CULLOWHEE, N.C. – Spartan baseball completed the three-game sweep over the in-state Southern Conference rival Western Carolina Catamounts Sunday afternoon. The Spartans defeated Western Carolina 3-2 in game one and 5-3 in the nightcap to secure the three-game sweep. UNCG is now 24-7 on the season and 5-1 in the Southern Conference. Western Carolina falls to 3-27 and 1-8 in league play.
The Spartan bullpen locked down the Catamount offense all weekend. Four pitchers combined to allow just one earned run in 12.1 innings of relief work during the three-game set. In the three games, UNCG recorded three double plays and the middle infield was responsible for 14 putouts.
Bryce Hensley started on the mound in game one. The senior earned his second-straight quality start and third win of the year after throwing six innings, scattering six hits, allowing two earned runs, walking three and striking out five. Andrew Wantz took over in the seventh inning. He allowed three hits and a walk, but struck out four hitters and left four runners on base to earn his seventh save of the year.
Game two saw Jake Lewis get the ball to start the game. The junior worked just 1.2 innings, allowing one hit, two earned runs, walked six and struck out a batter. Easton Welch entered with two on in the second inning, getting the ground out to get out of the jam. Welch tied a career-best with 3.1 innings pitched, allowing one hit, no runs, didn’t walk a batter and struck out two.
Welch gave way to Dan Loats for the sixth inning of the nightcap. Loats worked a clean frame, giving up a single. Jack Maynard threw the final three innings to pick up his fifth save of the season. The senior scattered three hits, one earned run and picked up a strikeout in the win.
The first game saw UNCG manage seven hits. The first five hitters in the lineup each recorded a hit, with Dillon Stewart driving a run in and Austin Embler scoring a run. Ryan Caveness had the game’s biggest hit, driving in two with a single, scoring Cesar Trejo and Tripp Shelton.
The Spartan offense had eight hits in the second game, led by a 2-for-4 performance from Andrew Moritz. Moritz added a triple, two RBI and scored twice in the win. He’s now just one triple shy of tying the school record of 18 career triples at UNCG. Zach Kuchmaner finished 1-for-3 with an RBI and Ryan Clinch added a solo home run, his second of the series.
“Its hard to come on the road and win three games, but we played well.” Head coach Link Jarrett said, “Our defense overall from a team and individual perspective was as good as I’ve seen us play. It was good all day and when you defend that way, all the way around the diamond, its key to putting yourself in position to win.”
“Bryce (Hensley) was really sharp today. He got us a good, deep start, which really helps you on days like today when you play 18 innings.” Jarrett continued, “The big at bat in the first game was (Ryan) Caveness’ two-strike base hit to right center. It really got us going. (Andrew) Wantz was very sharp coming in after Bryce. We had a really key 6-4-3 double play there to get us out of some trouble. (Josh) Madole had a nice game at first base. He caught a nice line drive and made some good plays defensively. He had some good swings and good at bats at the plate.”
“In the second game, Jake Lewis wasn’t as sharp as he would have liked to have been.” Jarrett stated, “The pickoff at second base was a key part of his outing which allowed him to navigate a mess. To pick that guy off was impressive and it allowed us to minimize the trouble we were in. (Andrew) Moritz had a big at bat to shoot one over the centerfielder’s head. It seemed like that guy was able to track everything down all weekend so to get that to drop was big. (Ryan) Clinch had a very timely home run, his second of the weekend. Cesar (Trejo) executed a hit and run and (Zach) Kuchmaner to lay down the squeeze was really important to how that second game played out. (Jack) Maynard was sharp out of the bullpen. He was able to get a nice double play and the interesting interference double play at the end helped us out.”
The Spartans got on the board in the top of the first inning in game one. Embler reached on an infield hit, and the throw to get him at first bounced away from the first baseman to move him to second. A sacrifice bunt from Caleb Webster moved him to third as Stewart singled up to drive him in and take a 1-0 lead.
Western Carolina had a two-out rally in the second inning to take the lead. Spencer Holcomb legged out an infield single and moved to second after Kitt Capell drew a walk. Caleb Robinson followed with a double to right center to drive two in to take the 2-1 lead.
UNCG regained the lead in the top of the fourth inning. With runners on first and second and two outs, Zach Kuchmaner worked a walk to load the bases for Ryan Caveness. Caveness laced a two-strike pitch to shallow right center to score a pair of runs and give the Spartans the 3-2 advantage.
The Spartans pitched out of jams in the sixth and seventh inning. In both innings, Western Carolina got the first two hitters on base. Hensley got three fielder’s choices to hold Western Carolina scoreless in the sixth. Wantz’s seventh inning saw him pick up a strikeout before getting the 6-4-3 double play to end the threat and preserve the 3-2 lead.
Wantz was more conventional in the eight and ninth innings, allowing a two-out base runner in both innings before getting strikeouts to end both innings and the first game.
Game two started with Western Carolina scoring two in the bottom of the first inning to take the lead. The Catamounts took advantage of three walks and a sacrifice fly drove in another to put the Catamounts up 2-0 early.
The Spartans responded in the top of the third inning. With two on and two outs, Moritz drove a triple to left center field to drive in two. The throw from the cutoff man to get Moritz at third was off the mark and went into the Western Carolina dugout to give Moritz home and the Spartans the 3-2 lead. UNCG added to its lead in the fourth inning with a solo home run from Clinch.
UNCG tacked on an insurance run in the eighth. Moritz led off with a single and went first to third on a hit and run single from Trejo. Kuchmaner laid down the safety squeeze bunt to score the run and put UNCG up 5-2.
Western Carolina cut deficit back to two in the bottom of the frame, getting an RBI single from Justin Sparks.
Maynard gave up a single to start the ninth inning, but induced an unconventional double play. A ground ball was played by Embler at second who threw to Shelton covering the base. On the transition to get the runner at first, the Catamount base runner failed to make an attempt to leave the base path and Shelton’s throw ricocheted off his helmet. The umpire ruled interference and called the hitter out on the play. Maynard took care of the final out himself with a strikeout to secure the win.
The Spartans are back in action Tuesday as they head to High Point for a matchup with the Panthers at 6 p.m.