Greenville, S.C. – Upset-minded Western Carolina stood just two outs away from repeating its heroics for a second-straight season on the tournament’s first full day at the Southern Conference Baseball Championship presented by Holston Gases. Top-seeded Samford, however, had other ideas.

The 2019 SoCon regular season champion and defending winner of the postseason tournament, Samford (40-17) rallied with a pair of runs in the home half of the ninth inning to force extra innings before walking-off with a game-winning home run by freshman Sonny DiChiara to complete the comeback and remain in the winner’s bracket with a 5-4 victory over WCU at Fluor Field.

Western Carolina drops into the loser’s bracket and will face elimination for a second-time in the tournament on Thursday morning at 9 am when it faces No. 5 seed Furman which fell, 11-2, to No. 4 Mercer. Samford gets Mercer at 4 pm on Thursday afternoon.

The Catamounts (21-31) erupted in the top of the sixth inning for four runs on five base hits including a pair of doubles by Immanuel Wilder and Andrew Bullock, chasing the SoCon Sports Media Association (SCSMA) Pitcher of the Year, Zach Hester, after the game’s first two runs crossed home. Wilder led-off with a double off the wall in left before scoring on the RBI base knock into right center by Daylan Nanny. Justice Bigbie collected a single to put two aboard ahead of Bullock’s two-base hit that scored Nanny, pushing the lead to 2-0. Justin Sparks then capped scoring with a two RBI single as both Bigbie and Bullock rumbled home.

WCU’s four-run advantage stood until a two-out rally by Samford in the bottom of the eighth inning as the Bulldogs cashed-in a walk with back-to-back base hits including a RBI double by Branden Fryman and a run-scoring single by Brooks Carlson.

Leading 4-2 going into the ninth inning, Catamount reliever Joe Vranesic struck out Jordan Fucci, who stung WCU for nine RBI during the three regular season meetings, for the first out before consecutive singles and a walk loaded the bases. Closer Jacob Corn was summoned from the bullpen, inheriting the three runners. A wild pitch allowed one run to cross with a fielder’s choice bounced to third by Max Pinto and a bang-bang play at the plate on the throw home allowed Ayrton Schafer to score the game-tying run.

With runners still on all three bags, Corn managed to induce a pair of pop-ups including one in foul ground to end the ninth and force extra innings, stranding the bases loaded.

On the fifth pitch of his at bat, the freshman slugger DiChiara hit his 19th home run of the season on a shot that just landed on top of the “Green Monster” that protects left field.

Samford’s late-inning rally thwarted a dominant pitching performance by redshirt sophomore RHP Chase Walter. The Peachtree City, Ga., product scattered five base hits – four of which were singles – over eight innings, working around a pair of walks with seven strikeouts. He held Samford to just three hits over the first seven frames. With the aid of a pair of perfectly-turned and equally impressive 6-4-3 double-plays, Walter managed to strand four runners. Reliever Jack Snyder (2-4) was the tough-luck loser as the homer came in his first batter faced.

Sparks (2-for-3) reached base three times on Wednesday morning, collecting a pair of singles including the two-RBI knock in the four-run sixth. Daylan Nanny (2-for-5) likewise had a pair of singles with a RBI. Three Catamounts – Wilder, Bullock, and Jalen Jones – each doubled as WCU out-hit Samford, 9-to-8. Freshman catcher Michael Goehrig reached base twice with a single and drawing the only walk issued by Bulldog pitching on the day.

Samford closer Stephen Jones (3-0) – the sixth different arm used by top seed on the day – scored the victory after pitching the top of the 10th inning with a strikeout and working around an infield error with a double-play. Hester and reliever Hamp Skinner combined for eight of the 13 strikeouts recorded by Samford, both fanning four over 5.1 and 2.0 innings, respectively.

DiChiara’s homer was his second hit of the day, finishing 2-for-5 to match Fryman who singled and doubled for the ‘Dogs as the duo collected half of Samford’s five hits.

After four games on Wednesday to determining Thursday’s match-ups, action at the 2019 SoCon Baseball Championship continues with WCU’s game at 9 am from Fluor Field.

May 21 (Tuesday)
SoCon Championship presented by Holston Gases (SDN)
(Fluor Field; Greenville, S.C.)
Game 1: #8 Western Carolina 7, #9 The Citadel 3

May 22 (Wednesday)
SoCon Championship presented by Holston Gases (SDN)
(Fluor Field; Greenville, S.C.)
Game 2: #1 Samford 5, #8 Western Carolina 4 (10 innings)
Game 3: #4 Mercer vs. #5 Furman, 12:30 pm
Game 4: #3 UNCG vs. #6 ETSU, 4:00 pm
Game 5: #2 Wofford vs. #7 VMI, 7:30 pm

May 23 (Thursday)
SoCon Championship presented by Holston Gases (SDN)
(Fluor Field; Greenville, S.C.)
Game 6: #8 Western Carolina vs. #5 Furman, 9:00 am
Game 7: Loser Game 4 vs. Loser Game 5, 12:30 pm
Game 8: #1 Samford vs. #4 Mercer, 4:00 pm
Game 9: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 7:30 pm 

May 24 (Friday)
SoCon Championship presented by Holston Gases (SDN)
(Fluor Field; Greenville, S.C.)
Game 10: Winner Game 7 vs. Loser Game 8, 3:30 pm
Game 11: Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 9, 7:00 pm 

May 25 (Saturday)
SoCon Championship presented by Holston Gases (SDN)
(Fluor Field; Greenville, S.C.)
Game 12: Winner Game 8 vs. Winner Game 9, Noon
Game 13: Winner Game 10 vs. Winner Game 11, 3:30 pm
Game 14: Winner Game 13 vs. Loser Game 12, 7:00 pm

May 26 (Sunday)
SoCon Championship presented by Holston Gases (ESPN+)
(Fluor Field; Greenville, S.C.)
Game 15: Winner Game 12 vs. Winner Game 14, Noon

^Game 16: Winner Game 15 vs. Loser Game 15, 40 minutes after Game 15 

^ - if necessary