Birmingham, Ala. – Samford used a three-run home run in the first inning to take a lead it would never relinquish, tacking on an insurance marker in the seventh inning to hold off upset-minded Western Carolina, 4-2, in Sunday evening’s Southern Conference series finale at Joe Lee Griffin Field.
Despite the second-consecutive two-run defeat, the Catamounts weren’t without their chances on Sunday. WCU stranded a combined 10 base runners over the nine-inning affair including leaving runners at second and third in the seventh and stranding the bases loaded in the eighth inning.
With the victory, Samford secured the outright 2019 Southern Conference regular season championship for the first time in program history. The loss leaves WCU in a position of needing to win all three home games against The Citadel next Thursday through Saturday to avoid the single-elimination game the following Tuesday in the 2019 SoCon Baseball Championship, presented by Holston Gases.
After seeing the start of the series finale delayed over four hours due to rain and thunderstorms, Samford’s Jordan Fucci hit an opposite field home run in the home half of the first inning with two aboard to provide all the runs the Bulldogs would need as it turned out. Carrying the three-run deficit into the fifth inning, WCU got on the scoreboard as Jalen Jones singled into right field before scoring two batters later on a Justice Bigbie RBI single up the middle.
The Catamounts pulled to within one run an inning later as Daylan Nanny collected his second base hit of the day on a single into right field before moving to third on a line drive double down the right field line by Luke Robinson. Nanny tagged and scored on a sacrifice fly lifted into left by Andrew Bullock to make it 3-2. Pinch hitter Colin Bertsch was plunked with both he and Robinson advancing further into scoring position on a wild pitch, but the Catamounts were not able to push across the tying marker, stranding two.
A one-out Bigbie single followed by a walk to Matthew Koehler and a two-out HBP to Robinson loaded the bases for one of WCU’s best threats of the entire three-game series in the top of the seventh inning. However, again, the Catamounts were unable to capitalize in trying to score the tying run, leaving three aboard. In the home half, however, Samford used a lead-off HBP, walk and a wild pitch to tack on the insurance marker as Fucci struck again with his fourth RBI of the day, scoring Branden Fryman.
WCU worked out of a bases loaded jam in the bottom of the eighth to keep the margin at two, but were unable to muster any final charge in the ninth with a two-out single by Koehler representing the 10th runner left on base for the Catamounts.
Bigbie paced the Catamount offense with his second-consecutive, three-hit game with a trio of singles among WCU’s eight hits with his 50th RBI of the season. Nanny reached base twice including a bunt single in the first and his sixth-inning base knock that started a small rally. Robinson reached base three times with a WCU’s only extra base hit on his sixth-inning double, adding a walk and a HBP to extend his active reached base safely streak to a season-long 11 games while Koehler was on twice with a single and a walk.
On the mound, junior LHP Ty McCulloch (1-4) tossed a strong five innings, his longest outing in a Catamount uniform this season. The Woodridge, Ill., product countered four walks with four strikeouts while limiting the Bulldogs to the three first-inning runs on six hits, benefiting from two of WCU’s three double plays on the day. Reliever Joe Vranesic struck out three over three innings of work, allowing one run on two hits with a pair of walks and two HBPs.
Six pitchers combined in the winning effort for Samford with starter Jesse McCord (5-1) earning the victory, surrendering two runs on six hits with a walk and five strikeouts. Five Bulldog relievers combined to keep the Catamounts off the scoreboard over the final four frames out of the bullpen, striking out five including two by Connor Radcliff with Steven Jones securing his second save of the weekend, 13th of the year.
Fucci was the offensive hero for the Bulldogs, finishing 1-for-2 with a run scored and all four RBI for the home squad. Preston Moore, who started at third base, led the team with a 2-for-3 outing as he and Sonny DiChiara both doubled.
Western Carolina (18-28, 7-14 SoCon) travels to Prasco Park in Mason, Ohio, for a neutral field meeting with Eastern Kentucky (28-23). First pitch from Chick-Fil-A Night at Prasco Park (PrascoPark.com, @PrascoPark) is scheduled for 6:00 pm. Tuesday’s game will be broadcast on the Catamount Sports Network with live streaming audio available online through CatamountSports.com and updates through social media on Twitter using the handles @catamounts and @WCUCatamountBSB.