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Catamounts Drop Heart-breaker in Friday Night Cap, 5-4

Julian Ridings finished 3-for-4 in game two of the series with Appalachian State on Friday. (Photo by Ashley Evans)

May 18, 2012

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Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina starting pitcher Morgan McKinney worked into the ninth inning on Friday night, holding the potent offense of No. 24 Appalachian State off the scoreboard through eight complete innings. However, the Mountaineers found their stride in the ninth, erasing a four-run deficit with five runs in the top of the final frame to complete the come-from-behind victory, 5-4, in Southern Conference action at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium.

The win, coupled with the College of Charleston's loss at UNC Greensboro earlier in the evening, left the Mountaineers standing as the regular season champions in the SoCon for 2012.

McKinney worked eight solid innings, scattering seven hits and allowing just one run with seven strikeouts against two walks. He worked around a bases loaded jam in the second inning with an inning-ending strikeout. The Gainesville, Fla., native settled into a groove, allowing just one ASU hit after the fifth inning.

With the Catamounts leading 4-0 entering the final inning, WCU sent McKinney back to the mound to start the ninth. Trey Holmes delivered a single up the middle to start the rally, chasing McKinney. For the second-straight game, the Catamounts turned to closer Preston Hatcher, who scored the win in game one. He quickly recorded the first out as Preston Troutman flew out to right field.

However, the Mountaineers managed to load the bases and capitalized on a total of five WCU miscues including three errors to knot the game at four. ASU scored its fourth run as Hector Crespo raced home from third on a wild pitch with a throwing error on the relay from the backstop to home allowing Will Callaway to reach third and eventually plate the go-ahead run on a second arrant pitch.

The Catamounts turned to redshirt senior Vance Chavis who struck out Holmes, who had started the rally, to end the frame.

Trailing by a run entering the home half of the ninth, the Catamounts put two men aboard with two outs, but ASU's Nathan Hyatt struck out pinch hitter Luke Gragg to end the game.

Hatcher (6-1) suffered his first loss of the season after surrendering four runs - only one of which was earned - in two thirds of an inning with one strikeout. Chavis tossed the final third with a strikeout.

ASU reliever Ryne Frankoff (2-1) scored the victory after throwing the eighth inning, giving up what was at the time an insurance run to the Catamounts on one hit with three strikeouts. Hyatt earned his 14th save of the season, walking two against one strikeout in the hitless ninth inning. Nearly equally as impressive in his start was Seth Grant who scattered 10 hits through seven innings, allowing three runs, only one of which was earned with a walk and five strikeouts.

Western Carolina (31-22, 15-14 SoCon) was in the driver's seat most of the night behind the solid outing by McKinney, key defensive plays to keep the Mountaineers off the board and timely hitting at the plate. The Catamounts took the early lead as Tyler White, who opened the inning with a single to center field, stole home as Julian Ridings got tangled in a run-down on a would-be pick-off attempt between first and second base.

WCU would stretch the lead in the fifth as Bradley Strong doubled down the leftfield line and scored on an RBI single through the left side by Ross Heffley. His infield counterpart, Aaron Attaway, plated the second run of the inning by crossing on a wild pitch after reaching on an infield error.

Ridings finished 3-for-4 for the Catamounts while Heffley posted a 2-for-5 outing and White was 2-for-4 at the dish. Strong had the lone extra base hit for the Catamounts with a double off the top of the "Purple Monster" in left field.

Leading 3-0, the Catamounts pushed across what looked to be an insurance run in the eighth as Adam Martin struck out but reached on a wild pitch. Ridings delivered a one-out single through the right side. A failed pickoff attempt by Frankoff rolled down the right field line allowing Martin to rumble home from second base, handing the Catamounts a 4-0 lead through eight complete, setting up ASU's ninth inning rally.

Entering the weekend as the top two offensive squads on the season, the Catamounts and Mountaineers combined for 23 combined hits - with only two going for extra bases -- and stranded 21 on base all told.

Game three of the series is scheduled for a 1:00 pm first pitch on Saturday afternoon at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium. Prior to the game, the Catamounts will honor the four members of its senior class including Andrew Blackwell, Vance Chavis, Darron Dotson and Ross Heffley.