Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina's Bryson Bowman belted a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to ultimately force extra innings on Saturday afternoon. Mercer then used a 10th-inning based loaded walk to push across what proved to be game-winning run, surviving a bases loaded jam of its own in the bottom of the frame to even the best-of-three Southern Conference as the Bears claimed a 9-8 decision over the Catamounts at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium.
The series finale and rubber match is scheduled for Sunday afternoon with first pitch at 1:00 pm.
Trailing by four after Mercer (27-17, 11-6 SoCon) broke a 4-4 tie with a four-run top of the eighth inning, WCU pulled to within a run with a three-run home half of the frame. Redshirt junior J.D. Long dropped a two-out, two-RBI double down the right field line, taking third on the throw to home plate. The next batter, senior Garrett Brown, then beat out an chopping infield single to bring Long home to make it a one-run, 8-7, game headed to the ninth.
Reliever B.J. Nobles (2-2) worked around a lead-off walk in the top of the ninth to get the Catamounts back to the plate with just a one-run deficit. Following a lead-off strikeout, Bowman knotted the game by blasting a 1-0 pitch over the fence in left field. WCU (22-20, 12-5 SoCon) had two runners aboard in the bottom of the ninth, but were unable to win it in regulation.
In the extra frame, a lead-off walk to Kyle Lewis followed by consecutive bunt singles on would-be sacrifice attempts loaded the bases. Outfielder Jackson Ware, who was a defensive substitution late in the going, then drew a six-pitch walk with nobody out to push Mercer ahead, 9-8. Senior Colton Davis, who relieved Nobles, managed to stem the tide with a foul out, strikeout and an infield groundout to send it to the home half still a one-run deficit.
Long drove a one-out single to left-center before Robinson delivered a two-out base knock through the left side to put runners at the corners with two outs. Mercer worked strategy, issuing an intentional pass to ninth-inning hero, Bowman, to load the bases. But left-handed reliever Josh Knies induced a game-ending infield pop-up as WCU left the bases loaded in the defeat.
All told, the two squads combined to strand 26 base runners on Saturday -- 15 left on base by the Bears and 11 by WCU.
Five Catamounts posted multi-hit games with senior Kramer Ferrell leading the way with a 3-for-5 outing with a trio of singles and two runs scored. Bowman and Long both drove home three runs apiece, Bowman finishing 2-for-4 with a double and home run while Long doubled in a 2-for-3 performance. Sophomore Caleb Robinson legged out his eighth double of the season in a 2-for-5 showing at the plate.
WCU starter Bryan Sammons worked around six walks with five strikeouts, battling through six innings, scattering seven hits and holding Mercer to three earned runs. Reliever Dillon Bray surrendered five runs -- four earned -- in an inning and a third before giving way to Nobles, who was eventually saddled with the tough-luck loss after his walk to Lewis plated the game-winner. A product of Raleigh, N.C., Nobles struck out two, appearing in a second-straight game. Davis walked and struck out one in an inning of work.
Trey Truitt continued his solid series for the Bears, doubling twice in a 3-for-4, two RBI outing to pace the visitors. Kyle Lewis reached five times with a 2-for-3 showing, walking a team-high tying three times while Ryan Hagan also drew a trio of walks, doubling in a 2-for-3 performance. Hunter Bening also collected two hits with Blaise Lezynski homering for the nation's team leader.
Mercer reliever Kevin Coulter (5-2) scored the victory out of the bullpen, allowing a run on two hits in an inning of relief work. Austin Cox picked up his third save, tossing just a third of an inning in relief of Josh Knies out of the bullpen. Starter Connor Herd tossed the first 4.2 innings, working around five walks with three strikeouts and limiting WCU to just one hit in his time on the mound.
Game three is slated for Sunday afternoon with a live video stream available through the SoCon Digital Network.