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Late Inning Rally Lifts Western Carolina over Davidson, 8-6

Senior T.J. Fussell (6-2) recorded five strikeouts in 2.2 innings of work in Thursday's home win over Davidson. (Photos by Mark Haskett, WCU Public Relations)

May 15, 2014

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Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina scored seven unanswered runs in the final two innings to rally from a five-run deficit and pull within one win of clinching the programs 13th regular season Southern Conference title, claiming an 8-6 come-from-behind victory over the Davidson Wildcats Thursday night at Childress Field/Hennon Stadium.

With the win, the Catamounts improved to 35-16 overall, 18-6 in conference play to move back atop the SoCon standings by percentage points over Davidson (28-15, 17-6 SoCon). WCU enters Friday's double-header needing just one more victory to claim the regular season championship for a second-consecutive season. The Wildcats need to sweep the regular season-ending twin bill to earn their first crown since 1985.

Senior Adam Martin and junior Jacob Hoyle went a combined 3-for-8 with six RBI and two runs scored to provide the late inning spark the Catamounts needed in the comeback win. Martin blasted his 13th home run of the season on a grand slam over the fence in left field in the seventh inning to pull the home squad back to within a run. Then, in the eighth, Hoyle delivered the go-ahead and game-winning runs as he dropped a two-RBI double inside the foul line down the left field side to push WCU ahead.

Senior reliever T.J. Fussell (6-2) struck out five batters in 2.2 innings of relief work out of the bullpen to score the win. The Asheville, N.C., native scattered seven hits and a walk, allowing two runs to score while keeping the game close to allow the Catamount offensive rally. Junior Tyler Powell secured his 12th save of the season, working around a one-out double to keep Davidson scoreless.

Starter Jordan Smith was again solid in the starting role, striking out nine batters including the first five of the game. The senior from Liberty, N.C., allowed four earned runs on eight hits and three walks in his final home appearance of his career.

Down to its final nine outs and facing a 6-1 deficit, the WCU bats came to life against Davidson starter, Danny Mooney, who had struck out 11 batters in the previous six innings. The seventh inning started with Mooney's 12th strikeout of the night, but pinch hitter Danny Bermudez reached when the third strike went to the backstop. Junior Bradley Strong followed with a single to right, and Cody Jones reached on an error by the Wildcat shortstop to load the bases ahead of Martin. The SoCon leader in RBI launched a rocket grand slam over the left field fence cutting the Davidson lead down to one, 6-5.

WCU was poised to take the lead in the frame after walks were issued to Dykota Spiess and Luke Gragg, but Wildcat reliever Durin O'Linger induced an inning-ending double-play to preserve the Davidson lead for another frame.

With Davidson threatening in the top of the eighth inning, Fussell struck out Sam Foy with two runners aboard to keep the margin at just one run.

In the bottom of the inning, senior Taylor Sandefur started the rally with a pinch hit single to right field before freshman Dylan Prevatte sacrificed pinch runner Aaron Attaway to second base with a perfect bunt between a charging Davidson third baseman the Wildcat pitcher. After a walks to Bradley Strong and Martin, Attaway raced home to score the tying run on a pass ball.

After working the count full, Hoyle went to the opposite field, depositing a cue-shot down the left field line that landed inches in fair ground to score Strong and Martin to give the Catamounts the 8-6 lead.

Senior Luke Gragg drove home the game's first run in the bottom of the first inning, drawing a bases loaded HBP. Strong led the Catamounts with three singles in a 3-for-4 outing while Spiess collected his 11th double of the year on a line drive shot to straightaway center in the third inning. With the four RBI on the grand slam, Martin has a SoCon-leading 64 on the year.

For Davidson, Michael Goldberg (3-3) was saddled with the loss, allowing two runs, one earned, in a third of an inning. Mooney, who also took a no decision, recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts in six innings of work. He scattered seven hits and allowed five runs, four of which were earned.

Ben Arkin and Lee Miller both finished with three hits apiece to pace six Wildcats with multi-hit games in the losing effort. Miller doubled twice and hit a two-run home run. Forrest Brant drove home two on a fifth inning single up the middle.

The final two games of the regular season are scheduled for Friday afternoon with first pitch at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium set for 2:00 pm. Between games, WCU will honor its nine senior class members in a special on-field ceremony.

Additional Post-Game Notes:
- Western Carolina senior starter Jordan Smith tossed 5.1 innings on Thursday night, becoming the program's all-time leader in innings pitched with a first-inning strikeout ... Smith broke the tie with previous leader, Clark Maxwell (363.0 IP, 1994-97) ... the Liberty, N.C., native has 368.1 career innings pitched to sit atop the career ledger ... Smith struck out nine batters to have 289 career Ks;

- Junior closer Tyler Powell earned his 12th save of the season, a mark which ranks him third in the single-season record books ... the Charlotte, N.C., product has 14 career saves to rank eighth on WCU's career charts;

- With the victory, WCU head coach Bobby Moranda - who was not in the dugout on Thursday, serving a one-game suspension from being thrown out last Sunday - earned his 230th career victory, moving past former Catamount skipper Keith LeClair (229-135-2 in six seasons) ... Moranda is now 230-162-2 in seven seasons at the helm in Cullowhee.