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Catamounts Drop One-Run Series Opener to Charleston, 5-4

Sophomore RHP Jordan Smith struck out six in seven innings in the starting role for Western Carolina on Friday night, but did not factor in the decision. (Photo by Mark Haskett)

April 27, 2012

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Cullowhee, N.C. - Trailing by two runs entering the bottom of the final frame, Western Carolina mounted a ninth inning rally to claw back within a run with the bases loaded on Friday night in its Southern Conference series opener against the College of Charleston. However, the Catamounts were only able to bring home one run, falling 5-4 at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium.

Charleston's Daniel Aldrich drove in all five Cougar runs on a career-high three home runs as CofC extended its current winning streak to six-straight on the season. WCU senior Ross Heffley nearly matched him swing for swing, belting two home runs as he closed to within four base knocks of matching the school record for career hits (332 going to 336 held by Barrett Shaft, 2005-08).

Game two of the three-game series is scheduled for a 1:00 pm first pitch on Saturday afternoon. The game will be broadcast online with streaming audio (free) and video through Catamount All-Access (subscription required). Fans can also follow online with live GameTracker.

Entering the bottom of the ninth down 5-3, pinch hitter Luke Gragg wore a David Peterson inside fastball to bring the tying run to the plate. Sophomore Julian Ridings then laced a seeing-eye single through the right side for his team-high third hit of the day, moving pinch runner Garrett Brown all the way around to third base.

Ridings, who finished 3-for-4, stole second ahead of classmate Dykota Spiess who drew a one-out walk to load the bases for the Catamounts, sending it back to the top of the batting order. On the first pitch of his at bat, freshman Bradley Strong drew a second HBP in the frame to drive in WCU's fourth run, trimming the Cougar lead to one, 5-4, and bringing Heffley to the plate. However, the senior from Snellville, Ga., struck out looking on a pitch off the outer half for the second out.

With the bases still loaded, sophomore Cody Jones grounded one to the right side in between first and second base. Cougar first baseman Rob Harding played the ball, but stumbled as he went to make the turn back to first. He tossed the ball to Peterson who had sprinted to cover the bag with the relay just beating the head-first slide of Jones to the bag for the game's final out and negating Ridings who had easily touched home from third base with the would-be game-tying run.

Peterson picked up his 10th save of the season as Cougar starter Christian Powell (8-2) scored the win for the visitors. Powell held WCU to three runs on seven hits, pitching around two walks with five strikeouts in the win.

Catamount starter Jordan Smith did not factor into the decision, also tossing seven complete innings of three-run baseball, limiting the Cougars to just five hits. The Liberty, N.C., native walked three but fanned six. Reliever Vance Chavis (0-1) took the loss after giving up the third home run to Aldrich, tossing one inning out of the bullpen.

Aldrich provided most of the offense - and all the run production - for the Cougars. The redshirt sophomore from Mt. Pleasant, S.C., hit a solo home run in the second inning and added two-run shots in the third and eighth with the latter proving to be the game-winner for the College of Charleston (30-12, 18-7 SoCon).

For the fifth time in the last six games, Western Carolina (26-16, 10-9 SoCon) jumped on top in the first inning. Heffley belted his fifth home run of the season with a one-out bomb over the middle section of the "Purple Monster" in left off to hand the Catamounts the 1-0 lead. The next batter, Jones, drew a walk with Tyler White pushing his team-leading 15th double down the left field line to move the runners to second and third. Then, with the bases loaded, freshman Jacob Hoyle picked up his 38th RBI with a sacrifice fly to deep right field to plate Jones.

The Cougars answered in the top of the second on Aldrich's first homer, a shot over the right field fence to bring CofC back within a run, 2-1. Aldrich notched his second home run of the game in the third inning with the two-run shot handing the Cougars a 3-2 lead on a hit that again carried over the right field fence to also bring in Marty Gantt who reached on a walk.

Not to be outdone by Aldrich, Heffley hit a lead-off bomb over the left-centerfield fence for his second of the evening to tie the game at three to end the fifth inning.

Aldrich's third home run of the game coming in the top of the eighth inning drove in two for the 5-3 edge, setting up the ninth inning heroics.

Game two is scheduled for 1:00 pm on Saturday afternoon.