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Western Carolina Drops Tourney Opener to No. 8 Furman, 3-2

Senior starter Jordan Smith struck out two Paladin hitters in Wednesday's 3-2 loss to No. 8 Furman. (Photo by Mark Haskett, WCU Public Relations)

May 21, 2014

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Charleston, S.C. - Furman starter Matt Solter (3-5) kept top-seeded Western Carolina's offense at bay most of the afternoon as the No. 8 seed Paladins held on for a 3-2 victory in the first round of the Southern Conference Baseball Championship at Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park on Wednesday.

The Paladins led 3-0 after seven innings and withstood a late Catamount rally to advance in the winners' bracket.

Western Carolina (37-17) falls into the loser's bracket of tournament play and will face fourth-seeded Georgia Southern (34-21) at 10:00 am in an elimination game. WCU is scheduled to start junior RHP Jeremy Null (6-3) while GSU will counter with LHP Sam Howard.

The Paladins (25-31), which won a single-elimination play-in game on Tuesday, advance to face No. 5 seed Appalachian State (21-32) on Thursday at either 5:00 or 8:00 pm, depending upon the outcome of The Citadel's game.

Solter struck out five and allowed just one run on seven hits in seven-plus innings, while Brant Master picked up the save with one inning of work, allowing a run on one hit.

Furman took advantage of some sloppy WCU defense in the first inning to score its first run of game. After Hunter Burton reached on a fielding error, he advanced to second on a second Catamount miscue on a failed pickoff attempt at first. Two batters later, Greg Harrison dropped a double down the right-field line to knock in Burton. A pair of walks loaded the bases, but Western Carolina escaped without further damage when Harrison unsuccessfully tried to score from third on a fly out to right, gunned down at the plate by freshman Matt Smith.

The Paladins stretched their lead to 3-0 in the seventh, getting RBI singles from Jake Jones and Harrison with one out.

Solter, meanwhile, was very solid in the starting effort, keeping the Catamounts in check until the eighth inning. Solter surrendered just five hits through the first seven innings, retiring the side in order in the third and fifth. He escaped a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning, getting Luke Gragg to pop-up to short to keep WCU off the scoreboard.

The Catamounts finally got to Solter in the eighth as seniors Cody Jones and Adam Martin led off with consecutive singles to chase him from the game. Jacob Hoyle followed with a sacrifice fly to left field to score Jones with the Catamounts' first run of the game. However, Paladin reliever Billy Greenfield managed to get out of the frame, stranding Martin at third base.

The Catamounts made things interesting in the bottom of the ninth, getting a two-out RBI double from Bradley Strong to make it a one-run game. Yet, Paladin closer Brant Masters recovered to get a Jones ground out to end the contest, securing his fourth save of the season.

The Paladins had several chances to put the game out of reach early but had two runners gunned down at the plate, both by Matt Smith. Furman also made the first out of the seventh inning at third when a fielder's choice bunt erased Andrew MacLatchie, who had led off the frame with a double.

Dating back to the regular season, Furman has allowed just three runs to WCU in the last 20 innings, spanning three games. The Paladins took two of three from the Catamounts from April 11-13, first snapping the Catamounts' then 12-game winning streak while also handing Western Carolina its first home conference series loss since 2012.

Jones, Harrison and MacLatchie had two hits each to pace the Paladins, while Strong was 3-for-5 to lead Western Carolina. Spiess finished 2-for-3 with a walk and a pair of singles including an early-game bunt single that hugged the chalk up the third base line.

Smith (8-5) took the loss, allowing three runs (two earned) on nine hits in 6 1/3 innings. He walked two and struck out two. Senior T.J. Fussell tossed the final 2.2 innings of relief, striking out four of one-hit, scoreless relief.

All told, WCU stranded nine base runners in the loss with Furman leaving 10 on base.

Thursday morning's game will be broadcast on the Catamount Sports Network and can be heard online at Air time is 9:45 am.