May 17, 2014
Cullowhee, N.C. - Needing just one victory in Friday's regular season ending doubleheader to secure back-to-back Southern Conference regular season championships, Western Carolina claimed both ends of its twin bill over the Davidson Wildcats to secure the crown and earn the top seed in next week's championship tournament in Charleston, S.C.
Western Carolina (37-16, 20-6 SoCon) cruised to a 10-2 victory in game one of the doubleheader to win the league's regular season title outright before completing the sweep by rallying for a 4-3 win in the second game at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium. The weekend opened with an 8-6, come-from-behind victory on Thursday by the Purple & Gold.
WCU claimed its 13th SoCon regular season championship all-time, matching The Citadel for the most seasonal crowns in league history. Combined with the program's nine tournament titles, Catamount baseball now holds the SoCon record with 22 combined baseball championships - one more than The Citadel with 21 (13 regular season, eight tournament).
The Catamounts claimed back-to-back regular season championships for the first time since the late 1980s, and accomplishing the feat for the first time in the conference since Elon won back-to-back seasonal titles in 2008 and `09. The Catamounts posted a stellar 23-3 (.885) home record inside the friendly confines of Childress Field / Hennon Stadium, winning nine-straight games at home to conclude the season.
Game One: Western Carolina 10, Davidson 2
Junior Jeremy Null tossed his first career complete game, striking out nine batters over nine innings of work as Western Carolina disposed of Davidson, 10-2, to claim the 2014 Southern Conference regular season championship, relegating the Wildcats to second place - their best finish in the SoCon standings since 1987.
Null (6-3) tossed five innings of scoreless baseball at the outset including retiring seven-consecutive batters before a 30-minute rain delay. The Claremont, N.C., product limited the Wildcats to two runs on seven base hits with one walks.
Freshman Matt Smith drove home the game's first run on a double off the fence in right field before J.D. Long lifted a sacrifice fly to center to hand the Catamounts a 2-0 lead. Aaron Attaway sparked a five-run fifth inning with a single deep in the hole at short. After senior slugger Adam Martin was intentionally walked, Hoyle delivered a RBI single to right center. Spiess recorded an RBI in the frame with Smith reaching on a fielding error at third base which allowed two additional runs to cross. Attaway capped the five-run frame with a bases loaded, run producing walk.
Davidson's Lee Miller belted his second home run - and fourth extra base hit - of the weekend with a solo shot to lead-off the sixth with Andrew Pope tripling before eventually scoring to make it a five-run deficit, 7-2.
Spiess drove in WCU's run in the sixth on a sacrifice fly with Strong plating the final two runs of the game on a single down the third base line.
After issuing a lead-off walk in the top of the ninth inning, Null tightened the screws to get both Becker and Sam Foy to strikeout looking. Arkin was vying for a two-out single on a bouncing ball sent up the middle, but Bradley Strong made a leaping throw back across his body to nip the runner just shy of the bag, setting off a wild on-field celebration. WCU players dogpiled just behind the pitcher's mound to celebrate the regular season title.
WCU handed Davidson starter Nick Neitzel (7-1) his first defeat of the season, saddling the right-hander with three runs on three hits with a trio of walks against five strikeouts. Rob Bain gave up four runs - three unearned - on two hits with two walks and a K in two thirds of an inning.
Game Two: Western Carolina 4, Davidson 3
Western Carolina plated a pair of runs in the decisive seventh inning in the night cap to rally past the Wildcats, 4-3, to complete the season sweep - the seventh by WCU over Davidson in Cullowhee since 1981.
WCU's three victories represent the first-time Davidson has been swept since dropping all three on the road at Elon in late March of 2013 - a span of 13-straight league series. It was also the first SoCon series loss for the Wildcats since dropping 2-of-3 against Wofford in late April, 2013.
Bradley Strong put the Catamounts on top in the bottom of the third inning, belting his sixth home run of the season on a two-run shot over the fence in right field. Davidson's Nathan Becker trimmed the margin back to one with a RBI double to left field scoring Brandt from first base.
Davidson took its lone lead of the finale in the sixth inning as Ben Arkin singled home two runs on a shot to left field allowing Becker and Brandt to score for the 3-2 edge.
In the seventh, Attaway drew a lead-off walk before stealing second and taking third on a sacrifice bunt by J.D. Long. Strong drove his middle-infield mate home on a would-be sacrifice fly to left field. However, the ball was dropped in the outfield allowing Strong to take second base. Cody Jones then drove home the go-ahead run with a two-base hit to right field, providing the final, 4-3, tally.
Strong (2-for-3) led a trio of Catamounts with two-hit games, driving home three including two on the home run to right field. Jones finished 2-for-4 with a double while Jacob Hoyle also finished 2-for-3 for WCU.
Sophomore reliever Colton Davis (4-2) picked up the victory over starter Bryan Sammons who struck out a career-high tying seven in six innings of work. Davis used three strikeouts to retire a combined five hitters, allowing one hit in scoreless relief to earn the win. Junior Tyler Powell tallied his second save of the weekend - and 13th of the season - with a four-out outing, striking out one in hitless, scoreless relief.
Davidson reliever Matt Saeta (0-2) suffered the loss after allowing two runs - only one of which was earned - on two hits with a pair of walks and a strikeout. Becker (3-for-4) and Brandt (2-for-4) paced the Wildcats offensively with Becker doubling twice. Ben Arkin collected two RBI for the visiting squad.
Prior to Friday's regular season finale, Western Carolina honored its nine members of its senior class with a special on-field ceremony. WCU recognized fifth-year senior Taylor Sandefur; four-year class members, Aaron Attaway, Luke Gragg, Cody Jones, Adam Martin, Jordan Smith and Dykota Spiess; with two-year class member John McClure and T.J. Fussell, who transferred prior to last fall, rounding out the honored class.
Top-seeded Western Carolina now turns its attention to the 2014 Southern Conference Baseball Championship, which will be held at Charleston's Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park May 20-25. The Catamounts await the winner of Tuesday's (Noon) No. 8 vs. No. 9 match-up with a 1:00 pm estimated first pitch on Wednesday (May 21).
Complete seeding and brackets will be made available on Saturday following the conclusion of regular season play. As of Friday, The Citadel is the No. 10 seed, with the only other seeds that have been clinched are the third (Samford) and fourth (Georgia Southern).The tournament opens on Tuesday, May 20 at Noon with the first game.