Cullowhee, N.C. – Trailing by two entering the bottom of the ninth inning on Thursday night, Western Carolina managed to close the deficit to one while also moving the game-tying run to third base. However, Furman was able to cut the Catamount rally short with a game-ending line drive caught at first base as the Paladins halted a nine-game losing skid, handing WCU a 6-5 loss in game one of its Southern Conference series at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium.
With runners at second and third, senior Matt Smith collected his third RBI of the night with his second sacrifice fly driven to deep center field, scoring classmate Nobu Suzuki. Redshirt senior Bryson Bowman, who doubled earlier in the frame, advanced to third on a wild pitch ahead of junior Caleb Robinson who reached first with the game-winning run on a walk.
On the first pitch of what proved to be his final at bat of the night, sophomore slugger Andrew Bullock pulled a rocket to the right side where Furman first baseman Brandon Elmy was able to snare the line drive ending the game.
Furman (12-20, 2-8 SoCon) collected its first victory in the month of April while the Catamounts saw their seven-game win streak snapped as WCU suffered its first defeat in the month. For a third-straight game – and for the seventh time in the last nine games – WCU stranded double-digit runners with 10 left on base on Thursday.
Junior Brett Pope led four Catamounts with multi-hit games on Thursday, finishing 4-for-5 with a season-best four singles and scoring three of WCU’s five runs in the loss. It was Pope’s seventh-straight multi-hit game on the year. Bowman and Suzuki also both extended their double-digit hit streaks, collecting three hits apiece with Bowman tallying WCU’s lone extra base hit among the 15 hits on the day. Bowman extend his reached base safely streak to 32-consecutive games – each game WCU has played this spring – with an active 17-game hitting streak while Suzuki has reached in 16-straight including an 11-game hit streak.
Caleb Robinson reached base three times with a pair of singles and a walk, reaching for the ninth-straight game including a seven-game hitting streak. Smith finished 1-for-3 with a run-scoring infield single in the first inning before lifting two sacrifice flies to the outfield. The Fredericktown, Ohio, native has reached base in 14-consecutive outings.
Western Carolina (16-16, 7-3 SoCon) scored solo markers in the top of both the first and third innings, capitalizing on a Smith infield single off the glove of Furman starting pitcher, Will Gaddis, in the first and a Bowman RBI knock through the right side in the third. The Paladins cut the deficit in half in the fourth inning as a double steal with runners at the corners resulted in a runner crossing the dish despite WCU forcing a run-down between first and second.
Furman then claimed a lead it would never relinquish in the top of the sixth inning as six-straight Paladins reached including back-to-back singles before a three-run home run by designated hitter Jason Costa made it 4-2. Sims Griffith reached on a catcher’s interference and later scored on a double to right center by Cameron Whitehead to push the visitors ahead, 5-2.
In the home half of the seventh, the Catamounts managed two runs to claw back to within one as Smith drove in Pope on a sacrifice fly before Robinson delivered a run-scoring single up the middle to make it 5-4 through seven.
The Paladins tacked on an unearned run in the top of the eighth to grab the two-run edge, setting up WCU’s rally attempt in the home half of the ninth inning.
Catamount starter Bryan Sammons (4-2) suffered the loss despite striking out six against two walks through six innings on the mound. The Wilmington, N.C., native scattered six hits on the day, surrendering five runs – only three of which were earned. Senior Korey Anderson tossed the final three frames, countering a walk with a strikeout in limiting Furman to one unearned run on just two hits.
Furman’s No. 2, No.3, and No. 4 hitters collected six of the Paladins’ eight hits on the day, each tallying two base knocks apiece. Carter Grote and Costa both finished 2-for-3 while Elmy was 2-for-4. Whitehead finished 1-for-3 with a pair of RBI.
Gaddis (3-3) evened his seasonal record by striking out four against one walk, holding WCU to four runs despite surrendering 13 hits – all singles. Left-hander Billy Greenfield set-up Jake Crawford for his fourth save of the season, tossing an inning and two-thirds before Crawford got the final out after walking Robinson.
Story Credit: Western Carolina