Cullowhee, N.C. - Bryson Bowman belted his team-leading 12th home run to lead-off a two-run seventh inning to tie Friday night's Southern Conference series-opener before Kramer Ferrell doubled home Danny Bermudez from first-base with what proved to be the game-winning run as Western Carolina rallied past Mercer, 9-7, at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium.
WCU (22-19, 12-4 SoCon) rallied from two, three-run deficits to maintain its hold on second place in the league standings over third-place Mercer (26-16, 10-6 SoCon). UNCG (33-11, 11-2 SoCon) held on to first-place with a home victory over Samford in the Triad.
Five Catamount batters finished with multi-hit games including three with three-hit outings. Sophomore Caleb Robinson finished 3-for-5 with a double and halted WCU's homerun drought with a third-inning round-tripper. Seniors Garrett Brown and Kramer Ferrell both tallied three hits with a pair of singles and a double in the winning effort.
Bowman homered as a part of a 2-for-4 performance, matching Brown and Robinson with two RBI, while Bermudez singled twice including laying down an infield bunt base knock.
Friday's game had an ominous start for the Catamounts as Mercer loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the first inning. Catamount starter Brendan Nail was able to induce a ground ball out as a part of escaping the inning with just one run home as the Bears led 1-0 headed to the home half of the opening frame.
The Catamounts responded in the bottom of the first as Brown reached on an error, ending up at second base where he scored on Robinson's RBI double off the batter's eye in center field. Robinson later scampered home on a sacrifice fly by Bermudez to put the Catamounts ahead.
In the top of the second inning, things took a turn for the home squad as Mercer third baseman Danny Edgeworth drove a hit up the middle that ricocheted off Nail's foot. WCU's second-year southpaw was lifted for junior RHP Korey Anderson who came in straight off the bench to get loose. After a walk to his first batter, the Grayson, Ga., native struck out the next two batters to strand a pair of runners on base.
Anderson finished with 3.2 innings on the mound, working around six walks with a game-high four strikeouts. Nail allowed a run on two hits with a walk in an inning and a third.
Mercer tied the game in the top of the third inning with an infield ground out before Robinson pushed the home squad back in front with a one-out homer over the fence in left center to make it 3-2 in favor of WCU. Robinson's round-tripper was WCU's first since April 10 in a double-header at VMI.
Two home runs by Mercer, the NCAA leader, pushed the Bears ahead in the fifth inning. Ryan Hagen belted a three-run shot for Mercer to reclaim the lead back with Hunter Bening adding a solo-shot for the four-run frame and a 6-3 lead.
With Mercer again leading by three, 7-4, the Catamounts rallied with back-to-back two-run frames in the home half of the sixth and seventh. Consecutive one-out singles by Ferrell and freshman Andrew Bullock put two men aboard before redshirt junior J.D. Long drew a two-out walk to load the bases in the sixth. Brown then punched a two-RBI single through the left side to claw the Catamounts back to within a run, 7-6, setting up the seventh-inning rally.
Bowman homered early in his lead-off at bat in the seventh before Bermudez laid down a perfect bunt to the left side for his first hit. The next batter, Ferrell, then battled in the batter's box before lacing a double down the left field line that allowed Bermudez to rumble around to score from first base, pushing Western Carolina ahead by a score of 8-7.
In the eighth, Brown reached on a high chopping single that was tipped off the pitcher's glove. With the speedster on first, Robinson showed bunt looking for the sacrifice and thus putting the Mercer defense in motion. As the infielder's moved, Brown took off for second for a stolen base that drew a throw to an empty bag. The baseball careened into shallow left field off the shortstop, allowing Brown to jump up and race all the way home for an insurance marker, 9-7.
Mercer wouldn't go quietly, though, as Edgeworth drew his third HBP of the game ahead of Ben Upton who drew a walk to put the game-tying runs aboard. Outfielder Jackson Ware sacrificed both Edgeworth and pinch runner Adam Moore into scoring position at second and third. But WCU reliever B.J. Nobles posted back-to-back strikeouts to end the game with Mercer slugger Kyle Lewis in the on-deck circle.
Catamount reliever Dylan Biumi (3-1) scored the victory in relief, tossing two innings out of the bullpen after replacing Anderson. Nobles scored his fourth save of the year, pitching the final two frames of hitless, scoreless relief while working around three walks and a hit batter.
Mercer reliever Conard Broom (4-2) suffered the loss, allowing two runs on three hits with a walk in an inning and a third out of the bullpen. Starter Ryan Askew factored in a no-decision, scattering seven hits over 5.2 innings while allowing six runs -- only four of which were earned.
Outfielders Trey Truitt and Kyle Lewis both collected two-hit games for Mercer in the loss with both of Truitt's hits going for extra bases with a double and home run. Hagan plated four runners including three on a three-run homer, while Bening tallied a third long-ball for the league and national team leader.
Game two of the series is scheduled for Saturday afternoon at 2 pm. The Catamounts are slated to welcome home alumni including two-time MLB All-Star Greg Holland, who will toss out a ceremonial first pitch prior to the game which can be seen locally on WMYA-TV, My40 with a feed provided online through the SoCon Digital Network.