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Western Carolina Drops Last-Inning Heartbreaker to Nationally-Ranked Rice, 12-11

Western Carolina could not hold on to an early six-run lead, and fell in a last-inning thriller to the nationally-ranked Rice Owls, 12-11, Saturday afternoon in Houston, Texas.

After WCU (4-7) tied the game at 11 in the top of the eighth inning, Rice's Derek Myers dropped a double into right field to score the winning run.

The Catamounts scratched the board in the first inning, when junior J.C. Lyons' sacrifice fly to center field scored senior Barrett Shaft from third, who had singled to open the game.

Rice (7-5), who came into the game as the fourth-ranked team in the nation, answered quickly in the bottom half of the frame on Derek Myers' leadoff home run that just cleared the fence in left field, tying the game at one. Catamount starter Garrett Ozar then rang up a pair of strikeouts and a ground out to end the inning.

Shaft's second single of the game scored two Catamount base runners in the top of the second, his sixth and seventh RBIs on the year. Dylan de Graaf, who was hit by a pitch, and Tyler Kirkpatrick, who reached on a fielder's choice, were able to score on the play when the Rice centerfielder bobbled the ball and then overthrew the catcher at home plate. Brent Greer extended Western's lead to 4-1 with his second base hit of the game, plating Nick Liles from third.

The offensive barrage continued for WCU in the third, when they opened the inning with two straight base runners, who were then brought home on Kirkpatrick's fourth home run on the season, a long fly ball that cleared the deepest part of the field, just over the 400-foot sign in center field. The sophomore from Charlotte, N.C. is now tied for the team lead in homers, and has hit a long ball in two consecutive games.

Rice cut into the WCU lead in the bottom of the fourth, scoring three runs on three singles to bring the score to 7-4.

Once again, Western answered in the top of the fifth inning, getting on the board courtesy of a solo home run to center field by Murphy, for their only run of the frame.

The back-and-forth battle continued in the home half of the fifth, when the Owls plated four more runs to tie the game at eight.

Murphy pulled the Catamounts back on top with his second home run of the day, a towering shot that cleared the bleachers on top of the hill behind the left field wall, 390 feet from home plate. The blast scored both him and Lyons, who had reached on an error in the at bat prior to Murphy. It was his third RBI of the day, and his 11th on the year, and it brought the score to 10-8, WCU.

RU finally broke through in the bottom of the seventh, touching the Catamount pitchers for three runs with two outs in the frame, to take the lead, 11-10.

Shaft came through in the top of the eighth with a two-out single that was just fair down the left field line, scoring Haynes, who had walked to get on base. The Cats were unable to plate any more runs in the frame, and went into the bottom of the inning tied at 11.

Shaft and Greer both connected on a team-high three hits on the day, with Murphy and Mathews contributing a pair of base knocks. De Graaf's triple and Kirkpatrick's home run were their only hits of the game.

Junior Mike Tavernier, who was given the loss on the game, threw two innings, allowing a pair of runs on three hits. Ozar pitched 4.1 innings, giving up eight runs and striking out four. Brandon Johnson and Drew Saberhagen combined for 2.1 innings of relief, letting up two runs with Saberhagen registering a strikeout.

The Catamounts will now travel to face another perennial national power when they head to Nashville, Tenn. for a two-game set with the Vanderbilt Commodores. Game one of the series is scheduled for Tuesday, March 11 at 4:00 p.m. Central Time.