Asheville, N.C. – Luke Robinson blasted a grand slam home run in the top of the first inning as a part of a career-high six RBI performance while Justice Bigbie plated five including a two-run inside the part home run as Western Carolina powered past mountain-rival UNC Asheville, 16-4, on a frigid Wednesday afternoon at Greenwood Field.
Western Carolina (6-5) scored all 16 runs in the first six innings, outhitting the Bulldogs 21-to-7 in halting both a three-game seasonal slide and a five-game drought in the head-to-head series with UNCA. WCU’s 21 hits were scattered between nine players with six Catamounts collecting multi-hit games. Seven of the hits went for extra bases including five doubles and the two round-trippers.
Robinson added a run-scoring double and a RBI single in his 3-for-5, six RBI performance while Bigbie plated a pair on a fourth-inning double and his fifth on a sixth-inning single with a matching 3-for-5 showing offensively. Freshman Jalen Jones drove home two in a third 3-for-5 performance while Will Prater posted three hits in six trips. Daylan Nanny reached four times with two hits and three runs scored in the lead-off spot and Immanuel Wilder, who started as the DH, singled home two in a five-run fifth inning.
Celebrating his birthday on the diamond, redshirt senior Matthew Koehler had a career day by reaching base five times on four hits including a double, scoring five of WCU’s runs in the win. The Raleigh, N.C., native tallied three singles, a double, was hit by a pitch in the fifth inning and drew a walk in the sixth before being retired in his final trip on a long fly ball to center that chased the fielder to the warning track.
The first three Catamounts to take swings on Wednesday reached base as Nanny and Koehler singled before Bigbie coaxed a bases-loading walk. On the very next pitch, Robinson emptied the bases with a towering grand slam home run to right field, his team-leading fifth blast of the season. UNCA managed to cut the deficit in half with a two-spot in the bottom of the frame, but it would be as close as the Bulldogs would get the remainder of the game.
With Koehler aboard after a one-out single in the top of the second, Bigbie chased freshman Jacob Edwards back to the fence at 390-feet with a shot to center field. While Bigbie was rounding the bases, the ball jettisoned off the wall and rolled well out of the reach of Edwards back towards the infield. Running through a late stop sign, Bigbie rumbled home ahead of a relayed throw home for the first known inside the park home run in recent memory, reclaiming a four-run lead at 6-2.
The Bulldogs cashed in a one-out single with a run-scoring ground out by Kole Harris before the Catamounts pushed the game out of reach between the fourth and sixth innings.
Bigbie plated two on a fourth-inning double with Prater driving in the third in the three-run frame before the Catamounts exploded for five in the fifth. Robinson doubled home a marker before Jalen Jones plated two on an infield single. Wilder capped the frame with a two-run single to center to push the margin to 14-3. Bigbie and Robinson capped the scoring in the sixth with run-scoring singles to provide the final tally.
Reliever Joe Vranesic (1-0) was credited with the victory after tossing an impressive six innings on the mound, holding the Bulldogs in check to just one run on four hits. The junior transfer from Dayton, Ohio, struck out six against just one walk with a pair of hit batters. Redshirt sophomore Ryan Mitschele was impressive in his first collegiate start, surrendering three runs on three hits with three strikeouts while issuing a pair of walks.
Bulldog infielder Jake Madole collected three of UNCA’s seven hits on the day including legging out two doubles, finishing 3-for-3 with a walk. Freshman Dominic Freeberger scored both times he reached, doing so with a walk and a fifth-inning single.
Tagged with Robinson’s grand slam home run on the first pitch of his at bat in the first inning, UNCA starter Greg Gasparro (0-2) was saddled with the loss for the Bulldogs, exiting after just the first inning. The Bulldogs used nine different pitchers with Danny Wilson tossing a team-long 1.1 inning in relief.
Western Carolina travels to Greenville, S.C., and Fluor Field – site of the 2019 Southern Conference Baseball Championship presented by Holsten Gases – for the 2019 First Pitch Invitational this weekend, hosted by Michigan State. Action gets underway Friday at 2 pm as the Catamounts face the host Spartans with WCU facing archrival Appalachian State at 10 am on Saturday morning. Tournament play is scheduled to conclude Sunday at 5 pm against the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Fans are encouraged to stay abreast of any weather-related schedule changes through the weekend online at CatamountSports.com or through social media channels such as Facebook (fb.com/catamountsports) or Twitter (@Catamounts, @WCUCatamountBSB).