Feb. 15, 2014
Starkville, Miss. - Jeremy Null struck out a dozen Bulldog batters while scattering three hits over eight solid innings as Western Carolina held off second-ranked Mississippi State to pull the upset, 3-2, Friday night in the 2014 season opener at Dudy Noble Field.
The Southern Conference's Preseason Pitcher of the Year, Null struck out seven of the first 13 batters he faced and held the Bulldogs hitless until the lead-off batter of the fifth inning. He worked around a lone walk to pick up his first win of the season - and the 14th of his WCU career.
In his WCU debut, freshman LHP Bryan Sammons recorded two thirds of an inning to earn his first collegiate save. The Wilmington, N.C., product secured the final two outs in the nail-biting bottom of the ninth inning as he induced a ground ball out to short to ice the Catamount victory.
Western Carolina's players and coaches learned of their new destination - and the nationally-ranked opponent who awaited them - on Thursday evening after Winter Storm Pax shuffled scheduling on Opening Weekend. Departing early Friday morning, the Catamounts made the nearly eight-hour trek to Starkville - and then were nearly flawless for eight innings, carrying a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth.
Behind the bulk of the game, Mississippi State (0-1) managed to light the scoreboard in the home portion of the ninth inning. Alex Detz drew a lead-off walk, chasing sophomore reliever Colton Davis after just one batter. His classmate, Jonathan Waszak, was then tagged for two singles, the second by Wes Rea that drove home two runs. Waszak then settled to retire C.T. Bradford with the game-tying run moving to second base.
With the tying run still in scoring position, Sammons was summoned from the bullpen to face pinch hitter Cody Brown, who drew a walk. Sammons then got Jacob Robson to fly out to center field with the tying runner tagging and advancing to third. However, Sammons got Heck to ground out to Aaron Attaway to end the game.
Senior DH Luke Gragg led the Catamount offensive attack with three of team's eight hits in the winning effort, finishing 3-for-4 with a RBI. Attaway likewise posted a multi-hit game, finishing 2-for-3 with a double and a walk, scoring twice.
Western Carolina grabbed the early lead, capitalizing on a couple of Bulldog miscues to plate a pair of runs in the top of the first. Attaway reached after being plunked to open the season with Bradley Strong drawing a walk to put two aboard ahead of Jacob Hoyle. The hard-hitting first baseman singled through the right side to bring Attaway home for the first run of the season and a 1-0 lead. After Hoyle stole second base, Dykota Spiess walked to load the bases. Gragg then delivered his first of three hits, singling to first base to drive Strong home.
The Catamounts again threatened in the top of the second with back-to-back walks to Reece Strong and Attaway with a sacrifice bunt moving both into scoring position. However, consecutive strikeouts ended WCU's threat.
Mississippi State mounted its first real challenge in the fifth inning when Bradford broke up Null's no-hit bid with a lead-off single up the middle. Yet two fly ball outs and another strikeout left the lone Bulldog runner stranded at first base.
All told, Bradford collected two of Mississippi State's five hits on the night.
Western Carolina (1-0) tacked on a third run in the seventh inning for insurance - and what proved to be the game-winner. Attaway laced a one-out double down the right field line to move into scoring position. Two batters later, senior Cody Jones dropped a two-out single into right field to bring home the game's third run.
In the bottom of the frame, WCU's Null faced his biggest challenge of the game as Mississippi State mounted a two-out charge. Bradford picked up his second single of the game, taking one back up the middle before DH Daniel Garner singled to right to put runners at the corners with two away. Yet, Null was able to strikeout pinch hitter Jacob Robson to thwart the rally, maintaining the 3-0 advantage, setting the stage for the ninth-inning drama.
Mississippi State turned three double plays against the Catamount offense on Friday night. WCU stranded eight runners while the Bulldogs left six on base.
Game two of the three-game series is slated for 5:00 pm ET / 4:00 pm CT. Senior RHP Jordan Smith is scheduled to make his 45th career start on the mound for WCU.