Greenville, S.C. - Seventh-seeded ETSU erased Western Carolina's three-run lead in the top of the ninth inning with a five-run rally to stun the No. 2 seed Catamounts, 8-6, in Wednesday's night cap that concluded early Thursday morning at the Southern Conference Baseball Championship presented by Holston Gases at Fluor Field.
Buccaneer freshman Cullen Smith delivered a two-out, two-run triple to deep center to cap the five-run outburst and push ETSU ahead. Looking for more ninth-inning magic at Fluor Field, WCU managed to put two runners aboard with a walk and a hit batter, but the final two outs were recorded on the team's 44th double-play ball to set-off a wild celebration for lower seed.
The Bucs (28-27) advance to face the winner of Thursday morning's contest between No. 3 seed UNCG and No. 6 seed Samford on Friday at Noon. Western Carolina (28-27) will take on either the Spartans or Bulldogs in an elimination contest at 4:00 p.m. Thursday. The game will be broadcast on the SoCon Digital Network with live streaming audio, as well as on the Catamount Sports Network with audio coverage online at CatamountSports.com.
Trailing 6-1 after six innings, ETSU scored a pair of runs in the seventh to get back into the game and then landed the knockout blow in the ninth. Jammer Strickland was hit by a pitch to open the decisive frame, and after a fielder's choice, Chris Cook drew a four-pitch walk. Aaron Maher followed with a two-run double to left center to make it a one-run affair, and after All-Southern Conference first-team catcher Hagen Owenby was intentionally walked, Christian Bailey made the Catamounts pay with a game-tying RBI double to right center.
Senior RHP B.J. Nobles was then summoned from the bullpen and got a popup, but Smith delivered the go-ahead triple, his fourth hit of the day, to complete the stunning finish.
Trailing 1-0 entering the bottom of the fourth, the Catamounts batted around to seemingly blow the game open, taking advantage of four singles -- three of them on the infield -- an error, a passed ball and a walk to score five runs.
Matthew Koehler's RBI single to first scored SoCon co-Player of the Year Bryson Bowman, who led off the frame with a single up the middle, to tie the contest, and after a walk put runners on first and second, Cameron Blaquiere singled to third to score Suzuki, who reached on an error.
The Catamounts tacked on an insurance run in the sixth on Robinson's RBI single to left but squandered a chance for more, leaving the bases loaded.
The Bucs got a pair of runs back in the seventh on Ethan Rice's pinch-hit RBI double and Hunter Parker's RBI single, but ETSU left the bases loaded for the second straight inning as the comeback attempt stalled for the time being.
Including seven extra base hits, ETSU out-hit the Catamounts, 14-to-9, with WCU only managing nine singles. The Bucs stranded 17 runners in the contest, including at least one in each frame and at least two in each inning from the second to the eighth.
Smith paced ETSU at the plate with a 4-for-6 effort, while Maher, Strickland and Parker had two hits each. Blaquiere had three hits -- all singles -- to lead the Catamounts on the day, while Andrew Robinson drove in two on a 2-for-5 outing. Senior Matt Smith extended his reached base safely streak to 37-straight games with a single in a 1-for-4 outing, also reaching on the ninth-inning HBP.
Connor Bartow (2-1) was the beneficiary of ETSU's late offensive fireworks, as he picked up the win after two innings of scoreless relief. Korey Anderson (0-2), the fourth of five pitchers for WCU, was charged with all five ninth-inning runs in two-thirds of an inning of work. Starter Bryan Sammons struck out six over five innings in the start, limiting ETSU to one run on just six hits.
NOTE: Originally scheduled for a 4 p.m. start, the contest was delayed by inclement weather until an 8:46 first pitch and lasted 3 hours, 59 minutes, ending at 12:45 a.m. Thursday.