Cullowhee, N.C. – Andrew Bullock blasted a lead-off home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to push Western Carolina ahead, 11-9, with just three outs standing between it and a game one victory. However, VMI used a two-run top of the ninth to force extra innings before plating four runs in the top of the 11th inning to claim the series-opener, 15-11, Friday night at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium.
The two teams combined for 26 runs on 29 hits including 13 for extra bases. WCU managed seven extra base hits among its game-high 15 hits total. Eleven total pitchers toed the rubber – six for WCU and five for VMI which won its fourth-straight over the Catamounts, its longest consecutive-game winning streak in series history.
Friday’s extra inning affair was also just the second in series history – and the first since the very first meeting on record from the 1971 season, a 4-3 WCU win.
Five Catamounts posted multi-hit games with Luke Robinson finishing a home run shy of the cycle in a 3-for-6, three RBI performance. Justice Bigbie reached base four times in the loss, doubling in a 2-for-4 outing with a walk and a HBP, while both Bullock and Daylan Nanny finished 2-for-5 with a RBI and two runs scored. Freshman Jalen Jones finished with a pair of singles in a 2-for-6 showing, driving in and scoring a run.
The lead in the series-opener was traded back-and-forth a total of seven times on Friday. VMI jumped in front in the third inning, 1-0, only to see the Catamounts plate three in the home half of the frame to lead 3-1 through three complete. Immanuel Wilder and Nanny both doubled home runs with Robinson singling to right center to drive in the third marker.
A three-spot by the Keydets in the top of the fourth pushed the visitors back in front, 4-3, before Western Carolina scored four in the home portion of the fifth, keyed by a two-run triple by Robinson and run-scoring singles by Will Prater and Jones. However, VMI answered with a four-run top of the sixth to reclaim the advantage, 8-7, before Justin Sparks delivered a bases loaded, three-RBI pinch hit double in the three-run sixth inning to hand the Catamounts a 10-8 lead through six.
Both teams traded markers in the eighth including the Bullock blast before a two-run ninth forced the extra frames with the Keydets capitalizing on a HBP and a pair of walks in the 11th with two, two-RBI base knocks to build an insurmountable lead in providing the final tally.
Catamount reliever Davis Tyndall (0-1) was tagged with the loss, charged with three runs that were put on with a pair of walks and a HBP. The freshman did strike out two in two thirds of an inning. Taylor Purus struck out five over 5.1 innings in the start, surrendering eight runs on eight hits with three walks. Relievers Jack Snyder and Jacob Corn both posted strikeouts in a combined 3.2 innings of work.
VMI freshman reliever Will Lopez (3-0) tallied his second extra inning victory, holding the Catamounts scores over the final three frames with just one hit and one walk allowed. Jacob Menders tossed three innings in the starting role while Corey Johnston matched Lopez with three Ks.
Will Knight led VMI with a 3-for-6, three RBI performance while catcher Ryan Smoot drove in four while scoring three in a 2-for-4 offensive effort. Noah Cook was 2-for-4 while Josh Hollifield and Don Goodes finished 2-for-5.
Game two is scheduled for Saturday afternoon with a 2:00 pm first pitch. Fans can follow the game live on ESPN3 (cable/satellite subscription required) with live stats available online at CatamountSports.com and live updates available on Twitter using the handle, @catamounts.