Cullowhee, N.C. - Redshirt senior Bryson Bowman delivered a bases loaded sacrifice fly to left center field in the bottom of the ninth inning to plate classmate J.D. Long as Western Carolina scored a 4-3 walk-off victory over The Citadel in its Southern Conference series opener at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium.
Long, a defensive substitution in the eighth inning, opened the Catamount rally with a lead-off walk before taking second on a fielder's choice sacrifice bunt by Brett Pope. Caleb Robinson then reached on a fielder's choice as the throw following his ground ball chopped up the middle went to third where it failed to connect for an out as the error ultimately loaded the bases. On the fifth pitch of his at bat, Bowman cranked a shot to the gap in left center field that allowed Long to tag and race home with the game-winning marker.
Even with the heroics in the final frame, the story of the night was the duel between the two pitching staffs. WCU senior southpaw Bryan Sammons outdueled The Citadel starter J.P. Sears before the decision fell upon the bullpens. Sammons, a product of Wilmington, N.C., struck out a career-high 14 over 7.2 innings, scattering six hits and limiting the Bulldogs to three, one-run innings while working around a pair of walks.
Sammons' 14 strikeouts on Friday night surpassed his previous career-high of 10 established back in 2015 against Samford in the SoCon Tournament. Over his four-year career, Sammons has now struck out 270 to move into fifth all-time in the program record books, supplanting former hurler Jeremy Null (2012-15) who fanned 265.
Senior right-hander B.J. Nobles (2-0) had the curtain call to Sammons' performance, scoring the victory by tossing a perfect inning and a third of hitless, scoreless relief. The Raleigh, N.C., struck out two batters, keeping the game tied to set-up the ninth inning theatrics as the Catamounts improved to 10-15 overall and evened their SoCon record at 2-2.
Junior catcher Spencer Holcomb tallied his first career triple as a part of a career-best, 4-for-4 outing at the plate, collecting a RBI on his three-bagger as a part of WCU's three-run first inning. Bowman and classmate Nobu Suzuki both finished 2-for-4 in the win with Suzuki plating the other two markers in the first frame on a single while Bowman collected his RBI in the final inning.
Bowman matched his career-best 25 game reached base safely streak with a sharp single up the middle in the fifth inning, which also stretched his current hitting streak to 10-straight.
Designated hitter Pierce Suttles tallied a base hit in a 1-for-2 outing, reaching in the first inning on a HBP, while Matt Smith singled in a 1-for-4 performance, rounding out WCU's 10 base hits in the winning effort. Smith is riding a seven-game hitting streak for the Catamounts.
For The Citadel (9-17, 2-2 SoCon), starter J.P. Sears struck out nine in 6.2 innings of work, working around eight hits and a pair of walks in surrendering three earned runs -- each coming in the first inning. Reliever Aaron Lesiak (3-1), the fourth of five Bulldog pitchers to throw on Friday, was tagged with the loss, allowing a run on a hit with the walk providing WCU the game-winning run.
The Bulldogs' fsix hits were scattered between five different players with two going for extras. Catcher Cole Buffington delivered a lead-off home run for The Citadel in the top of the fifth inning to trim the Catamount lead to two, 3-1, as a part of a two-hit day. Ben Peden doubled in the game-tying run in the top of the eighth inning to score Jonathan Sabo, who finished 1-for-2 with a single and two walks as a part of accounting for two runs scored.
Game two of the three-game series is scheduled for Saturday afternoon with first pitch at 2:00 pm. Fans can follow the game with live GameTracker online at CatamountSports.com, or by following on Twitter using the handle, @Catamounts.