March 14, 2014
Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina's Strong brothers - Reece and Bradley - combined to drive in two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning as the Catamounts rallied past the visiting Rider Broncs, 4-3, Friday afternoon in nonconference action at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium.
With inclement weather in the forecast, officials at WCU have bumped Sunday's series finale into the backend of a Saturday doubleheader with first pitch of game two moved to 12:30 pm. Game three of the series will begin approximately 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first game.
Trailing by a run in the home portion of the eighth, senior Adam Martin collected his second base hit of the day with a lead-off single through the left side to start the rally. He then stole second base on a strike out at the plate to move the game tying run into scoring position. Pinch hitter Danny Bermudez laid down the perfect bunt single, deadening the ball down the third base line to put runners at the corners with one out.
Down to its final out in the inning after a second punch out, Reece Strong was called upon to pinch hit for Jason Smith, who was originally called to hit for J.D. Long. After looking at two strikes, the younger Strong bounced the third offering over the head of relief pitcher Eric Thomas, reaching safely with Martin coming home to knot the ball game at five apiece. The elder Strong delivered likewise on the second pitch of his scheduled at bat, beating out an infield single to his counterpart at second that allowed Bermudez to score from third with the go-ahead run.
WCU worked a perfect ninth with two strikeouts to cap the comeback, halting the five-game winless drought and keeping the Catamounts perfect at home this season (6-0) while stretching the home win streak to 19-consecutive dating back to last season.
Reliever Jonathan Waszak (1-0) earned the victory out of the bullpen for the Catamounts, finishing off the eighth inning which was started by left-hander Bryce Danielson. Waszak retired both batters he faced while Danielson worked a third of an inning, facing two with one hit allowed. Waszak threw two pitches in the top of the ninth before being relieved by junior Tyler Powell. The Charlotte, N.C., earned his first save of the season, sitting the Broncs down in order including two strikeouts to end the game.
WCU starter Jeremy Null did not factor into the decision for a third time in his last three starts. The right-hander struck out nine against two walks, scattering nine hits with five runs allowed, only three of which were earned.
Rider (3-10) took an early lead on Null and the Catamounts as third baseman Nick Richter singled through left side ahead of Justin Thomas who drove him home on a two-out double down the left field line for the 1-0 advantage. Richter was among four Broncs with two-hit performances in the loss.
WCU responded, though, in the home portion of the frame with a three-spot to take the lead after one inning of play. The two-out rally was started with back-to-back singles by Dykota Spiess and Jacob Hoyle with Martin belting his first triple of the season - fourth of his career - to right field to plate two. Cody Jones then delivered a RBI single up the middle to score Martin for the 3-1 advantage.
The visiting Broncs answered in the third, tying the game with two runs on two hits and capitalizing on the lone WCU error of the day. Richter reached for the second time with a single before moving to second on a stolen base. Second baseman Greg Fazio then drove a long fly ball to left, but ended up at third base after it was dropped with Richter scoring to trim the margin to one. Thomas then tallied his second RBI of the game with a ground out to short, scoring Fazio from third to tie the game, 3-3.
In the home half of the third, WCU again answered, mostly on the legs of senior Aaron Attaway. The Morganton, N.C., native drew a lead-off walk before promptly stealing second base. He then scored on back-to-back wild pitches, pushing the Catamounts ahead, 4-3.
Rider responded in the top of the sixth, pushing across two runs on three hits as sophomore catcher Connor Luff collected his first hit of the season, driving in two on a single up the middle to put the Broncs on top, 5-4. Luff matched Thomas for a team-high two RBI.
It would remain a one-run deficit for the Purple & Gold until the eighth-inning heroics pushed the Catamounts to the series-opening victory.
Martin and Jones finished with two hits apiece for the Catamounts which matched Rider's 10 hit total. A total of eight different WCU hitters collected a base hit in the winning effort.
Rider reliever Thomas (0-1) suffered the loss out of the bullpen, allowing two earned runs on three hits with a walk against three strikeouts in 1.2 innings. Vincenzo Aiello got one out, but allowed the final two hits with the inherited runners scoring the tying and go-ahead runs.
Like WCU's Null, reigning MAAC Pitcher of the Week, Kurt Sowa, did not factor into the decision, allowing four runs on five hits with four walks and two K's in six innings in the start.
Again, game one of Saturday's doubleheader is scheduled for 12:30 pm with the finale at approximately 4:00 pm.
Saturday's Projected Pitching Match-Up:
Game 1 - WCU - Fr. LHP Bryan Sammons (3-1, 9.00 ERA) vs. LHP Zach Mawson (1-2, 6.46 ERA)
Game 2 - WCU - Sr. RHP Jordan Smith (1-2, 5.92 ERA) vs. RHP Kyle Kennett (0-1, 3.79 ERA)