Front page photo courtesy of John Crouch
Wilmington, N.C. - UNC Wilmington erupted for 10 runs in the home half of the fifth inning, riding the frame to upend Western Carolina, 15-2, on Friday afternoon in the 2016 season-opener at the Buffalo Wild Wings "Battle at the Beach" at Brooks Field.
WCU (0-1) continues tournament play by facing Richmond (1-0) at Noon on Saturday. The Spiders handed defending Big East champion, St. John's, a 14-10 loss in Friday's tournament opener.
The Catamounts were limited to just four base hits in the opener scattered between four different players. Seniors Garrett Brown and Reece Strong, redshirt junior Bryson Bowman and junior Nobu Suzuki each recorded a base hit with Bowman and Brown scoring WCU's two runs.
Western Carolina broke the scoreless tie in the top of the third inning as Brown singled to left field before promptly stealing second base. Suzuki grounded out to move the runner further into scoring position before redshirt junior J.D. Long put the Catamounts on the board with a RBI sacrifice bunt ground out.
WCU's lead was short-lived, though, as the Seahawks answered in the home half of the frame with the matching marker scoring on a Catamount fielding error.
The Catamounts moved back in front in the top of the fourth inning, 2-1, as Bowman sparked a two-out rally. The Hudson, N.C., native dropped a single into left and later swiped second to move into scoring position. Strong then pushed WCU into the lead with a RBI single into centerfield.
UNCW seized control of the opening contest in the fifth inning, though, plating 10 runs on six hits with one Catamount error. The home squad tacked on four insurance runs in the sixth inning to take the 15-2 lead.
WCU threatened in the closing innings, stranding seven runners over the final third of the game including leaving the bases loaded in both the eighth and ninth innings.
Sophomore starter Brendan Nail (0-1) was saddled with the loss, striking out four against four walks in 4.2 innings of work. The southpaw from Greensboro, N.C., surrendered five runs - four earned - on five hits in the opening-day start. His classmate, Corey Sikes - the fourth of five Catamount pitchers on the day - was WCU's most effective reliever, tossing 1.2 innings of one-hit, scoreless relief, issuing a walk. Freshman Michael Davis struck out one in his first inning of work for the Purple & Gold.
Four Seahawks recorded multi-hit games including a pair of three-hit outings by Steven Linkous (3-for-6) and Robbie Thorburn (3-for-5). Linkous had a triple and two singles while Thorburn added a double to go along with his two singles. Nick Feight hit a two-run home run in a 1-for-3 performance for UNCW.
Starter Ryan Foster (1-0) tossed five innings of two-run, three-hit baseball to pick up the victory for UNCW while four relievers combined for the final four frames, each pitching one inning apiece with three combined strikeouts and just one hit allowed.
The win was the 800th career victory for UNCW head coach Rick Scalf.