Cullowhee, N.C. – Western Carolina erupted for nine runs over the first three frames on Wednesday afternoon but needed a big eighth-inning rally to fend off the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, winning its fourth-straight game with a 16-9 nonconference victory at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium.
Including a five-run first and two runs in both the second and third innings, WCU raced out to a 9-0 advantage over the visiting ACC-foe. Notre Dame’s Niko Kavadas belted a grand slam home run as a part of a six-run top of the eighth inning as the Irish fought back to tie the game through seven and a half.
But, the Catamounts responded with their first runs since the third inning with a seven-run, one-out rally in the home half of the eighth to push the game out of reach in the first-ever meeting between the two schools on the baseball diamond.
Redshirt senior Matthew Koehler and sophomore Will Prater paced four Catamounts with multi-hit games, both collecting three hits including a double in 3-for-5 outings at the plate. Koehler drove in three and scored twice while Prater scored three times, both adding a stolen base in the winning effort. Sophomore transfer Daylan Nanny doubled as a part of a 2-for-4, two walk performance while Justin Sparks finished 2-for-5 with three runs driven in.
Western Carolina (9-5) scored two runs through its first two batters on Wednesday as Nanny drew a lead-off walk before Koehler doubled him home. An error on the same at second base allowed Koehler to race around to home, putting the Catamounts up 2-0 early. A two-out bunt single by Prater later kept the inning alive. With both he and Jalen Jones aboard, Bullock doubled to left center to plate two with Sparks scoring Bullock on a single for the 5-0 edge.
In the second, Luke Robinson lifted a sacrifice fly into deep left field foul territory to plate Bigbie who reached on a double with Prater legging out a two-bagger before scoring on a Jones single to left to make it 7-0. Koehler drove in a run in the home half of the third with Bigbie capping the opening barrage with a sacrifice fly, RBI and a 9-0 advantage.
Notre Dame (6-9) struck for two runs in the top of the fourth inning on just two hits, taking advantage of three-consecutive walks to load the bases before a RBI single by Brooks Coetzee and a run-scoring fielder’s choice by Jared Miller on a force out at third base. With the bases loaded in the same frame, reliever Joe Vranesic got a strikeout and a ground out to first base to end the threat.
Free passes led to the third run for the Fighting Irish in the top of the sixth inning as Notre Dame again loaded the bases with a fielder’s choice ground out plating a run. But Chase Walter out of the bullpen got a strikeout and an inning-ending put out at third to squelch the rally.
Trailing by six, 9-3, the Irish scratched the scoreboard twice early in the top of the eighth inning, scoring on a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly before the big swing by Kavadas on the grand slam homer that knotted the game at nine.
In the bottom of the decisive frame, Nanny and Koehler again combined to score a run as Nanny doubled before scoring on a single that tipped off the pitcher’s glove and scooted through the edge of the infield for the go-ahead run. Robinson then doubled home two runs as Koehler and Bigbie, who walked, racing to the plate. With the bases loaded, Sparks pulled a double down the third base line to plate two ahead of Wilder who laced a two-run single to right to cap the rally.
Junior reliever Jacob Corn (3-0) picked up his third victory of the season, working around two hits and a couple walks with a strikeout over his two-inning appearance. Junior starter Ty McCulloch allowed two runs on two hits over three innings with Jack Snyder and Ryan Mitschele also toeing the rubber in Wednesday’s game.
Notre Dame used 10 different pitchers on Wednesday with reliever Andrew Belcik (0-2) saddled with the loss, surrendering three earned runs on two hits with a walk and a strikeout in a third of an inning. Starter Zack Martin was lifted after two-thirds of an inning in the first with Tommy Vail tossing a team-high 2.0 innings. Reliever Shane Combs recorded a team-best two of the six Ks for the Fighting Irish.
Kavadas led Notre Dame with four RBI while Miller reached three times in a 3-for-5 performance. Ethan Copeland reached four times for the Fighting Irish, finishing 2-for-2 with a pair of walks drawn.
Western Carolina continues its five-game homestand this weekend, hosting former Southern Conference foe – and preseason favorite from the Colonial Athletic Association – the Elon Phoenix (9-7) for a three-game set beginning Friday. First pitch of the series-opener has an updated time of 5:00 pm on Friday followed by a Saturday afternoon meeting at 2:00 pm and Sunday’s finale at 1:00 pm.