Macon, Ga. - Western Carolina senior left-hander Bryan Sammons limited league regular-season champion Mercer to two runs on just four hits in tossing his second career complete game as the Catamounts claimed the opener of their final Southern Conference series, 8-2, over the Bears on Thursday night at OrthoGeorgia Park.
While Sammons was dealing on the mound, the Catamount offense pounded out 16 hits including six for extra bases as WCU won its third-straight over the Bears dating back to last year's double-header win on championship Sunday at Fluor Field in the SoCon Tournament.
Sammons struck out eight hitters over nine innings in the winning effort to crest the 100 strikeout plateau on the year with a single-season career-high 102 strikeouts, tied for eighth in the WCU record books (Clark Maxwell, 102 Ks in 1997). The Wilmington, N.C., native remains second in the school ledgers with 311 career strikeouts. Sammons also collected the 27th victory of his Catamount career, matching Jason Beverlin (27, 1992-94) for fourth in program history.
Redshirt senior Bryson Bowman belted his team-leading 11th home run of the season as a part of a 4-for-5 offensive output, collecting RBI's No. 58 and No. 59 on the day. Bowman is amidst his second, double-digit reached base safely streak of the season -- and among four Catamounts with active streaks -- reaching for the 10th-consecutive game that includes a six-game hitting streak.
Redshirt sophomore Matthew Koehler had a career-best three doubles in a 3-for-5 performance, extending his reached base safely streak to 14, while junior Brett Pope belted the first of WCU's two home runs with a two-run shot in the fourth inning to keep his streak active at 18-straight. Pope added one of WCU's two sacrifice bunts. Senior Matt Smith reached twice in the win with a single and a walk to push his streak to a career-best, 35-consecutive.
Rounding out WCU's five multi-hit games on Thursday were senior Nobu Suzuki with a double as a part of a 2-for-4, two RBI performance, while junior Cameron Blaquiere went 2-for-4 and freshman Andrew Robinson turned in a 2-for-5 outing, driving in a run on an infield ground out.
Suzuki got Western Carolina (27-26, 14-8 SoCon) started when he drilled a one-out, bases loaded double down the first base line to plate two as the Catamounts grabbed an early, 2-0, lead in the top of the first inning. One frame later, WCU stretched its lead to three as Spencer Holcomb singled up the middle, eventually moving to third on a pair of bunts -- one for a single by Cameron Blaquiere and the Pope sacrifice. Robinson's infield ground out gave WCU all the run support it would ultimately need.
Mercer (38-14, 17-5 SoCon) mounted what proved to be its best offensive challenge of the opener, putting the first two hitters on as Charlie Madden collected the first of his two hits and Hunter Bening drew a walk. Outfielder Trey Truitt pushed both runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt, with a Matt Meeder run-scoring ground out plating the first run and the second scoring on an Alex Hanson RBI single.
With the lead trimmed to one, the Catamounts responded with a three-spot in the top of the fourth before capping the scoring with Bowman's two-run homer in the sixth inning to provide the final tally. Blaquiere drove in Koehler ahead of Pope's fourth round-tripper of the season as a part of the three-run fourth.
Mercer starting pitcher Ryan Askew (4-2) suffered the loss after allowing six earned runs on 10 hits through the first four innings of work. He struck out three against one walk before giving way to relievers Carter Varga and Sawyer Gipson-Long. Varga struck out four in four innings, surrendering two runs on four hits, while Gipson-Long pitched the final frame, scattering two hits with a strikeout.
The four singles by the Bears were spread between three players, paced by Madden who finished 2-for-3 with a run scored. Bening reached base twice with a hit and a walk, accounting for the other Mercer run.
Game two of the three-game series is scheduled for Friday night with a 6:00 pm first pitch.
WCU's SoCon Tournament Seeding Update:
WCU entered Thursday night tied for second-place in the SoCon standings, matching UNCG with a 13-8 league record. WCU's win at Mercer coupled with UNCG's, 4-0, loss at Samford pushes the Catamounts (14-8) a game ahead of the Spartans (13-9), who have the tie-breaker over WCU. Furman remains in fourth-place at 14-10.
Wofford's 1-0 road loss at The Citadel on Thursday means that WCU cannot be seeded lower than fourth as the Terriers dropped to 11-11, three games behind WCU with two games remaining. The Catamounts will be the home team in whichever game that they end up in at the conclusion of the regular season, still with a finish between second and fourth up-in-the-air.