Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina junior Spencer Holcomb belted his team-leading fourth home run of the season on Sunday afternoon to claw the Catamounts back to within a run, but WCU was unable to find the key hit down the stretch, dropping the series finale -- and the nonconference series -- 2-1 to the Kent State Golden Flashes at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium.
A day after the two offenses combined for 26 runs on 35 total hits, it was a pitcher's duel on Sunday afternoon as both starters worked deep into the game. WCU junior LHP Brendan Nail (1-4) scattered six hits over eight innings, allowing a pair of one-run innings for the home squad in suffering the loss while Golden Flashes' starter Joey Murray (2-0) held WCU to one run on seven hits. The Kent State bullpen held WCU scoreless over the final three frames to secure the one-run game and series victory.
Nail recorded six strikeouts for the Catamounts, and kept his squad in contention through the middle innings by retiring 11-consecutive hitters between the end of the fourth and eighth innings. Senior reliever B.J. Nobles struck out the side in the ninth inning with one looking and two swinging K's.
Holcomb paced the WCU offense, collecting the lone multi-hit game for the Catamounts as six different players combined for the seven hits -- but none came over the final two and a two-thirds innings with the final decision still hanging in the balance. Holcomb reached three times with a walk to accompany his two hits while his one-out, solo shot over the fence in left center field in the fourth inning represented WCU's only score.
Seniors Matt Smith, Nobu Suzuki, and J.D. Long each reached base twice with a single and a walk on Sunday afternoon. Redshirt senior Bryson Bowman continued his reached base safely streak in the first inning with a single on a hot-shot to third base in a 1-for-4 outing. The Baton, N.C., native has reached successfully in 19-straight games, each game WCU has played this season.
Kent State (11-6) got on the board first with back-to-back, one-run frames in the second and third innings. The Golden Flashes loaded the bases in the top of the second inning as Pete Schuler singled before a walk and hit batter put three aboard. Second baseman Dom Iero bounced into a 4-6-3 double-play for the first two outs of the frame, but allowed Schuler to race home for the early lead.
In the third, Nick Kanavas drew a lead-off walk before eventually scoring on a two-out double by Dylan Rosa, plating what proved to be the game-winning run.
Holcomb's homer in the fourth made it a one-run game, but WCU was unable to capitalize on several situations, stranding a combined nine runners on the day. The Catamounts left two on base in the first, one in the second and two again in the third inning. WCU's best chance to overcome the deficit came in the seventh as two singles and a one-out walk loaded the bases and ultimately chased KSU starter, Murray. However, reliever Connor Wollersheim slammed the door with a strikeout and getting an inning-ending ground ball.
WCU had one final chance in the bottom of the ninth inning as Long reached on a two-out walk. But a swinging strikeout ended the threat and the game.
All told, Murray struck out seven against three walks for the Golden Flashes while Wollersheim countered a walk with a strikeout in two and a third innings of hitless, scoreless relief. For a second-straight day, Zach Spangler recorded the final out, securing the save with a strikeout for his third of an inning in the ninth.
Western Carolina (8-11) remains at home on Wednesday to conclude the five-game home stand by hosting the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs (9-12) with first pitch scheduled for 5:00 pm. Wednesday's game is slated to be broadcast on the SoCon Digital Network with live streaming audio and video available online.