Despite dropping a pair of close games over the weekend of March 2-4, Western Carolina did knock off their 2nd Atlantic Cost Conference opponent in the span of 4 days as they defeated the 20th ranked North Carolina State Wolfpack at the 4th Annual Keith LeClair Classic on the campus of East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. The Catamounts doubled their pleasure in the bottom of the 2nd inning as Steven Strausbaugh and Blake Murphy started off the frame with back-to-back doubles to take the early 1-0 lead. Murphy would make the score 2-0 as he tagged up from 3rd base on a John Ingram sacrifice fly. Barrett Shaft would add to the Western lead in the bottom of the 3rd with just a single swing of the bat as he started off the inning with a home run to right field to extend the lead to 3, 3-0. The Wolfpack would tie the game in the top of the 5th on a pair of singles and a walk that loaded up the bases. A 2-run double by Ramon Corona would bring in 2 of those base runners to cut the lead to 1, and NC State tied up the game on a passed ball. Western would not go quietly as they put across a 2-spot in the bottom of the 5th courtesy of a 2-run single by Kenny Smith. Ingram once again proved that you don’t have to reach base to contribute to the team as he brought in Nick Liles from 3rd on a sacrifice fly to regain the lead, 6-3. Neither team put a run across in the 7th inning, but in the 8th reliever Chris Masters would give up a single and walk after getting out the 1st two batters he faced. Greg Holland came in relieve Masters with 2-outs, and give up an RBI single to trim the Catamount lead to 2, 6-4. A wild pitch allowed the runners to advance up a base and then giving up a pair of walks to make it a 6-5 game. Holland would stop the threat on a ground out from Corona. He shut down the batters in the 9th to earn his 2nd save of the year. Smith led the way for the Catamounts by going 3-for-4 and was the only Western player with multiple hits. Jonathan Greene would extend his team-best hitting streak to 21 games by going 1-for-4. Tyler Sexton would pick up his 3rd win giving a pair of runs on 5 hits and struck 7 batters in 6 2/3 innings of work. Playing their 3rd National top 25 opponent in the span of 5 days, Western’s luck with the national powers would run out as they fell to the Pepperdine Waves 3-1 in the 2nd game of the Keith LeClair Classic. The win moves Pepperdine to 12-and-4 on the season. The Waves took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 1st courtesy of an RBI single by right fielder Donald Brown. The Catamounts tied the game at 1 in the top of the 5th on an RBI double by John Ingram, scoring Blake Murphy from second base. A lead-off homer from Brown would break the 1-1 tie and make it a 2-1 game in the bottom of the 8th. Pepperdine added an insurance run on a Catamount miscue that would result in a run scoring. Western’s last chance came in the top of the 9th as they would get runners on 1st and 2nd base with just one out, but were unable to push across another as they fell 3-1. For the 1st time this season, Jonathan Greene went hitless on the day, ending his 21-game hit streak, going 0-for-3 with a walk. Murphy and Barrett Shaft would combine for 5 of the Catamounts 8 hits by going 2-for-4 and 3-for-4 respectively. Starter, Brock Thornburg, went 6 innings, giving 1 run on 6 hits, while walking 4 and striking out 6 but would not factor into the decision. Tyler Johnson would get tagged with the loss by going just 1 1/3 innings, but gave up the 2 runs that would change the game, giving up 2 runs on 6 hits and striking out a pair. The final game of the Classic was an East vs. West battle of sorts as Western took on the host team, East Carolina. The Pirates would pull out the win in walk-off fashion as East Carolina took the game, 3-2. East Carolina threatened early getting the first 2 batter on base on a double and a single respectively, but WCU starter Drew Saberhagen would keep his composure and get next 3 batters to fly out to get out of the inning unscathed. Western got on the scoreboard in the top of the 4th as both Jason Haynes and Blake Murphy would reach base by getting hit by pitch and would both score on just one swing of Steven Strausbaugh’s bat, a 2-run double to left field for the early 2-0. That lead would not last long as the Pirates used the long ball to get back in the game as 2-run homer by catcher David Forbes would make this a 2-2 game. With the game tied in the bottom of the 9th, Western turned to closer Greg Holland to hold off the Pirates and possibly force extra innings. Unfortunately, East Carolina got to the junior early with a single from Dale Mollenhauer. Holland would bounce back, striking out the next batter but gave up a game-ending double to Brandon Henderson that would score Mollenhauer from1st base give the Pirates (7-6) the 3-2 victory. Western’s offense never got on track in the game, only able to produce 3 hits with Strausbaugh going 1-for-3 and having the Catamounts’ only extra base hit of the game, a double in the 4th. For the 2nd straight game, a Western starter would get the no decision as Saberhagen gave up 2 runs on 11 hits, while walking nobody and striking out 1 over 7 innings. Holland would suffer the loss, giving up 2 hits and the winning run.
Side notes: The Catamounts 2nd opponent in the Classic, Pepperdine, happens to be where current pitcher Drew Saberhagen spent his first 2 seasons of college ball. WCU head coach Todd Raleigh also has ties to one team played this weekend as he was a recruiting coordinator and hitting instructor for East Carolina back in 1999.