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Catamounts Claim SoCon Series over ASU on Senior Day

Senior pitchers Andrew Blackwell and Vance Chavis, as well as Friday's starter Morgan McKinney, celebrate Western Carolina's 9-7 win on Senior Day over #24 Appalachian State on Saturday. (Photo by Ashley Evans)

May 19, 2012

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Cullowhee, N.C. - Sophomore Dykota Spiess broke the game's only tie with a three-run home run on the first pitch of his seventh inning at bat as Western Carolina claimed its Southern Conference series over No. 24 Appalachian State with a 9-7 victory Saturday afternoon at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium.

The loss for the Mountaineers coupled with College of Charleston's series-winning victory, 10-4, at UNCG means a share of the 2012 Southern Conference regular season championship as both the Cougars and ASU finished 21-9. ASU will be the top seed in the tournament after taking two of three during the regular season from CofC.

Pitching in their final regular season home game in Cullowhee, senior hurlers Andrew Blackwell and Vance Chavis combined to throw the final three and a third innings, scoring the victory and save, respectively. Blackwell (2-0) tossed an inning and a third of scoreless, one-hit baseball with a walk and a strikeout. Chavis tossed the final two frames out of the bullpen, nearly striking out the side in the eighth with two swinging strikeouts. He allowed one unearned run, working around a pair of fielding miscues in the ninth to earn his third save of the season.

Catamount starter Jeremy Null factored in the no-decision, working five and a third while scattering six hits and five runs with three strikeouts against one walk. Junior reliever Hunter Brister threw a third of an inning in the sixth, allowing a run on one hit with a strikeout.

Appalachian State (38-14, 21-9) climbed on top first in the fourth inning as Daniel Kassouf homered to left field, matching the Mountaineers' single-season home run record with 17 round-trippers this season. His two-run shot gave ASU the 2-0 lead through three and a half.

In the home half of the same frame, the Catamounts were able to scratch the board for one to cut the deficit in half. Senior Ross Heffley delivered a single to centerfield before advancing to second base on a wild pitch. Two batters later, Adam Martin drove a RBI single down the right field line to drive Heffley in, making it 2-1 through four innings.

Western Carolina (32-22, 16-14) surged ahead in the bottom of the fifth inning, plating five runs on four hits and capitalizing on one Mountaineer error. Two of the first three batters in the frame doubled, sandwiched around a hit batter. Bryant Noteboom opened with a double down the leftfield line before catcher Connor Andrus was plunked by a pitch to put two aboard. Freshman Bradley Strong, who led the team with four RBI in the series, came up with a double that shot off the leg off starting pitcher Rob Marcello and ricocheted through the right side, scoring Noteboom from second.

The inning continued against relief pitcher Jordan Jessup as Cody Jones reached on a one-out throwing error by ASU second baseman Hector Crespo, allowing both Andrus and Strong to score. Heffley again singled up the middle, plating Jones, before stealing second base and later scoring from third on a single that hugged the chalk down the right field line by Ridings. After the dust had settled in the frame, WCU led 6-2.

The four-run advantage was short-lived, however, as ASU pushed across four runs in the top of the sixth inning to knot the game at six apiece. Trey Holmes delivered an RBI double to center before Noah Holmes plated two on a single up the middle before later scoring in the frame on a RBI bunt single by Tyler Zupcic.

The decisive blow was dealt in the seventh inning for the Catamounts as a two-out rally pushed WCU ahead by three, 9-6. The rally started with a two-out single by Martin up the middle ahead of Ridings who was hit by a pitch to put two on ahead of Spiess. On the first pitch of his at bat, Spiess hammered a shot over the fence in right center field for a three-run bomb - his fifth of the season.

Appalachian capitalized on a pair of throwing errors including one on the would-be final out of the ninth inning to plate a run, but stranded a runner at third with the final out as Tyler Tewell flew out to Jones in right field.

Ridings reached three times in a 2-for-3 showing on Saturday afternoon. The Shelby, N.C., native led WCU on the weekend with a .600 batting average, finishing 6-for-10 with two doubles. Strong and Martin both finished 2-for-4 and Heffley was 2-for-5 for the Catamounts in the win.

Mountaineer reliever Jamie Nunn (5-2) was saddled with the loss after giving up the three-run homer to Spiess in the seventh. He allowed three runs on two hits. ASU starter Rob Marcello was chased in the fifth inning, giving up four runs on six hits with a walk and a strikeout.

In a battle of the top to hitting teams in the SoCon, WCU out-hit ASU on Saturday, 11-to-8 - and held a slim 31-to-29 edge in the three-game series. All told, WCU hit .301 versus ASU's .269 weekend average.

Western Carolina awaits its final seeding for next week's Southern Conference Baseball Championship to be held at Fluor Field at the West End in Greenville, S.C. The final seed to be set in the league comes down to the final game of a Saturday double-header between Georgia Southern and Wofford. The Terriers took the first game, 8-5.

If GSU loses game two, WCU will be the fifth seed and play No. 4 seed Samford at approximately 8:00 pm on Wednesday, May 23. If GSU wins the final game, they will claim the series and the Catamounts will be seeded sixth, playing at 1:00 pm on Wednesday against No. 3 seed Elon.