HUNTSVILLE – The Sam Houston State Bearkats entered Thursday night all alone in first place in the Southland Conference, and that is exactly how they left Don Sanders after an 11-5 win over Northwestern State at Don Sanders Stadium.
Hunter Hearn hit for the second Bearkat (30-22, 19-9 SLC) cycle in just under two weeks and the pitching combination of Hayden Wesneski and Nick Mikolajchak struck out 15 Demon (29-22, 14-14 SLC) hitters in a game that the Kats led from the first inning on.
The win keeps the Bearkats in sole possession of first place in the SLC with just two games remaining in the regular season. Meanwhile, Central Arkansas and Southeastern Louisiana each loom just one game back after also winning on Thursday night.
The Bearkats pushed across four runs in the first frame and roughed up Demon starter Cullen McDonald, handing him just his second loss of the season as the righty allowed nine runs on 13 hits in just 4.0 innings of work.
Much of that came from Hearn who stayed red hot with a 4-for-5 game that included a pair of runs scored and three RBI. The top four hitters in the Bearkat order – Jordan Cannon, Colton Cowser, Hearn and Clayton Harp - did all kinds of damage, combining for 11 of Sam Houston’s 17 hits while driving in eight of the 11 runs.
Cowser doubled in each of his first two at-bats and had two RBI, while Clayton Harp drove in three of his own, including a 2-run home run in the second inning.
Northwestern State finished with 12 hits in the game as well, five coming from leadoff man Sam Taylor, but had just three extra-base hits in comparison to 10 for the Kat offense. They got to Wesneski for five runs on 11 hits in 5.2 innings, but the SHSU starter still struck out seven and did not walk a batter before handing it over to Mikolajchak in the sixth inning after the Demons had cut the lead to 9-5.
Mikolajchak was nearly untouchable, striking out six of the first seven batters he faced and total eight in the game, allowing only a leadoff single in the ninth to Taylor. His 3.1 scoreless innings was good enough for his seventh save of the year and 22nd of his career, moving him one save shy of Luke Prihoda’s school record of 23, while Wesneski moved to 8-3 on the year with the win.
Northwestern State got a run off of Wesneski in the first inning, but the Kats immediately went to work off of McDonald in the home half of the inning. Cannon and Cowser opened the frame with back-to-back doubles to erase the deficit before Harp gave the Kats the lead with an RBI single. Hearn’s day then started with an RBI triple to the right-center field gap and three batters later Gavin Johnson got in on the fun with an RBI double of his own.
Harp gave the Kats two more runs in the second with a 2-run homer following another Cowser double, then after a single from Hearn, Jack Rogers split the left-center field gap for an RBI double to put the Kats up 7-1.
The scoring continued with an RBI single by Luke Repka in the third and then Hearn struck again, homering down the left-field line to open up the fourth inning and push the lead to 9-1.
NSU then got going with a pair of runs on an RBI double by Jefrey Elkins and an RBI single by Taylor Smith and one inning later they cut the lead to 9-5 on an RBI double by Caleb Ricca, prompting the Kats to go get Mikolajchak who punched out Elkins to end what would be the final Demon threat of the game.
The Kats added two more runs before reaching the finish line, beginning with Hearn’s RBI single two batters into the sixth inning, completing his cycle in just four at-bats. Cowser added another RBI when he singled home Jackson Loftin with two outs in the seventh.
The Kats will wrap up the regular season on Friday with a doubleheader at Don Sanders Stadium, with the first game set for 2:00 p.m. and the second at 7:00 p.m.
Senior Day activities will occur at approximately 6:30, prior to Game 2.
The Kats need just one more win to clinch at least a share of their third SLC title in four years, while a sweep of the doubleheader would clinch the crown outright.