Greensboro, N.C. – UNCG pushed across a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth inning on Friday night, breaking a 5-5 tie and ultimately propelling the Spartans to a 7-5 victory over visiting Western Carolina in the Southern Conference series opener at the UNCG Baseball Stadium.
For a second-consecutive series-opener, WCU saw its opposition hang a crooked number on the scoreboard in the bottom of the eighth inning to pick-up a Friday night victory. Last week, ETSU scored five in the eighth to rally for the 10-9 win while UNCG scored twice in the decisive eighth this week, relegating the Catamounts to their seventh-consecutive loss and keep WCU winless in league play, 0-4.
Slugger Andrew Bullock paced three Catamounts with two-hit games, legging out his first collegiate triple and adding a bunt single and a run-scoring groundout in the clean-up spot. The Chesapeake, Va., product has a four-game hitting streak going dating back to the ETSU series. Infielder Justin Sparks stayed hot against UNCG, finishing 2-for-5 with a run scored while junior catcher Luke Robinson tallied two hits including his team-high tying sixth home run on a solo blast in the two-run fifth inning.
Sophomore Justice Bigbie saw his 12-game hitting streak come to a close, finishing 0-for-2 with a pair of strikeouts, but walked three times including reaching on a free pass in the first inning to put the Catamounts in front, 1-0. Bigbie has reached base safely in 13-consecutive games while redshirt senior Matthew Koehler stretched his streak to 18-straight with a first-inning walk. The Raleigh native drew a pair of base on balls in a 0-for-2 outing as his six-game seasonal hit streak ended.
Bigbie drew the first of back-to-back walks to start the first inning on Friday eventually scoring on Bullock’s groundout to short to put the Catamounts on top, 1-0 – a lead which would last until the third inning. UNCG’s Caleb Webster led-off with a ground-rule double to left center with a walk putting two aboard ahead of Coleman Sawyer who tripled to right to score a pair. Hogan Windish then reached on a throwing error to allow a third run to cross, putting UNCG up 3-1 through three.
WCU (10-12, 0-4 SoCon) scratched back to within a run on a trio of hits in the fourth as Sparks singled ahead of Jalen Jones who laced a double to center to put a pair into scoring position. Bryson Parks then beat out an infield single that tipped off the bare-hand attempt by the UNCG pitcher, plating Sparks to make it, 3-2.
In the fifth, Robinson blasted a lead-off solo home run to right field to tie the game with Bullock tripling on the very next at bat, scoring on a Will Prater infield groundout to push WCU back in front by a count of 4-3. But, UNCG got both runs back in the bottom of the sixth to reclaim a one-run lead, 5-4 through six.
Bullock started a string of three-consecutive Catamounts reaching to start the seventh with his bunt single with Koehler (HBP) and Sparks (single) reaching in succession with nobody out. Bullock rumbled home on a wild pitch to again knot the score, but UNCG’s Chad Sykes struck out the next three in order to end the threat, stranding two.
In the decisive eighth, UNCG (17-7, 3-1 SoCon) a lead-off double by Jacquez Koonce, a wild pitch, and a walk put runners at the corners before Austin Embler blooped a single into shallow left field against a drawn-in infield to plate the eventual game-winning run. Embler added an insurance marker, scoring from third on a wild pitch to provide the final tally.
For a second-straight game, WCU stranded double-digit base runners aboard, leaving 10 on base Friday night while UNCG stranded nine.
Catamount reliever Jack Snyder (0-1) was saddled with the loss, surrendering a pair of runs on three hits with a walk. Jacob Corn worked around three walks with a trio of strikeouts in his first start at WCU, working two innings of scoreless, one-hit work on the mound. Zach Franklin struck out five against three walks in four innings of work while Ryan Mitschele was called upon to record the final out of the eighth in a third of an inning of action.
UNCG reliever Chad Sykes (3-1) scored the win as the fourth Spartans arm to throw. Sykes tossed three hitless, scoreless innings out of the bullpen, striking out four against a walk. WCU touched Spartan starter Phillip Sanderson for four runs on seven hits, adding three walks against a pair of strikeouts.
Offensively, Embler drove home two in a 1-for-4 showing to lead UNCG. Sawyer plated a pair on his third inning triple to right field. All told, the seven UNCG hits were spread between seven different players with David Flores also legging out a run-scoring triple in the win.
Game two of the three-game SoCon series is scheduled for a 3:00 pm first pitch on Saturday afternoon on the UNCG campus. Fans can follow the game with live streaming audio from the Catamount Sports Network as well as links for live stats through CatamountSports.com. UNCG will also provide video coverage on the SoCon Digital Network.