June 4, 2007
Chapel Hill, N.C. - Western Carolina rallied behind five solid innings of relief work from senior Brock Thornburg and home runs from classmates Kenny Smith and John Ingram to snap a 13-game losing skid to the East Carolina Pirates with a come-from-behind, 9-5, victory Sunday evening in NCAA Baseball Regional action at Boshamer Stadium.
Western (42-19) advances to Chapel Hill regional championship game against the top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels (50-12) needing two wins on Monday to advance to the school's first-ever appearance in a NCAA Super Regional. First pitch of game one is set for 1:00 pm, with the second game (if necessary) scheduled for 50 minutes following the conclusion of the first game. East Carolina was eliminated from the regional, finishing with an overall record of 40-23.
Tossing five and a third innings in relief of sophomore starter Corey Martin, Thornburg (4-2) only allowed two runs, one of which was earned, on five hits with three walks and a pair of strikeouts. In his last five relief appearances, the Hickory, N.C., native has only given up a pair of runs, with just one of those runs earned during the same stretch. Freshman left-hander Chris Masters came on to pitch the final two and a third of hitless and scoreless relief to earn his first career save, fanning four including two in the top of the ninth inning.
"It was a great game from our perspective," said Western Carolina head coach Todd Raleigh. "I thought we battled really hard after not getting off to a good start. We did not get a really good start from our starting pitcher, but Brock (Thornburg) and Chris (Masters) came in and really slammed the door. This team has a lot of heart and fought back all year, so it was a great win for us."
Thornburg entered the game with runners on second and third and just one out in the top of the second. He got the first batter he faced to foul out to Ingram at first before inducing a fly ball out to right field to end the inning, holding WCU's deficit at three.
"I just tried to throw strikes and let my defense help me," said Thornburg in the post-game press conference. "I got two pop flies and I think that inning really swung the momentum our way."
Trailing 3-0 after the top of the second inning, Western turned on the offense in the home half of the frame as Smith hammered the first pitch he saw over the fence in left field for a solo shot to trim the deficit to two, 3-1. The 20th long ball by the Asheville, N.C., native gave him 84 runs batted in on the season, tying Chris Moore (1999) for the WCU single-season RBI record.
The Catamount rally continued as the ensuing batter, junior Jonathan Greene, was plunked by Pirate starting pitcher, Josh Dowdy. Ingram reached base on an infield single that was ruled to have hit Greene as he was trying to advance to second on the play, forcing out the lead runner. WCU did manage to load the bases, though, when freshman third baseman Nick Liles drew a one-out walk and Dowdy hit a second batter, senior Donnie Wilson. Freshman Brent Greer cleared the bases with a double to right center field to give Western its first lead, 4-3, after two complete.
East Carolina managed to manufacture a run in the top of the third as the red-hot Stephen Batts doubled and was scored from third by an RBI single from Friday's Pirate hero, Jamie Ray, to knot the game at four apiece. Yet, the Catamounts continued to hit Pirate pitching as Ingram, with Greene aboard, smashed a two-run, tape-measure home run over the left field wall to put the Catamounts ahead for good, 6-4.
ECU added another run in the fourth on catcher Corey Kemp scored on a Catamount passed ball to pull the Pirates within one, 6-5. That was as close as the Pirates would get as in the home half of the fifth, junior Steven Strausbaugh led off with an infield bunt single, hustling down the first-base line to beat out the throw. Ingram plated his third hit - and third RBI of the day - on a triple off the center field wall to give the Catamounts a 7-5 lead after five innings.
With Masters cruising in relief, Western added two insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth as junior Barrett Shaft singled to left driving in Wilson from first after an error by the Pirate leftfielder, Ray. Junior Blake Murphy, despite being 0-for-5 at the plate, drove in the game's final run on a sharp ground out at second base.
Three Catamounts posted multiple hit games for the Catamounts on Sunday with Ingram tallying a game-high three hits (3-for-4), including finishing a double shy of hitting for the cycle, with three RBI. Greene was 2-for-3, drawing his school-record 22nd HBP, while Shaft, again battling severe shin splints, tallied two base hits in a 2-for-5 outing.
Monday's games will be broadcast by the Catamount Sports Network and can be heard locally in Western North Carolina on WWCU-FM, Power 90dot5 in Cullowhee or online at www.WWCUFM.com. Fans can also follow all of the action on live GameTracker by logging onto www.CatamountSports.com.