May 18, 2007
Cullowhee, N.C. - Sparked by a two-run home run to right center field by freshman Adam Baker, Western Carolina scored six runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to erase a three-run deficit en route to an 8-3 victory over Georgia Southern Friday night in Southern Conference baseball action at Childress Field/Hennon Stadium.
The win, coupled with the College of Charleston splitting its regular season-ending double-header, assures WCU at least a share of its 11th SoCon regular season championship. The Cougars downed Davidson 14-2 in game one of a Friday double-header, but the Wildcats scored three runs on three hits and capitalized on a pair of CofC errors to rally in the top of the ninth to tie the game at five to force extra innings in the second game of the twinbill. Davidson pulled ahead on a two-out RBI single up the middle in the top of the 11th and retired the Cougars in order in the bottom for the victory.
Western, which won for the 40th time on year marking the sixth 40-win season in school history, can clinch the regular season crown and the number one seed in next week's SoCon tournament outright with a win on Saturday afternoon. First pitch in the regular season finale is set for 2:00 pm.
Red-shirt sophomore Drew Saberhagen (8-1) recorded a career-high six strikeouts, scattering six base hits in six innings of work to pick up the victory for Western. Senior Brock Thornburg garnered his third career save - and first of the season - by pitching three effective innings allowing only one Eagle base hit and just two base runners.
Two Catamounts, freshman Nick Liles and junior Barrett Shaft, each finished with three hits apiece to lead the Catamounts with Liles tallying his ninth double of the season. Senior Kenny Smith finished 2-for-4 at the plate, driving in a game-high three runs to move his seasonal tally to 79 moving him ahead of former Catamount catcher - and current head coach Todd Raleigh - into second place on the WCU single-season RBI chart. The Asheville, N.C., native is now just five shy of tying Western's single-season RBI tally held by Chris Moore (84, 1999). He is also just eight shy of tying the SoCon single-season record of 87 held by CofC's Chris Campbell (2005).
Waynesville's Blake Murphy rounded out the four multi-hit games for the Catamounts with a 2-for-3 showing at the plate, driving in the tying run on an RBI double down the left field line that just squirted inside the bag at third in the sixth inning.
After stranding five runners through the first three innings, trailing 2-0 Western threatened in the fourth inning as senior John Ingram drew a lead-off walk and was advanced to third on a blooper double down the right field line by Liles. However, the rally was squelched when freshman Brent Greer flew out to shallow right field and Ingram was gunned down in a hard collision at the plate which resulted in Ingram being ejected from the game. As per Southern Conference rules, Ingram will miss Saturday's game.
Georgia Southern pushed across a run in the top of the fifth to grab a 3-0 lead before the Catamounts scored eight unanswered to claim victory.
In the home portion of the sixth, Liles led off with a sharp-hit single to short when his classmate, Baker, hammered the first pitch he saw over the fence in right center to put WCU on the board, 3-2, chasing Eagle starting pitcher Brian Wilkerson. Greer then fought off a full count to single up the middle and advanced to second on a passed ball. Two batters later, Murphy double down the left field line to knot the game at three.
The inning continued with junior Steven Strausbaugh drawing one of his two walks on the night with Smith driving in Murphy from second on a single into center field. Yet, a fielding error by Eagle centerfielder, Matt Miller, allowed Strausbaugh to score, 5-3. Miller compounded the mistake with an arrant throw back to the infield which allowed Smith to move to third base with junior Jonathan Greene's RBI single plating Smith to finish off the scoring, 6-3 Catamounts.
Western added two insurance runs in the seventh on a two-RBI single by Smith, scoring Greer and Shaft who reached on a hit by pitch and single, respectively.
Georgia Southern (32-26, 12-14 SoCon) reliever Drew Murray (4-7) was saddled with the loss after coming on in the middle of the sixth after Baker's home run and allowed three earned runs on three hits in one third of an inning pitched. Senior designated hitter Justin Klinger lifted a two-RBI double to left field in the top of the first to stake the Eagles to the early advantage, with GSU scoring its final run in the visitor half of the fifth inning.
Prior to Saturday afternoon's game, Western Carolina will honor its five seniors in a pre-game ceremony. Seniors Tyler Johnson, John Ingram, Kenny Smith, Brock Thornburg and Donnie Wilson will each be making their final regular season appearance at Childress Field at Hennon Stadium.