Birmingham, Ala. – Justice Bigbie belted the first pitch of the game over the fence in left-center field for his team-high tying 12th home run of the season as a part of a three-hit performance as Western Carolina jumped out to an early lead Saturday afternoon at Samford’s Joe Lee Griffin Field. However, four runs in the middle innings including a three-run fifth led the first-place Bulldogs to a 5-3 victory and a series win over WCU for a third-consecutive season.
Samford (36-15, 16-4 SoCon) scored its school-record 36th regular season victory as the home squad held off the Catamounts, stranding 10 WCU base runners including runners at second and third in both the eighth and ninth innings.
Game three is scheduled for a 1 pm CT / 2 pm ET start on Sunday afternoon, but could be altered due to inclement weather expected in the area through the night and early morning.
Bigbie spearheaded a strong day offensively for the top third of the Catamount order, adding a pair of singles to his lead-off homer in a 3-for-5, two RBI showing. Matthew Koehler singled twice in a 2-for-5 performance, adding a pair of stolen bases, with Daylan Nanny snapping a 0-for-6 slump to start the series with back-to-back hits in his final two plate appearances including a solo home run in the eighth and a single in the ninth.
Starting in left field, Andrew Bullock legged out his second double of the weekend in a 2-for-4 outing with Jalen Jones (1-for-3) representing the 10th Catamount base hit, also reaching on a walk. Junior Luke Robinson saw his nine-game hitting streak come to a close, finishing 0-of-3 – but was hit by a pitch in the eighth to stretch his reached base safely streak to an active team-best 10-straight games.
Leading 1-0 after the game’s first pitch, Western Carolina (18-27, 7-13 SoCon) added to its lead in the fourth inning as Bigbie singled to score Jalen Jones who reached on a sharp single up the middle, giving the Catamounts a 2-0 lead it carried into the home portion of the fifth inning.
The first three batters for Samford in the bottom of the fifth reached safely with a walk and back-to-back singles to load the bases. Brandon Fryman reached on a fielder’s choice with the out recorded at second allowing the first run to score ahead of Brooks Carlson who singled up the middle to plate the tying and go-ahead runs, 3-2.
The Bulldogs used a one-out HBP to Ayrton Schafer and subsequent RBI double by Anthony Mulrine that landed along the left field line to push the margin to two, 4-2, through six complete.
The two teams traded runs in the eighth inning with Nanny hitting a line-drive home run to right field to lead-off the frame before Samford manufactured a run with a lead-off single, sacrifice bunt, and another RBI base hit by Mulrine to eventually provide the final tally.
WCU was not without its chances on Saturday, stranding 10 base runners including two in five different frames – leaving runners at second and third base four times combined. The Catamounts left two aboard in the opening frame after the lead-off home run, and again in the second with two in scoring position. Following Bigbie’s run-scoring single in the fourth, WCU left runners at first and second base. Then, in both the eighth and ninth innings, WCU twice had runners at second and third with the game hanging in the balance including two in scoring position with just one out in the eighth. However, the Catamounts were unable to score as Samford handed WCU its seventh-consecutive loss matching a season-long winless drought.
Catamount starter Chase Walter (5-6) suffered the loss, allowing four earned runs while scattering six hits over a seven-inning effort. The Peachtree City, Ga., native battled on the humid afternoon, striking out five while walking three. Junior Jack Snyder surrendered a run on two hits with a walk and a strikeout in an inning of relief work out of the bullpen.
Despite being touched-up early, Samford’s Zach Hester (7-3) settled into a groove in scattering six hits and a pair of runs over a six-inning start. He worked around two walks with six strikeouts, retiring seven-in-a-row at one point before exiting. Reliever Connor Radcliff gave-up the solo homer to Nanny in an inning of work before Stephen Jones secured his 12th save of the year, scattering three hits and stranding four over two innings of work in finishing the game.
Three Bulldogs posted multi-hit games as Carlson singled twice with a pair of RBI while Mulrine finished 2-for-3 with a single and a double, walking once. Taylor Garris also collected two hits in a 2-for-3 performance, likewise drawing a free pass in the win.
Fans can keep track of any additional weather-related schedule changes online at CatamountSports.com and through WCU’s social media channels on Twitter using the handles, @catamounts or @WCUCatamountBSB.