Cullowhee, N.C. – Western Carolina used a Luke Robinson two-run home run in the fifth inning and an Andrew Bullock run in the sixth to rally back even at four with Furman in game one of the Southern Conference series Thursday evening. However, a Trent Alley two-run homer in the seventh keyed a five-run final third of the game as the Paladins downed the Catamounts, 9-4, at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium.
Furman (14-23, 6-7 SoCon) found crooked numbers in three frames including a pair of three-run frames in taking the series opener, its sixth-straight victory over WCU (16-17, 5-8 SoCon) in Cullowhee.
Redshirt senior Matthew Koehler (3-for-4) and sophomore Justice Bigbie (2-for-4) combined for five of WCU’s eight hits on Thursday as Koehler reached four times with a trio of singles and an HBP. Bigbie was aboard three times with a pair of singles, also plunked by a pitch. Robinson finished 1-for-4 with the two-run blast, his eighth of the season.
Both teams found solo runs in the opening frame as Furman used a single, sacrifice bunt, a balk and a RBI ground out to grab a lead in the top of the first only to see WCU capitalize on Koehler’s HBP, Bigbie single and a RBI ground out by Daylan Nanny to knot the game.
The Paladins pushed three runs across on a pair of hits and a WCU error in the top of the fifth to pull in front, 4-1. But, with Koehler aboard, Robinson drove a two-out, first-pitch slider over the fence in right field to claw the Catamounts back to within one, 4-3, through five complete.
An inning later, Bullock was hit by a pitch as a pinch hitter, moving to third on an infield error by the Paladins. Immanuel Wilder then plated the game-tying run on a fielder’s choice as Furman took the out at second to make it 4-4.
However, Alley’s one-out, two-run home run to left put Furman ahead for good with the Paladins tacking on three crucial insurance markers in the top of the ninth to score the road victory.
Reliever Joe Vranesic (1-4) was saddled with the loss as the first Catamount arm out of the bullpen in relief of starter Ty McCulloch. Vranesic surrendered five runs – only three of which were earned – coming on eight hits with three strikeouts and a walk. McCulloch, lifted after one out in the fourth inning, held Furman to a first-inning run on three hits with four Ks over three and a third. Jack Snyder struck out two in two innings of work for WCU.
Furman’s John Michael Bertrand (3-2) earned the victory, striking out eight while scattering seven hits and allowing four total runs over the seven-inning start. Relievers Nik Verbeke and Eric Taylor each tallied a strikeout to close out the final two frames with a scoreless inning apiece.
Game two is scheduled for Friday evening with first pitch at 5:00 pm. Fans are encouraged to keep tabs online at CatamountSports.com and through WCU’s social media outlets on Facebook (fb.com/catamountsports) and Twitter (@catamounts, @WCUCatamountBSB) for any schedule updates.