May 9, 2014
Statesboro, Ga. - J.D. Long drove home Luke Gragg with the game-winning run on a high bouncing shot to the left side of the infield in the top of the ninth inning as Western Carolina erased a four-run deficit with five-consecutive runs over the final four frames to take Friday's Southern Conference series opener over Georgia Southern, 5-4, at J.I. Clements Stadium.
With the win, Western Carolina improved to 33-14 overall on the season, 17-4 in SoCon play, maintaining its hold on first place in the conference as second-place Davidson is idle this weekend.
Tied at four apiece, Gragg led off the decisive final frame with a hot-shot hit to third that was misplayed, allowing the senior to reach base. The Moravian, Falls, N.C., native quickly took second on a wild pitch offered off the submarine-side arm delivery of Eagle reliever, Jason Richman, before being sacrificed further into scoring position on a perfectly executed bunt by Matt Smith.
Long then chopped the first pitch of his at bat deep in the hole at short, drawing a play at the plate as Gragg steamed home, sliding in ahead of the throw with the go-ahead run.
Senior T.J. Fussell (5-2) then capped his four-inning relief outing by bookending a perfect ninth by striking out two looking and flashing the leather on a line drive sent back to the mound to secure the victory. All told, Fussell - the third WCU pitcher of the series-opener - tossed four hitless, scoreless innings out of the bullpen, silencing the Eagles to enable his squad to mount the five-run rally. The Asheville, N.C., native struck out four including the two in the final frame against two walks.
Sophomore Colton Davis struck out one in two innings in his first weekend start, allowing two runs on three hits. Freshman Bryan Sammons tossed the next three innings out of the pen, fanning a pair against a walk and two runs allowed on three hits.
Georgia Southern (31-20, 13-12 SoCon) jumped out to a four-run lead with three runs in the home half of the third and another marker in the fifth inning. Meanwhile, the Catamounts had been limited to just two base runners and just one hit in the same span. However, WCU got things rolling in the sixth to start the rally.
Reece Strong reached on an error before Adam Martin drew a two-out walk to put two aboard. Junior Jacob Hoyle then delivered his ninth double of the season - fourth in the last four games - plating the first run for the Catamounts as Strong came home. Senior Dykota Spiess then laced a two-RBI single up the middle to claw WCU back to within a run, 4-3.
In the eighth inning, Martin squared things with his 11th home run of the season, blasting a 0-1 pitch over the fence in left field to tie the game at four and setting up the ninth-inning heroics. The round-tripper was the first homer hit outside of Cullowhee for the Marietta, Ga., native, Martin, who leads the SoCon with 56 RBI.
Junior Bradley Strong led the seven Catamounts that combined for eight base hits in the win, finishing 2-for-5 with a pair of singles - the only player in the game with multiple hits. Spiess paced the team with the two RBI on his sixth-inning drive up the middle.
GSU's Richman (5-1) took the loss after allowing the go-ahead run to WCU in the ninth, striking out two against two hits in an inning and two thirds. Starter Josh Wirsu factored in the no-decision after scattering six hits through 7.1 innings, giving up four runs - only one of which was earned - with four strikeouts.
Ben Morgan drove home two on a 1-for-3 showing at the plate with a sacrifice fly for the Eagles while Garrett Chapman opened scoring with a third inning solo home run on a 1-for-4 outing.
Game two of the final three-game SoCon is scheduled for a 4:30 pm first pitch on Saturday afternoon.