeouts.
SHSU tried to claw their way back with back-to-back hits from junior Chase Cryer and senior first baseman Ben Haefner to lead off the bottom of the fifth. Fellows settled down after that, notching his seventh strikeout of the game on his way to five shutout innings—matching his longest start of the season.
“You just keep coming,” Deggs said. “Wave after wave, that’s the definition of intensity. We talked about it today. We’re going to get hit. It’s a matter of can you get back up, and that’s what they did all day.”
Sophomore lefty Kyle Bachus retired the first four batters he faced out of the bullpen, finishing the fifth inning and hurling a perfect sixth with a pair of strikeouts to calm the waters for the Bearkats. Ochoa scratched out a ten-pitch leadoff walk to begin the home half of the sixth and later scored on a two-run inside-the-park homerun by senior designated hitter Blake Chisolm. That inside-the-parker was the first for a Bearkat since Luke Plucheck in 2013. The jolt of offense closed the gap to 5-2 as Vandy clung to a three-run lead heading into the seventh inning.
Kyle Bachus got the first two of outs of the seventh before being lifted for freshman right-handed pitcher Landon Ausley, who promptly got a fly out to center field to end the Commodore’s half of the inning. Bachus had a stellar afternoon out of the bullpen, finishing with two innings, no hits and no runs with a lone walk while striking out three.
“An appearance out of the pen whenever you’re down 5-0 is to just keep them there,” Ausley said. “We can’t let them score. Five runs is still in striking distance. Your job is just to keep them at five.”
It was a bullpen game coming out of the seventh inning stretch as Vandy lifted their starter Fellows who allowed just two runs on five hits over six strong innings where he struck out eight Bearkat batters. He was replaced by sophomore lefty Jackson Gillis who put together a scoreless bottom of the seventh.
Heading into the bottom of the ninth, it looked like Ausley and Gillis might exchange zeros for the remainder of the game, but a huge two-run homerun to deep left-center field by junior third baseman Chase Cryer pulled the Kats within a run as SHSU trailed just 5-4 with nobody out.
“I was just trying to get on a fastball,” Cryer said. “A staff like that, if you play into their game they’re going to give you a rough day. I was just trying to put the bat on the ball and see what happens.”
Junior left fielder Clayton Harp was robbed of a one-out single when Paul flashed some leather with a diving play that brought the Kats down to their final out with nobody aboard. Junior catcher Jordan Cannon erupted the Bearkats dugout, however, when he sent a ball into the Crawford Boxes for a solo homerun to tie the game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
Vandy brought in freshman right-handed pitcher Tyler Brown who got junior pinch hitter Josh Biles to ground out, and there were extra innings in Houston.
The Commodores offense woke up in the top of the tenth with an RBI double from freshman infielder Austin Martin that pushed across the go-ahead run to give Vandy a 6-5 lead. Sophomore southpaw Brad Demco entered the game for the Kats and struck out Paul to strand a runner on second.
A single by Fregia in the bottom of the tenth put the tying run on base for junior center fielder Hunter Hearn who was 0-4 on the day with a couple of strikeouts. Bearkat fans came to the feet as Hearn cranked a ball to deep left field. The two-run walk-off dinger solidified an electrifying 7-6 victory for the Bearkats.
“I wasn’t trying to do too much,” Hearn said. “I was just honestly trying to get to the next guy, keep passing that bat. I was thankful the wind picked up at the end so that ball could get out of here.”
Demco picked up the win to improve to 1-0, while Brown fell to 1-1.
SHSU will be back in action Saturday as they take on the No. 7 University of Kentucky Wildcats in game two of the Shriner’s College Classic at Minute Maid Park in Houston. First pitch is scheduled for noon, and the game will be broadcast live on 90.5 KSHU-FM