The Western Carolina Catamounts used stellar pitching Friday and Sunday accompanied with big innings to win the Southern Conference baseball series against UNC Greensboro two games to one at Childress Field.
The Cats (10-13, 4-4) won Sunday 11-9 and Friday 10-1 but fell 22-5 to Greensboro (12-10, 6-3) on Saturday.
In Sunday’s rubber match, the Catamounts jumped out to an 11-1 lead through seven innings and held on to survive, taking the series with the 11-9 victory.
Junior transfer Dan Foley allowed six runs on six hits while fanning five in six innings of work. At one point, Foley retired 11-straight Spartan hitters. However, he left the game after facing five batters in the seventh, the inning in which Greensboro made their run.
“We made it a little too interesting,” said Western Carolina head coach Todd Raleigh after his team’s victory. “I give Greensboro credit, they battled back. But I think that we let our guard down, and you can’t do that against any opponent.”
He added, “Dan was outstanding today. I can’t say enough about him. He gave us the quality start that we needed.”
In relief, junior Robbie Hoover only lasted a third of an inning while allowing two runs on a pair of hits. However, sophomore Ryan Foster stopped the bleeding from the WCU bullpen over two and two-thirds, scattering three hits and a run while striking out five. Foster picked up his second save of the season.
“Foster was phenomenal today, and Hoover didn’t pitch bad, just every thing found a hole,” Raleigh said.
The Catamounts had early success at the plate, chasing Greensboro starter Scooter Michael after only two innings. During that time the Cats built an 8-0 lead all earned on 10 hits.
Five Cats had two or more hits led by sophomore Todd Buchanan who went 3-for-4 and scored a run. Another second-year player, Alan Beck slammed his conference-leading seventh homerun en route to a six-RBI day. He also had a double on his two-hit day.
Western Carolina started out the day roughing up Michael. Designated-hitter Doug Myers homered in the first with two on, and two out on a full-count pitch giving WCU the early 3-0 lead. A similar situation in the second saw Beck’s three-run launch to put the Cats up 6-0 after two.
The Catamounts added all they would need in the five-run third. Yet, Greensboro never let up.
The seventh was very shaky for WCU pitching. The Spartans scored five runs before the first out was recorded en route to a seven-run, six-hit inning that was cause for concern for the Catamount coaching staff. Yet, Foster stepped up through the seventh and ninth striking out a pair in both to secure the WCU win.
Friday the Catamounts used the career-high strikeout performance by sophomore right hander Jared Burton to post the 10-1 victory. Burton improved to 4-1, pitching his first career nine-inning complete game. He only allowed five hits, one run, and three walks in the victory. Burton additionally improves to 2-0 in SoCon action on the strength of an impressive 26 strikeouts with only three walks in league games.
“Jared was just outstanding. He had total command the whole day and the thing is, he’s been pitching like that the whole year. He was just lights out,” Raleigh said of the Westminster, SC native.
Raleigh added, “We played a pretty complete game. There’s a lot of confidence in our team when Jared takes the hill.”
WCU sent 10 batters to the plate in the third inning to jump out to a 4-0 lead. Beck delivered a one-out, two-run homer to left-center field to break the scoreless tie. The Catamounts would use three walks, an error, and a single by Michael Roane to add two more runs.
Junior transfer Donovan Minero and Rod Goldston led the Cats at the plate with two hits apiece with Minero finishing with three RBIs.
The lone dark spot for the Catamount weekend came in Saturday’s smashing at the hands of UNCG, 22-5 on Saturday.
“Our pitching was not up to par, and that set the tone for the whole game. You’re going to have games like that,” explained Raleigh. “In Cullowhee, when the wind’s blowing out, if you don’t pitch down in the zone, it’s not uncommon.”
UNC Greensboro put five runs on the board, sending 11 men to the plate, in the top of the first. The Cats answered in the second and third, tying the game up at five apiece. However, the Spartans would score 17 unanswered runs, including a seven-run sixth, to secure the win.
Western Carolina’s Ryan Basner (1-5) took the loss, allowing four hits, five runs and three walks with two strikeouts in three innings of work. The Catamounts tied a season-high with four errors, allowing nine unearned runs to cross the plate.
The Catamounts are in the middle of an 11 game home stand. Up next for Raleigh’s Cats are the Georgia Southern Eagles, which have somewhat of a Cullowhee flare. The Eagles skipper Rodney Hennon and assistants Mike Tidick and Austin Smithwick were formerly Catamounts.
The three-game series kicks off Friday at Childress Field/ Hennon Stadium with the first-pitch at 3:00pm.