Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina swept both ends of a Saturday doubleheader to complete the three-game Southern Conference series sweep of VMI at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium. The Catamounts scored in all but one inning to claim the resumption of game two, 19-3, before taking control of the series finale with a four-run fifth inning to win game three, 10-5.
Collectively, the Catamounts finished with a team batting average of .444, tallying 48 combined hits over the three-game series including 11 doubles, two triples, and seven home runs. WCU pitching kept pace, recording 35 strikeouts over 27 total innings of work between Friday and Saturday, allowing just nine runs for a 3.00 collective ERA.
With the three weekend victories, Catamount 10th-year head coach Bobby Moranda became the all-time winningest head coach in program history. Moranda has 303 career wins, by-passing legendary coach Jack Leggett who won 302 games from 1983-91. Moranda also surpassed Leggett into 13th on the SoCon's all-time head coaching victories list.
On the year, the Catamounts improved to 19-19 overall and 10-5 in the SoCon with the victories, while VMI dropped to 17-23 overall and 4-11 in league play. WCU moves back into second place in the SoCon standings ahead of UNCG, tied in winning percentage but with more league wins, 10-to-8. The Spartans have been impressive in taking the first two games of their nonconference series at Big Ten foe, Ohio State.
Game One: Western Carolina 19, VMI 3
Beginning with a first-inning run on Friday night before rain forced the game to be halted, Western Carolina plated runs in all but one inning to claim game two of the SoCon series with VMI, 19-3. The Catamounts pushed across five runs in the home half of the second inning where the game resumed, tacking on a six-spot in the fourth.
Senior Matt Smith paced WCU with a three-hit outing that included a single-game career-high tying two home runs and a career-best seven RBI. Classmate Nobu Suzuki drove in four in a perfect 5-for-5 performance, adding a sacrifice bunt. Junior Brett Pope scored four times, finishing 3-for-4 with a walk while freshman Andrew Robinson drove in three runs in a 3-for-3, three-run scored performance.
As a team, the Catamounts managed to steal seven bases in game two of the series.
Catamount starter Tristan Baker threw two innings on Friday night before rain chased the teams from the field. He did not return on Saturday, giving way to southpaw counterpart Dillon Bray (2-3). The redshirt senior scored the victory, striking out a career-high eight with just one walk over six innings of work. Bray scattered eight hits and limited the Keydets to three runs. Junior reliever Jake Niezen tossed the final frame, countering a walk with a strikeout in his second appearance of the week.
Keydet starter Matthew Eagle (3-3) attempted to return after Friday night's rain delay, lasting just through the home half of the second where the game resumed. Eagle was tagged for six runs on seven hits with a walk and a strikeout as the first of six different VMI pitchers to throw in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader.
Offensively, three Keydets posted two-hit games with Mason Adamson homering in a 2-for-3 showing to lead the way, with Michael Diodato also going 2-for-3 while Jacob Jaye doubled in a 2-for-4 outing.
Game Two: Western Carolina 10, VMI 5
Junior Spencer Holcomb belted his team-high tying seventh home run as a part of a four-run home half of the fifth inning as Western Carolina powered its way past VMI, 10-5, to complete the three-game sweep. Classmate Brett Pope led-off the decisive fifth with a solo homer over the fence in right field to tie the game at four before Holcomb's three-run shot gave WCU the three-run edge it would never relinquish.
Holcomb finished 2-for-4 in the finale, adding a double down the right field line in scoring his second of two runs. Pope finished just a single shy of the cycle in a 3-for-5 outing while redshirt sophomore Matthew Koehler drove a run-scoring triple to the wall as a part of a 3-for-3, two RBI performance. Caleb Robinson and Nobu Suzuki both collected two hits apiece in the win.
Junior left-hander Brendan Nail (4-6) struck out the first six batters he faced as a part of a seven-K day, working around three walks. He allowed five runs on eight hits, but again battled to score his 12th career victory on the mound. Senior RHP B.J. Nobles struck out two in 2.2 innings of three-hit, scoreless relief to earn his third save of the season and the eighth of his career. Nobles moves into a tie for 12th in school history, matching Dale Pilgrim (8, 1993-96) and Doug Uzdilla (8, 1987-90).
For the Keydets, Jacob Jaye finished 2-for-3 with a three-run home run while Tyler Tharp homered in the second inning to give VMI its first lead of the series. Jake Huggins and Josh Hollifield both singled twice in 2-for-4 performances for the visitors.
On the mound, VMI starter Brandon Barbery (0-7) was tagged with the loss despite keeping the Catamount batters off-balance early in the game. He was tagged for seven runs -- six earned -- in five full innings of work, striking out three against two walks. Ace reliever Ryan Bennett struck out two against a walk in three innings of work, surrendering three runs on five hits.
Western Carolina continues its current five-game home stand on Tuesday and Wednesday as it hosts Savannah State in nonconference action at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium. First pitch on Tuesday is set for 6:00 pm with Wednesday's game slated for a 4:00 pm start.