Cullowhee, N.C. – Freshman Colin Bertsch ignited a ninth inning rally with a run-scoring single up the middle as the Catamounts clawed back to within a run with runners at the corners in the top of the ninth inning on Saturday afternoon. However, a game-ending strikeout stranded the two base runners as ETSU claimed game two of the three-game series, 5-4, over the Catamounts at Thomas Stadium, riding a four-run seventh inning to the series win.
Solo home runs seemed to be the order of the day of what shaped into a pitcher’s duel in the second game of the Southern Conference opening series. ETSU grabbed the early lead with an Ethan Shelton solo homer to left in the third with the 1-0 edge holding until the seventh inning. WCU sophomore Justice Bigbie jump-started the Catamounts with a lead-off home run to right in the top of the frame, knotting the game at one apiece.
WCU’s rally was short-lived, though, as the Buccaneers capitalized on a one-out hit batter and a pair of walks, plating four runs including two on Jake Lyle’s two-run double and a RBI two-base hit by Cullen Smith. When the dust settled, ETSU has pulled out to a 5-1 lead with two innings to play.
In the top of the ninth inning, WCU took advantage of a pair of freebies with a one-out walk to Andrew Bullock with Immanuel Wilder squarely in the back to put two aboard. Following a fly out to right that allowed pinch runner Bryson Parks to tag to third, Bertsch stepped in for his first plate appearance of the series. The Plantation, Fla., native bounced a two-strike pitch up the middle, plating Parks and turning the lineup over. Daylan Nanny then tallied his second hit of the game on a run-scoring single to left to trim the margin to two, 5-3.
Representing the go-ahead run, Matthew Koehler singled deep in the slot at second, beating the errant throw to first. Ahead of him, Bertsch rounded third but held up as the ball didn’t reach the outfield while Nanny was digging around second bound for third – but the bag was still occupied. As Nanny started back to the bag, the throw down to second allowed Bertsch to scamper home just ahead of a tag with Nanny ending up on third base. Back to within a run and with runners at the corners, Bigbie – the team RBI leader – strolled to the plate but was kept off-balance in a three-pitch strikeout to end the game, 5-4.
WCU (10-10, 0-2 SoCon) stranded eight base runners in dropping its fifth-straight game – the fourth coming by just one run dating back to last Saturday. ETSU (16-5, 2-0 SoCon) moved to within a game of scoring its fifth, three-game series sweep to open the season.
Koehler and Nanny stretched their active reached base safely streaks to 16-consecutive, both posting 2-for-5 outings at the plate with Nanny bouncing his team-best 10th double over the fence for a ground-rule double. Koehler has an active, five-game hit streak going. Bigbie tallied a pair of hits including his team-leading sixth home run of the year, reaching for the 12th-straight game that includes an 11-game hitting streak. The top three in the order tallied WCU’s trio of multi-hit games.
Bullock finished 1-for-3 with a ninth-inning walk with Bertsch and Will Prater on a bunt single adding up to WCU’s nine hits in the loss.
Redshirt senior Taylor Purus (1-2) battled through a seven-inning start, surrendering five earned runs while scattering six hits. He countered five walks and a HBP with six strikeouts. Reliever Jacob Corn tossed the eighth, walking and striking out one.
ETSU starter Landon Knack (5-0) kept the Catamounts off-balance over his 7.2 innings of work, limiting the potent Catamount offense to one run on just five hits, striking out six against one walk. Relievers Daulton Montagna, James Giambalvo, and Matthew Mercer combined for the final inning and a third with Giambalvo touched for two runs – only one earned – on a hit while Mercer picked up his second save in as many games allowing two hits.
Lyle finished 2-for4 with a pair of RBI on his seventh-inning double to lead the Buccaneers while Smith walked and doubled in reaching twice. Shelton, the hero of Friday night’s ETSU come from behind victory, homered before later driving in a run in the four-run seventh on an infield groundout.
Game three of the three-game series is scheduled for 1:00 pm on Sunday afternoon at Thomas Stadium in Johnson City. Fans can follow the game with live audio from the Catamount Sports Network as well as links to live stats online at CatamountSports.com. ETSU will also deliver live streaming through the SoCon Digital Network.