June 4, 2007
Chapel Hill, N.C. -
Advancing from the loser's bracket of the NCAA Baseball Championship Regional, Western Carolina was two outs away in the top of the ninth inning from forcing a deciding championship game against top-seeded North Carolina. However, down to its final two chances, the Tar Heels mounted a two-run rally, including back-to-back walks and a two-RBI single through the left side to pull back in front, 6-5, and held on in the bottom of the frame to advance Monday afternoon at Boshamer Stadium.
Western Carolina concludes a stellar season with a 42-20 overall record and a regular season co-championship in the Southern Conference. The Catamounts garnered just the school's second at-large berth all-time into the NCAA field of 64, nearly upsetting the host Tar Heels on Monday
"It was a tough game and we had a chance with two outs winning in the ninth. The kids played as hard as they possibly could and thought we had the match-up we wanted, but it just didn't work out," said WCU head coach, Todd Raleigh. "Both winning runs score on walks and that hurts a little bit. It always hurts more when it is a one-run loss because you second-guess yourself. It doesn't take away from a great game, though."
Down one, Western - the designated home team in the game - had a chance in the bottom of the ninth inning with the top of the order due up. Junior Blake Murphy laced a one-out double down the right field line past a diving Dustin Ackley to give the rally Cats life. However, following an infield pop-up, senior Kenny Smith took a 1-2 pitch for a called strike three to end the game.
Three Catamounts finished with multiple hits on the day as both Strausbaugh and classmate Jonathan Greene each went 2-for-4, while Murphy was 2-for-5 at the plate with a double and a home run. Freshman Nick Liles drove in two runs on his 11th double of the season, sparking a four-run rally for WCU in the bottom of the fourth.
North Carolina (51-12), which has only lost twice outside of conference play all season, took an early 2-0 lead after plating runs in the second and third innings off Catamount starting pitcher, Tyler Johnson
. The senior from Lynnwood, Wash., settled down after that and got help from his offense in the home half of the fourth.
Junior Steven Strausbaugh opened the fourth by reaching base after being hit by Tar Heel starter, Luke Putokonen, marking the first Catamount lead-off batter to reach base on the afternoon. After a Smith single to right field, Greene drove in the first Western run of the afternoon on a base hit up the middle scoring Strausbaugh from second. Ingram reached on a fielder's choice after third baseman Chad Flack booted a ground ball at third, failing to get the force out at third to load the bases for the Catamounts in front of Liles. The rookie belted a two RBI double down the right field line to give Western their first lead of the afternoon, 3-2. Next batter, senior Donnie Wilson recorded an RBI on a groundout to shortstop to give the Catamounts a 4-2 lead after four innings.
UNC responded with a run in the top of the fifth as Reid Fronk lead-off the inning with a double advancing to third on a ground out. Fronk was plated on a sacrifice fly by Dustin Ackley pull the Tar Heels within one, 4-3.
Western answered, though, as Catamount catcher, Blake Murphy, lead-off the Western half of the fifth belted his 16th home run of the year to right center field, giving Western a two-run advantage, 5-3.
After a scoreless sixth, Carolina added another run in the seventh after the Catamounts gave up back-to-back single followed by a walk from reliever Tyler Sexton. Western closer, Greg Holland relieved Sexton and gave up an RBI single to Carolina catcher, Tim Federowicz, which pulled the Tar Heels within one run, 5-4. With the bases still loaded, Holland struck out Josh Horton to end Carolina's threat in the seventh.
However, in the ninth following a lead-off strikeout by Holland, consecutive Tar Heels drew walks to put two aboard with just one away. A fly-out to right advanced both runners to second and third before short stop Josh Horton singled through the left side to plate the tying and go-ahead runs, handing North Carolina the 6-5 lead.
Holland (4-5) suffered the defeat for WCU in two innings of work, while UNC reliever Rob Wooten (5-1) picked up the win with closer Andrew Carignan earning his 14th save of the year.