Lexington, Va. - Western Carolina baseball dropped both ends of Saturday afternoon's doubleheader against VMI at Gray-Minor Stadium, suffering a three-game series sweep to the Keydets. VMI scored four late runs in game one to break an eight-all tie in taking game one, 12-9, before rallying from a 4-1 deficit in completing the sweep with a 5-4 victory in the finale.
The doubleheader win gave VMI its first home conference series sweep since 2014 while also relegating the Catamounts to 13-consecutive losses.
Redshirt junior Matthew Koehler paced WCU through Saturday's twin bill, finishing 4-for-9 (.444) with four singles and a pair of RBI. Both of senior Caleb Robinson's hits left the ball park with a solo and two-run home run accounting for his team-high tying three RBI. His younger brother, Luke Robinson, also homered in game one with a three-run shot.
Overall, WCU was outscored in the doubleheader, 17-to-13, with the Keydets outhitting the Catamounts, 23-to-19, including a 10-to-3 edge in extra base hits -- both team with three home runs while VMI added seven doubles.
Collectively, the Catamount pitching staff struck out 20 hitters on Saturday with redshirt junior Taylor Purus fanning a career-high 13 in six innings in the finale. WCU's four arms did walk a combined 11 hitters including seven by Purus.
Western Carolina (3-31, 1-11 SoCon) steps out of conference on Wednesday to visit former mountain-rival, Appalachian State, in Boone for the backend of a midweek, nonconference home-and-home. The Mountaineers took the first meeting in Cullowhee, 13-3, back on Feb. 27.
Game One Recap -- VMI 12, Western Carolina 9
Western Carolina battled back from an early 6-0 deficit, closing to within one run after a five-run fifth and eventually tying the game with a pair of markers in the top of the seventh. However, a two-out double by Jacob Jaye in the bottom of the seventh pushed VMI ahead for good as the Keydets claimed the series win with a 12-9 victory.
With two runs in the first and a four-run third that featured a three-run homer by Matt Dunlevy, VMI raced out to the 6-0 lead through the first three frames. Held to just two hits through the first four innings, WCU finally got its offense on track in the fifth, capitalizing on a pair of walks before Matthew Koehler slapped a two-out, two-run single to right center and Luke Robinson circled the base paths on a three-run home run to close the deficit to one, 6-5.
The Keydets responded with a two-spot in the bottom of the fifth before Caleb Robinson led-off the sixth with a solo homer to make it, 8-6, through six complete.
In the seventh inning, the Catamounts missed a golden opportunity, though they did plate a pair of runs after loading the bases with nobody out. Cameron Blaquiere, who led-off with a walk, scored on a wild pitch with Koehler scampering home on an infield groundout. However, the go-ahead marker was left 90-feet away, stranded at third base to set-up Jaye's heroics in the bottom of the frame.
VMI tacked on three runs in the eighth including a solo home run by Collin Fleischer to push the margin to four with freshman Justice Bigbie driving in the game's final run in the top of the ninth to score pinch hitter Bo Fricks.
WCU reliever Zach Franklin (0-4) was tagged with the loss, surrendering four runs -- only three of which were earned -- on five hits with a pair of strikeouts over two innings. The Marion, N.C., native took over for Jake Moebius who tossed two-thirds of an inning of hitless, scoreless relief out of the bullpen. Starter Tristan Baker factored in the no-decision, exiting the game in the sixth inning after 5.1 innings of work. Baker surrendered eight runs -- six earned -- on 11 hits with five strikeouts countering four walks.
Third out of the bullpen, VMI's fourth pitcher Derek Tremblay (2-2) scored the win for the Keydets after a scoreless, hitless relief inning.
Game Two Recap -- VMI 5, Western Carolina 4 (7 inn.)
After grabbing a first-inning lead on an inside the park home run by Matt Pita, VMI rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the fourth inning to complete the series sweep with a 5-4 victory over WCU in seven innings.
Pita belted a shot off the wall in left center which jettisoned away from both left fielder Andrew Robinson and centerfielder Matthew Koehler allowing for the inside-the-park home run for the early 1-0 lead. WCU responded, though, taking the lead in the home half of the second inning on consecutive RBI singles by Bo Fricks and Will Prater in the bottom of the lineup.
The tide turned, however, in the home portion of the fourth inning as the first two batters reached on singles putting with a sacrifice bunt by catcher Ryan Smoot moving both runners into scoring position. Infielder Callen Nuccio then laid down a would-be sacrifice bunt with Matt Dunlevy crashing from third base. WCU back stop Spencer Holcomb grabbed the short bunt and attempted to apply a swipe tag on Dunlevy, and was originally credited with the putout at home. However, after a long conference between all three umpires, the call was reversed with Dunlevy awarded home Nuccio a sacrifice bunt that cut the Catamount lead in half, 4-2.
VMI went on to tie the game on a two-run double by Pita, who finished with three runs driven in on the afternoon.
After a scoreless top of the fifth, VMI took the lead for good in the home half as Dunlevy laced a one-out double to center and scored on the RBI single by Jake Huggins to provide the final tally. WCU put two runners aboard in the top of the sixth as seniors Spencer Holcomb and Cameron Blaquiere both singled, but were left on base and the Catamounts then went in order in the top of the seventh inning.
Taylor Purus (1-8) went the distance for the Catamount on the mound, establishing new career highs with seven walks while striking out 13 of the 18 outs he recorded on the day. The Hudson, N.C., native was hit seven times with five runs allowed.
VMI starter Kyle Staats (4-2) benefited from the fourth-inning rally, scoring the victory after five innings of work, allowing four runs on seven hits with a strikeout. Reliever Matthew Eagle saw his second action of the weekend, securing his sixth save of the season by limiting WCU to one hit over an inning and a third, stranding two on base in the seventh while striking out three.