Consecutive doubles by Ross Heffley and Brent Greer in the home half of the seventh inning capped a four-run rally that spanned two frames as Western Carolina upset fourth-ranked Georgia Tech, 10-9, on Wednesday, April 21 in non-conference baseball action at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium.
Catamount closer Daniel Ottone struck out the final two batters of the Georgia Tech eighth and then worked through the heart of the Yellow Jacket order in the top of the ninth, allowing just one base runner before fanning Matt Skole with a runner at second base to end the game and earn his sixth save of the season. Ottone finished with an inning and two-thirds of work with three strikeouts, facing just one over the minimum.
WCU head coach Bobby Moranda, who spent six seasons as an assistant at Georgia Tech, earned his first-ever win over his former squad despite being ejected from the game in the top of the fourth inning. The Catamounts also claimed victory in the first-ever Cullowhee meeting in the 34-game series with GT.
The win was also the team’s fourth against a nationally-ranked team this season, including two wins over No. 24 USC and downing No. 28 Georgia Southern.
Western Carolina’s middle-inning rally began auspiciously enough in the sixth. Georgia Tech (27-9-1) erased a lead-off single by Heffley with a double-play along the middle infield to record the first two outs of the frame. However, still trailing by three, 9-6, Rembert Rollison spurred a string of four-consecutive singles that plated a pair of runs to pull WCU within a one, 9-8. Rollison, Matt Johns, Stephen Notaro and Mitchell Hatley all singled, with the latter two driving in the runs.
In the seventh, Nick Liles reached on a fielding error with one out before Heffley doubled to drive in Liles for the tying run. Liles had to slide around a tag at home to knot the game at nine apiece, with the throw to the plate allowing Heffley to scamper to third. The next batter, Greer, hammered the first pitch of his at bat down the right field line allowing Heffley to trot home with the go-ahead run, 10-9, and set up the finish.
Brandon Johnson (3-0) earned the win for WCU as the fourth pitcher utilized out of the bullpen. The Morehead City, N.C., native threw two innings of one-hit relief, working around a walk and a pair of hit batsmen with two strikeouts before giving way to Ottone.
Heffley, Greer and Hatley all posted three-hit nights as Western Carolina out-hit the Yellow Jackets, 16-to-14, including five multi-hit performances. Johns finished 2-for-5 with his third home run in the last four games and a team-best three RBI, with Rollison going 2-for-4, also with a sacrifice bunt in the game.
Heffley also made what proved to be a crucial play in the field in the top of the sixth inning, throwing out a runner at home plate that would have extended the lead to four. Thomas Nichols tried to score from second on a single by the catcher Cole Leonida, but Heffley delivered a strike to his catcher, Notaro, who applied the tag despite a heavy collision at the plate keeping the Jackets off the scoreboard and the deficit at just three, 9-6.
Georgia Tech took an early lead on the first of its three home runs on the night as Derek Dietrich launched a two-run homer off of Catamount starter Mike Tavernier for the early 2-0 lead. WCU answered two innings later, plating a pair to knot the game at two after two innings. Trevor Collias accounted for one of the runs driven in during the frame on a RBI single through the left side.
Western Carolina (23-16) plated four runs in the bottom of the third, highlighted by a two-run home run from Johns, to take a 6-3 edge in the game. The three-run lead by the Catamounts marked the first time in 58-straight innings that the Yellow Jackets trailed at the end of an frame, dating back to the final game of the series against Virginia (April 12).
The advantage was short-lived, however, as Tech posted back-to-back three-run innings in the fourth and fifth including home runs by Leonida and Tony Plagman to lead, 9-6, through five innings, setting up WCU’s rally.
Georgia Tech reliever Patrick Long (0-1) was saddled with the loss after working an inning and a third, allowing two runs on three hits, including the back-to-back doubles. Leonida led the Yellow Jackets offensively with three hits on a 3-for-4 night, while Jeff Rowland, Jeff Haniger and Chris House each tallied two hits in the loss.