Greensboro, N.C. – Immanuel Wilder broke a scoreless tie with a fifth inning solo home run as a part of a 4-for-4 performance at the plate Sunday afternoon to lead the Catamounts. But it took a ninth-inning infield RBI ground out by Justice Bigbie and a gutsy pitching performance by Chase Walter to lead Western Carolina past UNCG, 2-1, at the UNCG Baseball Stadium, securing the Southern Conference series victory.
Justin Sparks led off the decisive ninth inning by reaching on a seven-pitch walk ahead of Wilder who dribbled a single through the left side as the corners were pulled in. Pinch hitter Andrew Robinson squared to bunt, but was plunked just above the knee to load the bases with nobody out.
UNCG ace reliever Chad Sykes (3-2), who held the Catamounts hitless in a three-inning relief win on Friday, recorded a strikeout to bring Bigbie to the plate. WCU’s RBI leader bounced a high chopper to third with just one option. As the throw went to first, Sparks was able to race home with the go-ahead run, 2-1.
In the bottom of the ninth, an inspired Chase Walter (2-4) who ended a UNCG scoring threat in the bottom of the eighth with a strikeout, continued that trend by retiring the final three batters he faced on punch outs – two swinging, one looking.
Wilder finished a triple shy of the cycle, collecting a career-high four hits in the winning effort. The Madison, Ala., native rocketed a single off the third baseman’s glove in the third inning before homering in the fifth. Two innings later, he earned a hustle double, stretching a single into a two-bagger as he flopped face-first into dirt and wrapped his arms around the bag. Wilder added a fourth hit on the seeing-eye single through the left side as a part of the final frame.
Redshirt senior Matthew Koehler collected a pair of hits and was intentionally walked to reach a third time as he stretched his reached base safely streak to 20-consecutive games. Freshman catcher Michael Goehrig and Andrew Bullock both reached twice with a walk and a single while Bigbie extended his string of games reaching safely to 16 with an eighth-inning single up the middle.
Following Wilder’s solo shot, UNCG (17-9, 3-3) managed to tie the game by manufacturing a run in the seventh inning. Consecutive singles – the second coming after two failed attempts for a sacrifice bunt – put two aboard. Lead-runner Zach Kuchmaner tagged up and took third on a flyout to center and was able to score on a would-be double-play attempt in the middle of the infield with Austin Embler just beating out the relay throw to first base. Embler was caught stealing by Goehrig at second base to end the frame.
Both squads threatened through a scoreless eighth inning, leaving the go-ahead run 90-feet away as a fielder’s choice force out at second ended WCU’s top half of the frame before Walter recorded a fist-pumping strikeout to strand a UNCG runner at third base in setting-up the theatrics of the ninth.
Walter scored the victory as the second of just two WCU pitchers used on Sunday, matching his season-high with eight strikeouts. Ty McCulloch opened the game with two scoreless innings, working around two singles with a strikeout.
Sykes, the third arm used by UNCG, was saddled with the loss over a two-inning relief appearance, walking three while fanning a pair. Starter Austin Koehn struck out five over five innings, allowing a run on six hits. In between, reliever Brandon Stephens struck out two in two innings of two-hit, scoreless relief.
Offensively for UNCG, Josh Madole collected two of the team’s eight hits – all singles – with Embler recording the lone RBI on his infield groundout.
Western Carolina (12-12, 2-4 SoCon) travels to former SoCon-foe, Marshall, for a midweek tilt on Wednesday, April 3 with a 3:00 pm first pitch in Huntington, W.Va.