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Catamounts Hold Off Bulldogs to Win Series Opener, 7-6

Jeremy Null (3-1) scored the victory on the mound, striking out four in five innings of work. (Photo by Mark Haskett)

March 29, 2013

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Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina scored in bunches, tallying all seven runs between the second and fifth innings before holding off The Citadel's rally attempts down the stretch to pick-up the Southern Conference series-opening victory, 7-6, on a rainy Friday evening at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium.

Sophomore infielder Austin Neary posted a game-high three hits including a double in a 3-for-4 performance with an RBI and two runs scored to lead WCU. Classmate Jacob Hoyle drove in two runs, finishing 1-for-2 with a sacrifice fly as the designated hitter.

Misting rain and showers began peppering the playing surface before the first pitch was uncorked towards home plate. However, aside from tending to the pitcher's mound and home plate circle a half dozen times, play was not interrupted by the weather.

Weather could play a factor on Saturday as the two perennial SoCon stalwarts square-off. Game two is scheduled for a 2:00 pm start. Officials at WCU will check field conditions and weather forecasts on Saturday morning to determine whether or not the Catamounts and Bulldogs will play two. If the schedule is altered for a twin-bill, the final game of the series will begin approximately 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first game.

Catamount starter Jeremy Null (3-1) picked up the victory after scattering five hits through five innings, working around two walks and a hit batter with four strikeouts. Reliever Hunter Brister was paramount in keeping the Bulldogs off balance, recording a career-high four strikeouts in an inning and a third out of the bullpen - his third-straight game of three-or-more K's in a relief effort. The Pleasant Grove, Ala., product got WCU out of a bases loaded, no out jam in the sixth inning by striking out the side, slamming the door on a would-be Bulldog rally.

Freshman Alex Barr recorded a strikeout just ahead of set-up man Tyler Powell who pitched around a pair of walks in an inning and a third of relief work to get the ball to closer Preston Hatcher. The senior from Atlanta, Ga., tossed the final frame, surrendering a run on one hit with a walk and two strikeouts in earning his seventh save of the season - and the 17th of his WCU career to move him into sole possession of fifth all-time in the school's record books.

The Citadel (15-11, 4-3 SoCon) grabbed an early 2-0 lead in the top of the second, capitalizing on a pair of infield errors. Bo Thompson reached on an error before coming home on a misplayed ball with two outs. Hughston Armstrong then delivered a single to right center to put the `Dogs ahead, 2-0.

The Catamounts responded, though, in the bottom of the frame to tie the game. With Julian Ridings and Neary aboard with a single and double, respectively, Hoyle plated the first run with a long fly ball out to center on the sacrifice. Neary raced home as junior Dykota Spiess, who was plunked by a pitch, got caught in a rundown between first and second, tying the game at two.

An inning later, WCU took the lead for what proved to be for good as Tyler White added to his team RBI lead with a run-scoring single up the middle to drive home Attaway. A bases loaded flare to right field that was dropped resulted in a force play at second to record an out, but allowed Cody Jones to score from third to give the Catamounts a 4-2 lead through three innings.

Calvin Orth belted a double to right center field to plate Tyler Griffin for The Citadel in the fourth, closing back to 4-3 in the top of the inning. But the Catamounts respond in the home portion of the fourth on back-to-back extra base hits. Bermudez benefited from the weather conditions on a rising line drive hit to the outfield that the right fielder initially misplayed the angle on the ball before slipping while trying to recover, allowing the ball to roll to the fence and the catcher rumble to third. Attaway then doubled to left center to plate the run making it 5-3 through four complete.

In the fifth inning, WCU again pushed across two runs to stretch its advantage to a game-high four runs, 7-3. With Ridings and Neary aboard, Hoyle sharply singled up the middle allowing the speedy Ridings to score. With two outs, the Catamounts capitalized on a Bulldog error as a wind-blown pop-up on the infield was dropped allowing what proved to be the game-winning run to cross.

After being stymied by Brister in the sixth, The Citadel began its march back in the top of the seventh inning. Mason Davis bunted his way aboard to start the frame before Joe Jackson put two aboard with a one-out single through the right side. A first wild pitch moved both runners up 90-feet with a second arrant pitch allowing Davis to scamper home. Then, a third wild pitch in the frame brought Jackson home as the opportunistic Bulldogs continued to threaten.

With runners at the corners and two outs, Powell came on and got pinch hitter Ryne Hardwick to pop-up to second-baseman Bradley Strong to end the rally.

In the ninth, the Bulldogs again scratched the scoreboard for a marker coming off Hatcher. Thompson led off with a six-pitch walk before Thompson fanned on three-straight strikes. A wild pitch moved Thompson to second with Johnathan Stokes striking out for the second out. Pinch hitter Brett Bullard singled up the middle to bring home Thompson, cutting WCU's edge to one as pinch runner Jason Smith crossed home.

With the tying marker on first and the go-ahead run at the plate, Hatcher got Orth to ground out to third on an off-balance field-and-throw play by White, charging in from third base to end the game and secure the victory.

Bulldog starter Austin Pritcher (3-2) took the loss after allowing all seven runs - six of which were earned - in five innings. He struck out five with four walks. Relievers Kevin Connell and Zach Sherrill tossed the final three frames scoreless, only allowing two Catamount hits while striking out three.

Davis and Stokes had two hits apiece for the Bulldogs as The Citadel stranded 11 base runners in the losing effort. Orth's fourth inning double was the only extra base hit for the Cadets.

Game two is scheduled for 2:00 pm on Saturday afternoon. WCU south-paw Morgan McKinney is slated to start for the Catamounts with The Citadel yet to name a starting pitcher.