Cullowhee, N.C. - Trailing by a run in the bottom of the fifth inning, Western Carolina used a pair of solo home runs by Bryson Parks and Spencer Holcomb to pull even and then ahead of Samford in Sunday afternoon's Southern Conference series rubber match. However, the Bulldogs closed the game by scoring eight-unanswered runs -- two in each of the final four frames -- as Samford closed out the game and the series with an 11-4 victory over the Catamounts at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium.
Holcomb collected his fourth multi-hit game of the week, hammering his fourth home run in as many games as a part of a 2-for-4, two-RBI outing. The Pfafftown, N.C., native stretched his reached base safely streak to a team-best 22-straight games that includes a 10-game hitting streak -- both the longest of his career. During his current 10-game hit streak, Holcomb has eight multi-hit games and has raised his seasonal batting average over 40 points to move into the team lead.
Outfielders Parks and Matthew Koehler both matched Holcomb with two-hit games. Parks beat-out an infield bunt single in the third inning before tying the game in the fifth with his first career homer, clearing the fence in right field. The Marietta, Ga., native scored two of the team's four runs including a game-tying marker on a Holcomb bloop single in the third inning. Koehler singled twice in the fourth and ninth innings but was unable to convert his base knock into a run.
After Samford jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning, the Catamounts clawed back to within a run as senior Cameron Blaquiere cleared the fence in right center field with a two-out, solo home run in the bottom of the opening frame. He reached a second time in the game, plunked following Holcomb's homer in the fifth but was erased in a double-play that stemmed WCU's momentum in the inning.
The Bulldogs reclaimed the lead for good in the top of the sixth inning, loading the bases before the first out on an Austin Edens single and a pair of walks. A one-out single by Troy Dixon knotted the game at four before a run-producing ground-out by Brooks Carlson scored Taylor Garris with what proved to be the game-winning marker.
Catamount starter Taylor Purus (2-11) again battled for the Catamounts, scattering six hits and five runs over six innings of work. But his four strikeouts weren't enough to overcome five walks. Four relievers combined to complete the final three innings with senior Jake Niezen and freshman Caleb Bishop both credited with an inning of work while Jake Moebius and Zach Franklin combined for an inning of relief.
All told, five of Samford's runs scored on Sunday were put on base via the free pass as WCU's pitching staff issued seven walks in the loss.
Samford starter Erin Baldwin was chased after four and a third inning, exiting after the second of WCU's fifth inning homers. Baldwin surrendered four runs on seven hits with five strikeouts and only one free pass coming on an HBP. Reliever Wyatt Burns (5-3) scored the victory after tossing four and two-thirds out of the bullpen, also fanning five while suppressing the WCU offense, holding the Catamounts scoreless with just three base hits despite 10 tallies on the day.
Offensively, Samford (30-23, 14-7 SoCon) also saw three players finish with three- hit games with Carlson going 2-for-3 with a home run, three runs scored and three RBI. Ayrton Schafer had just one hit, but it was a two-run homer in the first inning that pushed the visitors ahead, 2-0, half an inning into the finale.
Despite the offensive efficiency over the final four frames, Samford left 12 men on base during Saturday's game.
Prior to Sunday's game, Western Carolina celebrated its Senior Day, recognizing both the nine seniors on the Samford squad before honoring its six senior players and one manager making their final Childress Field / Hennon Stadium appearance: Cameron Blaquiere, Spencer Holcomb, Caleb Robinson, Dylan Biumi, Jake Niezen, and Corey Sikes, as well as manager Ryan Hoxit.
Western Carolina (7-42, 5-19) hits the road for the remainder of the regular season ahead of the 2018 SoCon Baseball Championship, presented by Holston Gases. WCU travels to the Commonwealth of Kentucky to face both Eastern Kentucky on Tuesday (6:30 pm) and Morehead State on Wednesday (4:00 pm). The Catamounts then conclude the regular season with a pair of games at McNair Field in Forest City, N.C., home of the Coastal Plain League's Forest City Owls, on Friday and Saturday, May 18-19.
WCU will then play in the Tuesday single-elimination round of the SoCon Tournament on Tuesday, May 22 at Fluor Field at the West End in Greenville, S.C., with first pitch scheduled for 10:00 am.
Each game is slated to be broadcast on the Catamount Sports Network with live streaming audio available online through CatamountSports.com.