March 17, 2012
Jacksonville, Fla. - Pinch runner Bradley Strong scored the game-winning run from third base, scampering home when an Alex McRae breaking ball bounced away from Dolphin catcher Matt Frank as Western Carolina held off Jacksonville, 2-1, Saturday evening at John Sessions Stadium.
Tied at one in the top of the ninth inning, Strong was summoned from the dugout to add speed at second base for freshman Jacob Hoyle who reached on an infield error and advanced to second on a single to right by Cody Jones. Pinch hitter Luke Gragg bounced into a fielder's choice that forced Jones out at second, putting runners at the corners with two out.
Early in the at bat by freshman Connor Andrus, McRae tried to get him to swing at one low and away, bouncing the ball on the outside part of the plate where it squirted away from Frank. Strong, already with a big secondary lead at third base, charged home for the go-ahead run with the throw back to the plate skipping down the third base line allowing Gragg to advance to third on the throwing error.
Up 2-1 going into the home portion of the ninth, reliever Preston Hatcher (3-0), who earned the win out of the bullpen, struck out all three batters he faced in the final inning as the Catamounts won for the first time in four attempts in Jacksonville.
Florida native Morgan McKinney tossed the first seven and a third innings in the starting role for the Catamounts, scattering three hits and allowing just one run. The left-hander out of Gainesville struck out seven against one walk, factoring in the no-decision while Hatcher fanned four of the six batters he faced. At one point, McKinney sat down eight-straight Dolphins before a single up the middle. He then retired nine-straight following the hit up the middle.
All told, the two Catamount hurlers combined to hold Jacksonville to four just four hits with 11 strikeouts.
Jones and senior Ross Heffley both finished 2-for-4 to lead the Catamounts on Saturday with Heffley drilling his sixth double of the season. Heffley was aboard in the fourth inning when Hoyle delivered his team-leading 30th RBI of the season on a double the left field line to give the Catamounts the 1-0 lead it enjoyed until the home half of the eighth.
Jacksonville's Jake Huxtable doubled a full-count pitch down the left field line to lead-off the frame with Taylor Ratliff successfully sacrificing him to third base on a bunt and chasing McKinney. Hatcher struck out Jonathan Murphy to hold the runner at third, but Dan Gulbransen lifted a 2-2 pitch into left field to plate the game-tying run, 1-1.
With a runner at first base, Hatcher got Adam Brett Walker II - the preseason player of the year in the Atlantic-Sun Conference - to pop-up to Heffley at second to end the threat and set-up WCU's heroics in the top of the ninth.
McRae (2-1) took the loss despite tossing all nine innings for the Dolphins, scattering seven hits while allowing two runs. He recorded four strikeouts against one walk on the day. Ratliff, Gulbransen, Frank and Huxtable all finished with one hit apiece for JU.
Western Carolina (14-5) concludes play in Florida on Sunday afternoon with first pitch of its nonconference game with Fairfield scheduled for 2:00 pm. The Catamounts are scheduled to start freshman RHP Jeremy Null against the Stags, who enter the game at 7-9 after a 9-3 victory over Jacksonville on Saturday.
Sunday's finale will be broadcast on the Catamount Sports Network with air time of 1:45 pm ahead of the 2:00 pm first pitch and can be heard online at www.CatamountSports.com.