The Western baseball squad built their lead early and held off a late-inning scare to defeat Furman in the final game of their series Sunday afternoon at Furman Stadium. WCU (21-21, 13-10) led by as many as five before the Paladins (23-19, 13-10) made a charge in the final two innings.
Down 1-0 going into the third inning, the Cats used a five-run, two-out rally to take charge of the game. Furman ace Toby David (7-3) led off the frame by hitting freshman David Sigmon to put one runner on base. Two outs later, freshman Todd Roper singled and junior Ryan Schade walked to load the bases.
A walk and another hit batsmen put the score at 2-1 before junior Matt Price connected for a two-run single. Sophomore Rod Goldston rounded off the inning’s scoring with an RBI bunt-single.
The fifth saw Western increase its lead to 7-2 when Sigmon lifted his first career home run, a two-run shot, over the left field fence. This was the last inning for David, making sure he would not capture his team-high eighth win of the season after giving up seven runs, all earned, in five innings of work.
Furman would continue to battle, however, and would inch closer in the sixth after Chris Valdes belted an RBI triple and would later score on a fielder’s choice. Valdes would further help his team with a solo homer in the eighth to bring the score to 7-5.
Ryan Foster would manage to come on in the ninth to record his fourth save of the year thanks to the fielding efforts of teammate Doug Myers. With a runner on the third, Myers leaped on the fence and brought back Furman batter Adam Etherington’s potential game-tying home run to end the game.
Western starter sophomore Jared Burton (5-2) earned the win in five and a third innings of work. Burton scattered six hits and four runs while striking out two in the winning effort.
Though only notching five hits, the Catamounts used clutch hitting and seven walks by Paladin pitching to put up seven runs. Sigmon and Price led WCU with a hit and two RBI apiece. Roper, Schade, and Goldston accounted for the squad’s other three hits.
The Western victory snapped a four-game winning streak by the Paladins and their five-game series stretch over the Cats. Also, the teams are now once again knotted at fourth place in the conference.
Head coach Todd Raleigh pointed out the importance of the win on Sunday, avoiding the sweep by Furman as well as keeping them tied with the Paladins in the Southern Conference standings.
“I think it was huge,” he said. “It gets us up to 13 wins and sets us up well the rest of the way.”
Furman used a strong team pitching effort on Saturday to shut down the Catamounts’ offense in a 6-1 Paladin win. Though WCU kept the game close most of the way, Furman scored three in the seventh and one in the eighth to put the game out of reach down the stretch. The Western loss guaranteed that they would not win their sixth straight conference series.
Schade opened the scoring with a solo home run in the top of the first that would give the Cats a short-lived, 1-0 lead. Valdes answered in the bottom of the first with a solo shot of his own to even the score at one.
This score would remain a tie until the Paladins would add a single run in the sixth, before exploding for three in the seventh. Furman used a two-run triple by Etherington, who would later score on a single by Clint Hill, to extend their lead to 5-1 in that decisive seventh inning.
Furman dodged potential danger in the top of the seventh when Western managed to load the bases off of Furman starter Corey Etheridge (4-3). Etheridge was then lifted in favor of Jeff Stover, who forced Todd Buchanan to ground out to end the threat.
In the losing effort, Catamount starter Seth Foster (3-3) gave up only four hits and one earned run in five and one third innings of work.
The two squads kicked off their weekend series with Furman earning their third straight win 11-8. Furman took advantage of four Western errors that accounted for four unearned runs to take an early lead of as many as eight. The Cats scored four runs in the ninth, put were already in a seven-run hole going into the final frame.
Furman exploded for a six-run third inning to take an early 8-3 lead. FU slugger Dominic Frankey accounted for three of the six with a three-run home run. He added two more in the fourth with a two-run shot to give the Paladins an early 10-3 advantage.
Catamounts starter Ryan Basner (4-7) was lifted after five innings. He gave up ten runs, though only six were earned, while striking out one. Western relievers Joe Mitcham and Joe Camac pitched the final three innings, yielding only one run on three hits.
Tom Mastny pitched eight strong innings for Furman, giving up only two earned runs and striking out four. WCU batters roughed up relievers Mike Dugan and Rusty Putnam, however, for four runs in the final frame. Minero highlighted the charge with a two-run double.
Raleigh felt his squad ran into a strong team in Furman, and, though the Cats did not play their best ball in his opinion, he knows the series loss was largely due to the strong play of FU.
“They did a good job and pitched well,” he said. “We didn’t have one of our better weekends, but that’s not to take anything away from them. They have three good arms and they made all the plays.”
He also noted that Friday’s loss may have had a different outcome had his team not been missing sophomore Alan Beck, who is tied for the league lead in home runs.
“I think we really missed Alan Beck on Friday’s loss,” he said. “When you lose a hitter like that, it puts a big hole in your lineup.”
Last Wednesday, April 18, Western traveled to UNC Asheville and embarrassed the Bulldogs 16-1 at Greenwood Field. Buchanan led the way for the Cats with a career-high five RBI on a three-for-six day at the plate.
In fact, Buchanan collected all five RBI in the first inning, which saw ten Catamount runs. He opened the scoring with a two-run double and, quite fittingly, ended the frame with a three-run double to put the score at 10-0 before Asheville was able to retire the Cats.
Western starter Dan Foley (4-2) earned the win in just three innings of work. He combined with relievers Jeff Skinner, Robbie Hoover, and Jared Burton giving up only one run on six hits and firing a pair of strikeouts for the game.
Minero and Schade connected for three hits in addition to Buchanan, Schade accounting for three RBI. Price and Sigmon each had a pair of hits each as well.
This weekend, the Catamounts will return home to Hennon Stadium for a non-conference series against the Aggies of North Carolina A & T. The series will kick off Saturday with a twin set to begin at noon. The teams will conclude their three-game set Sunday at 1:00pm.
The only two conference series remaining on the calendar for Western are against Davidson and VMI, the two current bottom dwellers in the Southern Conference. Raleigh noted this as one his team’s advantages heading toward the end of the season.
“I think our schedule sets us up better than anyone else in the conference to run the table,” he said. “I like our chances of getting up there.”