Cullowhee, N.C. – Junior Luke Robinson pulled Western Carolina even with his 10th home run of the season on a shot to right field in the sixth inning, tying the game at one through six complete. However, The Citadel erupted for four runs on four hits including a trio of doubles in a decisive top of the eighth inning as the Bulldogs evened the best-of-three Southern Conference series with a 5-2 victory at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium.
With the loss, Western Carolina can finish no higher than tied for seventh with VMI in the Southern Conference standings, needing a victory on Saturday in the regular season finale to do so. However, even with a victory, the Catamounts will face The Citadel for a fourth-straight game on Tuesday morning at 10 am in the single-elimination portion of the 2019 SoCon Baseball Championship, presented by Holston Gases, as the Keydets garner the seventh seed by virtue of their head-to-head series win over WCU. The Citadel victory snapped a 22-game winless drought with Friday’s win.
WCU (20-29, 8-15 SoCon) homered twice on Friday with Robinson pushing one just beyond the right-field fence in the sixth inning and Daylan Nanny circling the bases for a third inside-the-park home run for the Catamounts this season. Robinson collected two of WCU’s seven hits in a 2-for-4 effort, extending his reached base safely streak to 14-straight games while Jalen Jones (1-for-2) reached twice with an HBP and a single to push his career-long hitting streak to seven.
Western Carolina was held hitless over three and two-thirds innings and limited to just three base runners over the first four frames on Friday. The Catamounts showed life in the fifth inning with a two-out rally jumpstarted by an infield single by Jones with a throwing error on the same play pushing him to second base. A walk to pinch-hitter Justin Sparks put two aboard, but the Bulldogs managed to get the third out on a fielder’s choice ground ball to strand two.
Robinson put WCU on the board with his two-out homer, tying the game at one where it remained until the top of the eighth. Four-consecutive Bulldog hitters reached, two on doubles, in eventually scoring a pair of earned runs with the visitors tacking on two more unearned insurance markers to grab a 5-1 lead.
Nanny laced a shot off the wall in left field where Bulldog outfielder Lane Botkin crashed hard into the fence amidst a leaping stride to try and catch the fly ball with one out in the bottom of the frame. Nanny circled the bases as the ball lay under the injured Botkin in scoring WCU’s second marker. Botkin was able to leave the field under his own power, though he left the game. Following the Nanny homer, Justice Bigbie extended his active hitting streak to five straight with a single, but was later stranded at second base.
In the ninth, WCU managed to bring the game-tying run to the plate as Colin Bertsch reached on a HBP and Justin Sparks hit a hard single to short. However, a pop-fly to center end the game with two runners left on base. All told, WCU stranded eight runners while The Citadel left 10 on base in the game.
Catamount starter Chase Walter struck out 10 over a seven-inning start, scattering five hits and allowing just one first-inning run in factoring in a no-decision. Friday marked the fourth time this season – all coming in league play – that Walter posted double-digit strikeouts. The Peachtree City, Ga., native worked around three walks, twice striking out the side in the fifth and seventh innings. Reliever Jack Snyder (2-3) took the loss, tagged for four runs – only two of which were earned – on three hits with a walk with Joe Vranesic striking out three over two, two-hit innings out of the bullpen.
Freshman pitchers Jordan Flanders and Cameron Reeves (1-2) combined to keep the potent Catamount offense in check, scattering seven hits over the nine innings and limiting WCU to two runs. Flanders allowed a run on three hits with two walks and a hit batter while Reeves, making his second appearance of the series, struck out four while holding the Catamounts to a run on four hits and an HBP over three innings.
Ben Peden doubled twice in a 3-for-4 outing to lead the Bulldogs with Tyler Corbitt finishing 2-for-4 with a walk in the winning effort.
The 2019 regular season finale is slated for Saturday afternoon with a 2 pm first pitch in the series rubber match on Senior Day. WCU’s three seniors – Matthew Koehler, Jake Moebius, and Taylor Purus – will be recognized in a special pregame ceremony.