March 18, 2011
Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina used back-to-back doubles by Julian Ridings and Ross Heffley in the seventh inning to tie Friday afternoon's Southern Conference series opener against Elon at five. However, a ninth inning solo home run to left center by Seth Canipe lifted the Phoenix to a one-run, 6-5, victory over the Catamounts at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium.
Game two of the conference series is scheduled for 2:00 pm on Saturday afternoon. Fans can follow the game online at CatamountSports.com with live GameTracker, presented by Carolina West Sports Medicine and the WestCare Health System.
Trailing by a run, 5-4, entering the seventh, Ridings poked a two-bagger into shallow center field where the ball found a hole between three Phoenix players including both middle infielders, allowing him to race into second base. The next batter, Heffley, doubled down the right field line to push across the game-tying run and potentially swing all momentum into the home dugout.
WCU's seventh inning rally continued as Matt Johns was plunked to put two aboard with nobody out and Stephen Notaro sacrificing runners into scoring position with a bunt. Elon and relief pitcher John Brebbia played the percentages by intentionally walking WCU freshman catcher Adam Martin to load the bases. However, the Phoenix were able to thwart the rally with a double-play as Tyler White lined out to the center fielder who threw behind Johns at second base for the force out, keeping the game tied.
Ridings finished a career-best 3-for-5 to lead the Catamounts offensively. Heffley and Austin Schultz also recorded multi-hit games, finishing 2-for-4 and 2-for-5, respectively.
In the visitor half of the ninth, Canipe lifted an 0-1 pitch over the left field fence for a one-out, solo homer that eventually handed Elon the win.
Reliever Brandon Johnson (3-2) took the loss after working the final inning and two thirds for the Catamounts, allowing the one earned run on two hits with a strikeout. Senior starter Matt Benedict factored in a no-decision, leaving the game after seven innings with the score tied at five. The St. Petersburg, Fla., native scattered five runs - only four of which were earned - on six hits with a pair of walks and three strikeouts.
Western Carolina (8-8, 0-4 SoCon) broke open a scoreless affair in the home half of the third inning as Cameron Dullnig drove the first pitch of his at bat down the right field line for a double. Consecutive bunts by Austin Schultz - that sacrificed Dullnig to third - and an RBI infield bunt single by Ridings put the Catamounts on top, 1-0. The inning was cut short, however, as Stephen Notaro singled through the left side and Ridings was gunned out at the plate trying to score from second.
Elon answered half an inning later as Alex Swim led off with a single to left center and scored on a sacrifice fly by Grant McCoury, tying the game at one apiece.
Back-to-back singles by Adam Martin and Tyler White to open the fourth inning started a two-run rally to push the Catamounts back in front, 3-1. Freshman Aaron Attaway reached on a fielder's choice to score Martin and later raced home on an RBI single up the middle by Schultz.
The Phoenix (13-6, 4-0 SoCon) surged ahead for the first time in the game, though, with a four-run top of the fifth inning, capitalizing on the long ball. Harry Austin drew a one-out walk with Jake Luce putting two aboard with an infield bunt single ahead of Niko Fraser who homered to right to plate three runs. With Swim on first after a bunt single, Ryan Kinsella drove one to deep left, but the fly ball was dropped. The error allowed Swim to score, with Kinsella thrown out trying to stretch the play to third base.
Matt Johns pulled WCU back within a run in the fifth with a towering solo home run over the batter's eye in straight away center field. The squad tied the game on the consecutive doubles in the seventh before Canipe's game-winning home run.
Western Carolina out hit the Phoenix, 14-to-9, with three doubles and a home run against one double and two round-trippers for Elon. The Catamounts also stranded 10 base runners in the loss.
Brebbia (3-0) scored the win for the Phoenix by tossing two innings in middle relief, allowing just three hits and one earned run with a walk and a strikeout. Mitch Conner gave up a lead-off single to Heffley in the ninth, but then retired three-straight to pick-up the save - his second of the season.
Fraser drove in three runs for Elon on two base hits including the home run. He was joined with two hits by Luce and Pritchard, with Canipe posting a 1-for-4 showing with the game-winning RBI.
Saturday's starters are scheduled to be freshman RHP Jordan Smith for the Catamounts while senior RHP Ken Ferrer will go for Elon. First pitch is at 2:00 pm.