HOUSTON – The Sam Houston State Bearkats hit two home runs in the ninth and got a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th from Hunter Hearn to knock off No. 12 Vanderbilt in the opening game of the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic on Friday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.
Sam Houston (7-2) never led in the game until Hearn’s final swing, a two-run homer off of reliever Tyler Brown that just inched into the Crawford Boxes to send the Kats off winners. That came on the heels of a bottom of the ninth that saw Chase Cryer smash a two-run home run to cut the Vanderbilt (9-2) lead to 5-4 and a solo homer by Jordan Cannon when Sam Houston was down to its final strike to send it into extra innings.
Cryer would finish the day 3-for-4 while four of the Bearkats’ nine hits went for home runs. It made a winner of Brad Demco who struck out the only batter he faced to end the 10th after Vanderbilt had re-taken the lead on an RBI double by Austin Martin.
In all, the Sam Houston bullpen was stellar in relief of starter Riley Gossett who allowed five runs in 4.2 innings, all coming in the fourth and fifth innings. The bullpen trio of Kyle Backhus, Landon Ausley and Demco would combine to strike out 10 and allow just one run on two hits in 5.1 innings, keeping the Commodores off the board until the 10th.
Brown would take the loss for Vanderbilt after Jackson Gillis had blown a three-inning save chance by allowing both homers in the ninth. That spoiled a great start by Drake Fellows who went 6.0 innings with eight strikeouts and just two runs allowed on five hits.
Fellows did not allow a runner past second base until an inside-the-park home run from Blake Chisolm in the bottom of the sixth, the first inside-the-park homer for Sam Houston since Luke Plucheck had one in 2013 vs Nicholls.
For Vanderbilt, Connor Kaiser turned in the biggest day with two of Vandy’s nine hits, including a pair of RBI in the Commodores’ four-run fifth.
The Kats will continue the Shriners Classic on Saturday when they battle Kentucky on Day 2. First pitch for the game against the Wildcats is set for noon at Minute Maid Park and will be aired by AT&T SprotsNet (alt).
The Kats left a runner on in each of the first two innings, while Gossett used a pair of double-play balls in both the second and third frames to navigate through the Commodore lineup the first time unscathed. But the second time through he was not so fortunate as consecutive one-out doubles from Kaiser and Ethan Paul brought home the first Vandy run of the game.
Vandy broke it open an inning later, using four hits to push across four runs to take a 5-0 lead. The second single of the day from JJ Bleday was followed by a walk to Jayson Gonzalez set up Stephen Scott who singled to left to make it 2-0. Julian Infante backed that up with an RBI single of his own, but it was Kaiser to had the big hit of the inning as two innings later he shot a single of his own into left-center to plate both Infante and Scott.
Sam Houston had a chance to respond as both Cryer and Ben Haefner singled off of Fellows to start the Bearkat side of the inning, but Fellows would not allow anything after that. The big right-hander rang up Clayton Harp for his seventh strikeout of the day before getting a fly out and a grounder to keep it at a 5-0 game.
The Kats finally got on the board an inning later on a big swing from Chisolm. Trey Ochoa worked a 10-pitch walk to start the frame, but Fellows retired each of the next two hitters before Chisolm came to the plate. The Bearkat designated hitter then sliced a 2-2 pitch toward the left-field corner and a friendly carom allowed not only Ochoa to come home, but also Chisolm for a two-run, inside-the-park homer that cut the lead to 5-2.
Ausley enterd in the seventh and retired each of the first eight hitters he faced, including a perfect ninth to give the Kats a chance against Gillis in their final at-bat. The inning got started when Chisolm drew a leadoff walk and two pitches later Cryer cut the lead down to just a run when he launched a two-run homer over the bullpen in left-center field. Gillis would follow that up by retiring each of the next two hitters and then ran the count to 0-2 on Cannon before the Bearkat backstop connected on his first homer of the year, a no-doubter five rows deep into the Crawford boxes to tie up at 5-5.
But after having just two base runners since the fifth, Vandy got something going in the ninth when pinch hitter Walker Grisanti singled with one out off of Ausley. One batter later Martin put a double into the right-center field gap, allowing Grisanti to come around with the go-ahead run. Ausley would then get Kaiser on strikes before Demco entered to strike out Paul, leaving a key insurance run on second base.
Brown stayed in for Vanderbilt in the 10th and promptly got Ochoa to fly out to open the inning. That brought up Fregia and Hearn, who entered the inning a combined 0-for-7 on the day. But Fregia was able to pick up his first hit of the day with a single to left field, setting up Hearn who deposited a 1-2 pitch just over the left-field fence for the walk-off winner.