The Western Carolina Catamount baseball team was about two innings shy of delivering the best birthday present imaginable for second-year head coach Todd Raleigh. Tuesday afternoon it took a ninth inning rally for the sixth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers to survive their trip to Cullowhee as the Cats fell 15-13.
The Volunteers jumped on top of the Cats 2-0 after one, but WCU rallied in the second to cut the deficit to a solo run, 2-1. A half inning later the Vols struck again, posting a four-spot to lead 6-1 after the top of the third.
Western Carolina rallied back again, cutting the deficit to one with two in the bottom of the third, making the score 6-5. After posting the second-straight scoreless inning, the Cats hit three-home runs in an eight-run, fifth inning rally.
Yet the Vols, who are off their best start ever at 25-3 and have won seven straight, scored eight unanswered runs from the seventh on to take the win.
“I’ve got to give Tennessee credit for coming back. That’s why they have the best winning percentage in the country right now,” said a disappointed Todd Raleigh. “You could kind of feel it slipping away, and we just didn’t have anyone to come in and stop the bleeding.”
He added, “I’m disappointed in the loss, but I’m more disappointed in the five errors. We’ve got to focus and play nine innings.”
Catamount sophomore Ryan Foster, who usually comes in out of the bullpen for middle relief, went five and a third in his first career start. He allowed seven runs on ten hits while striking out a pair. He was in line for the win when he left in the sixth.
Dan Foley and Jared Burton, two Catamount starters, came in on relief but surrendered eight runs, five of which were earned, on nine hits. Burton was saddled with the loss, his second on the year.
Offensively, the Cats started out as cold as the late-March weather. Yet, once they settled down, WCU feasted on the Volunteer relief pitching. Leadoff man, second baseman Todd Roper, led the way with a 4-for-5 outing and scoring a pair.
Senior Matt Price started off the Cats’ big fifth inning with a solo home run to center off the glove of UT’s Adam Smith. Price was 2-for-4 on the day, scoring three runs.
WCU would add two more home runs, including Donovan Minero’s conference-leading ninth and Todd Buchanan’s second. Buchanan’s home run was a grand slam, accounting for his four RBIs. Yet, in the end, WCU stranded nine men in the loss.
The Catamounts return home this Saturday for a double-header against arch-rival Appalachian State. First pitch is slated for 1:00 pm. The series will wrap up Sunday with a 1:00 pm. start.
The season-long, 11-game homestand wraps up next Tuesday when another former Catamount coach, Jack Leggett, and the 12th-ranked Clemson Tigers come to Cullowhee for a 3:00 pm start.