NACOGDOCHES – In a battle of two of the top pitches in the Southland Conference, the Sam Houston State Bearkats proved the victor in the series opener at Stephen F. Austin on Friday, taking down the Lumberjacks, 4-2, at Jaycees Field.
Bearkat (21-10, 13-3 SLC) starter Hayden Wesneski and SFA (15-20, 8-5 SLC) ace Alex Palmer entered as the top two strikeout leaders in the SLC going into Friday and turned in a game that lived up to a Friday series opener.
Wesneski scattered eight hits and scattered six hits, allowing just one earned run in 7.0 innings while Palmer delivered 8.0 strong frames for the ‘Jacks, punching out five without a walk.
But in the end it was the SHSU bats that proved to be the difference with three RBI coming from true freshman Jackson Loftin and Colton Cowser. Loftin finished the game 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBI, while Cowser delivered a go-ahead solo homer off of Palmer in the top of the eighth for what proved to be the winning run.
Wesneski’s effort was enough to run his record to 6-0 on the season, while Nick Mikolajchak pitched out of a jam in the eighth inning and then fired a scoreless ninth to record his fifth save of the year and the 20th of his career.
Despite the strong outing, Palmer took the loss, allowing three runs to fall to 3-4 on the year.
Due to impending storms in the Nacogdoches area, the teams will forego Saturday’s game and instead play a doubleheader on Sunday at Jaycees Field. First pitch for Game 1 is set for 10:30 a.m. and will be followed by Game 2 of the twinbill approximately 30 minutes after the conclusion of Game 1.
It was SFA who was able to get on the board first with a run in the third after Wesneski retired six of the first seven hitters he faced. The ‘Jacks did their damage with two outs, taking advantage of a double by Nick Daley that was just inside the third-base bag. One batter later Brandon Uhse lifted a fly ball to right field, but the Kats were unable to haul it in, allowing Daley to score on the error.
Sam Houston immediately answered as Clayton Harp and Jordan Cannon opened the inning with consecutive hits off of Palmer, setting up Gavin Johnson who tied the game with a sac fly to left field. The Kats had a chance to add on, but Palmer was able to keep any more runs from coming across. SFA rewarded him in the next inning, retaking the lead on a sac fly of their own, this one from Jordan Monacy that scored Sean Moore who had opened the inning with a double of his own.
It took Sam Houston just two batters to knot it back up as Loftin blasted his first homer of the year, a solo shot, over the left-field fence with one away in the inning to retie it at 2-2. Wesneski had to do some work to keep it there though after SFA put together a late rally in the bottom half of the inning on consecutive singles; however, he was able to get Moore on a ground ball to keep it tied up.
With the score tied at 2-2, Cowser jumped all over the first pitch he saw from Palmer in his fourth at-bat of the game and blasted a solo homer over the right-center field fence. It was his fourth homer of the season and pushed the Kats in front 3-2. Sam Houston then went to Mikolajchak in to open the eighth, but the Bearkat stopper found himself in early trouble after consecutive singles by Moore and Jake Georgiades had runners on the corners with nobody out. But Mikolajchak followed by retiring the next three hitters, including a key strikeout of Monacy, to keep the ‘Jacks right where they were.
Sam Houston gave Mikolajchak another run to work with in the ninth as a single by Cannon and walk to Riley McKnight put a pair of runners on. Loftin then delivered an RBI single with two away to plate pinch runner Eric Bohnert and up the lead to 4-2, which was enough for Mikolajchak to close the door in the bottom half of the inning.