March 15, 2013
Mt. Pleasant, S.C. - Bradley Strong drove home what proved to be the game-winning run in the top of the ninth inning on a sacrifice fly to right field before ultimately ending the game on a throw to the plate in the bottom of the frame as Western Carolina took the wild series-opener from the College of Charleston, 5-4, Friday night at Patriot's Point.
The teams combined for four runs in the final two frames on Friday evening in a game that saw two ties and five total lead changes.
Tied at four entering the top of the ninth inning, WCU's Jacob Hoyle reached on an infield error at shortstop on a grounder that was bobbled without a throw. Freshman J.D. Long was called upon to pinch run where he was successfully sacrificed into scoring position at second base by Dykota Spiess before taking third on a wild pitch. Ahead 2-0 in the count, Strong drove a deep fly ball to right field that allowed Long to stroll home for the go-ahead marker.
College of Charleston (10-7, 2-2) nearly tied it up in the bottom of the ninth after a one-out double from Tyler Jackson and an infield single from Blake Butler. Pinch-runner Devon Reed advanced to third on Butler's hit and rounded third for the potential tying run, but was called out at home for the final out of the game.
Catamount starter Jeremy Null struck out nine in seven innings, scattering six hits and three runs before exiting without a decision. Reliever Tyler Powell (1-0) picked up the victory after working the eighth inning, surrendering one run on one hit with a walk and a strikeout before closer Preston Hatcher grabbed his fourth save of the season by keeping the Cougars scoreless in the ninth.
Western Carolina (11-7, 3-1 SoCon) took an early lead on Friday as Julian Ridings opened scoring with a solo home run to right on the first pitch in the top of the second inning. The Cougars matched the run in the bottom of the frame, taking advantage of two walks and a single to load the bases before an infield fielder's choice allowed Brandon Murray to score the tying run.
In the top of the third, the Catamounts again pulled in front as Aaron Attaway collected the second single of the frame to drive home Strong to make it 2-1 in favor of the visitors.
The Cougars took their lone lead of the contest in the fourth inning on a two-run home run by catcher Ryan Welke as CofC led 3-2 through four complete. The game remained at a one-run margin until the top of the eighth inning when Cody Jones uncorked a two-run blast of his own to propel WCU back in front, 4-3. Luke Gragg delivered a pinch hit single to left before Jones cranked a one-out round-tripper deep over the right field fence for the Catamount advantage.
Charleston wouldn't go away, though, rallying in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game to set-up the fireworks in the ninth. Following a lead-off walk to Ben Boykin, Murray laced a shot to left center field where the ball got stuck under the padding in the fence for a ground-rule double. Boykin was allowed to score on the play, tying the game at four.
With a runner at second, the Cougars attempted to sacrifice Murray further into scoring position, but the bunt went straight to Powell who gunned the runner out at third. The inning came to a screeching halt, though, as Powell struck out Cody Martin and Catamount catcher Adam Martin threw out Bradley Goodson trying to steal second base.
WCU had seven different hitters combine for their nine base hits including two by Jones and Ridings, both of whom homered.
Michael Hanzlik (1-2) was tagged with the loss, coming into the eighth inning after Jones' go-ahead two-run home run. Hanzlik's only allowed run was unearned as he struck out three. CofC starter Matt Pegler - preseason Pitcher of the Year in the SoCon - had his fourth no-decision of the season after the Cougars tied the game in the bottom of the eighth.
Game two of the three-game series is scheduled for 2:00 pm on Saturday afternoon with a pair of left-handers scheduled to square-off. Western Carolina sends LHP Morgan McKinney to the hill while the Cougars counter with Jake Zokan.