March 23, 2014
Elon, N.C. - Western Carolina played opportunistic baseball on Sunday afternoon, outlasting both a three-hour rain delay and multiple rallies by the Elon Phoenix to claim its eighth-straight Southern Conference series with a 9-7 victory at Latham Park. The Catamounts scored runs in seven of the nine innings and capitalized on seven Elon errors to claim the rubber match finale.
WCU improved to 13-9 overall with the win and opened league play at 2-1. Dating back to last season, the Catamounts have won 18 of their last 20 SoCon games.
Plating runs in the top of both the first and third innings, the Catamounts jumped out to a 2-0 lead before a steady rain shower chased the teams from the field. Bradley Strong doubled to left center field in the opening frame, eventually scoring on a sacrifice fly by Adam Martin. Strong again reached in the third, coaxing a nine-pitch walk before promptly stealing second, advancing to third as the throw to second skipped into right center. One of Saturday's heroes, Jacob Hoyle, then singled down the right field line to drive in the run for the WCU lead.
Moments after Hoyle reached first, the umpires pulled both teams from the field to begin what stretched out to a three hour, 13-minute rain delay.
After the stoppage, Elon (14-9, 3-3 SoCon) managed to tie the game with a pair of runs in the home half of the fourth inning.
The Catamounts then methodically stretched their advantage to three with solo runs in the top of the fifth through sixth innings. In the fifth, senior Aaron Attaway reached on an infield error before being sacrificed to second ahead of Martin who drive in his second run of the day with a single up the middle. Cody Jones reached on one-out error in the sixth before Attaway plated the run on a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2.
In the top of the seventh inning, Martin was plunked by a pitch to start the one-run rally, moving all the way to third on a failed pickoff attempt at first with the ball rolling wildly down the right field line. Hoyle plated the Catamounts' fifth run as he flew out in foul ground to left with Martin tagging and scoring on the sacrifice.
Elon would not go away, though, as the Phoenix lit the scoreboard twice in the bottom of the seventh inning to pull back within a run, 5-4. Casey Jones lifted a sacrifice fly to center to score Wil Leathers from third for the first run ahead of pinch hitter Tyler McVicar who laced a RBI double to left center for the second marker.
Western Carolina seemingly blew the game open in the top of the eighth inning, scoring three runs on two hits and taking advantage of two Elon errors. Cody Jones pushed a perfect bunt to the right side for an infield single before stealing second to move into scoring position. Reece Strong, who came on for starting third baseman J.D. Long early in the game, laid down a sacrifice bunt but reached when the ball was thrown away at first. The overthrow allowed Jones to score and left Strong standing at third base where Attaway plated him with a second sacrifice fly.
The Catamount eighth-inning rally continued as Bradley Strong singled through the right side for his second hit of the game. He promptly swiped second with the throw again eluding the Elon middle infielders, ricocheting into the outfield. Strong popped up and raced all the way home from second on the error to give WCU an 8-4 edge.
The Phoenix yet again rallied in the bottom of the frame to again trim WCU's advantage back to just one run - all coming with two outs. Leathers drew a two-out walk before Quinn Bowers singled up the middle to put two aboard ahead of Ryan Cooper who lifted a three-run homer over the fence in left to make it 8-7.
WCU worked a little two-out magic of its own in the top of the ninth to tack on an insurance run to stretch the lead to 9-7. Jones singled through the left side before Reece Strong walked. Attaway then secured his third RBI of the day on a sharp single up the middle to plate his classmate, Jones, to provide the final tally.
Jones led WCU at the plate, finishing 3-for-5 with three runs scored. Bradley Strong (2-for-4) and Hoyle (2-for-3) both collected two hits apiece with Strong's first inning double representing WCU's lone extra base hit of the game.
Senior Jordan Smith tossed six innings in the starting role to earn the victory on Sunday. The right-hander tossed the first two frames prior to the rain stoppage, then returned to the mound after the three-plus hour delay to pitch the next four frames. The Liberty, N.C., product held Elon to two runs while scattering six hits, striking out six against two walks.
Among an overall gutsy appearance by Smith, his final frame was perhaps the most telling of the entire outing. With Elon within two runs at 4-2, the Phoenix managed to load the bases with just one out. However, Smith fought back, striking out the next two batters in the order to end the threat and maintain the Catamount advantage.
WCU closer Tyler Powell picked up his third save of the season, securing the final out in the eighth inning before striking out the side in the ninth inning.
For Elon, four players combined for its 11 hits with Casey Jones finishing 3-for-4 with two RBI. Reliever Jacob Baker (0-2) took the loss after Elon rallied to tie the game at two in the fourth, surrendering two unearned runs on four hits in three and a third innings.
Western Carolina returns to action on Tuesday as it travels to Johnson City, Tenn., for the back-end of a mid-week home-and-home against East Tennessee State. First pitch against the Buccaneers is scheduled for 7:00 pm.