Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina erupted for 14 runs over the first four innings of Saturday's baseball series rubber match with East Tennessee State, holding off the Buccaneers, 15-9, to win the game and take the Southern Conference opening series at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium.
Junior Matt Smith capped the first of two five-run innings with a grand slam home run as WCU finished the three-game set with a combined .360 batting average including 15 extra base hits with nine home runs. Smith matched a career-high with four hits in a 4-for-5 outing while driving in a career-best six runs to lead the Catamount offense.
Senior Kramer Ferrell also collected four base hits to tie his career-high, plating a pair of runners in a 4-for-5 performance. Ferrell finished the three-game series 9-for-13 (.692) with three extra base hits for a 1.231 slugging percentage and a team-high tying seven RBI. Classmate Garrett Brown posted three singles in a 3-for-4 performance, adding a sacrifice bunt and a stolen base to the cause.
Freshman Andrew Bullock tallied his first career multi-hit game, belting his second career pinch hit home run in the third inning and finishing with two RBI. Second-year utility infielder Caleb Robinson plated a pair of runners in a 2-for-5 showing at the dish.
Freshman LHP Tristan Baker (3-2) battled through 6.1 innings in the starting role on Saturday, scattering 12 base hits while surrendering nine runs -- only six of which were earned. The Charlotte, N.C., native struck out two against a pair of walks, working into the seventh before exiting. Junior Chad Mabini faced two batters before sophomore Dylan Biumi was summoned from the bullpen, ending the threat with a double-play ball.
Biumi, making his second appearance of the weekend, finished a third of an inning shy of qualifying for a save, tossing the final 2.2 innings of hitless, scoreless relief to preserve the victory. The Cumming, Ga., native struck out two against a walk.
ETSU's Trey York put the visitors on the board in the top of the first inning with a solo homer that skirted the centerfield fence for the 1-0 lead. It was short-lived, though, as the Catamounts plated three runs in the home half of the frame including a two RBI single by Smith and a run-scoring base hit by Ferrell to grab a 3-1 lead.
It was the 13th-time this season that WCU has scored runs in the opening frame of a ball game.
The Buccaneers (11-12, 1-2 SoCon) counter-punched in the top of the second, though, tallying a five-run inning for the third-time in as many games in Cullowhee. ETSU used three doubles including a two-RBI, two-base hit by Robby McCabe, and capitalized on a fielding miscue by WCU for the big inning to pull back in front, 6-3.
In the home half of the second, WCU responded with a five-spot of its own, highlighted by the grand slam home run by Smith. Senior Danny Bermudez also drove home a run with a double to left center field to make it 8-6 after two innings.
Baker settled in over the next two innings on the mound for the Catamounts, using a double-play ball in the third to face the minimum before working around a two-out walk in the fourth. Meanwhile, WCU's offensive onslaught continued in the home portions of the third and fourth innings. Bullock hit a line drive homer over the fence in right for one run in the third to make it 9-6 before a second, five-run frame for the home squad.
The fourth started with three-consecutive singles including another RBI knock by Ferrell. Sophomore Caleb Robinson delivered a run-scoring single with a second run scoring on an error on the same play, while Bullock and sophomore infielder Brett Pope both plated runs on infield ground outs to give WCU a 14-6 lead.
Aaron Maher hit a two-out, solo home run in the fifth as a part of a two-run frame to make it 14-8 after six complete. The Bucs loaded the bases in both the sixth and seventh innings, but Baker slammed the door in the sixth before Biumi came on to limit the rally to one in the seventh with the double-play.
WCU tacked on an insurance marker in the eighth as Ferrell scampered home on a RBI single by Robinson to cap scoring as the Catamounts claimed the 15-9 decision.
ETSU starter Jamin McCann (2-1) suffered the loss after being roughed-up to the tune of seven earned runs on five hits through an inning and two thirds, walking three. Relievers Dillon Cate and Andy Higley allowed a combined seven runs over an inning and a third out of the bullpen.
Offensively, York finished 3-for-3 with two RBI and a run scored with both Blake Rowlett and Lance Mays finishing 2-for-5 with catcher Dillon Clift and McCabe posting 2-for-3 outings, the latter driving home three runs.
Western Carolina (11-12, 2-1 SoCon) remains at home to conclude its four-game homestand on Wednesday night by hosting the nationally-ranked Clemson Tigers at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium. Game time is scheduled for 6:00 pm. With a traditionally large turnout anticipated, fans are encouraged to secure their tickets in advance at CatamountSports.com or by calling 800-34-GOWCU.