Western Carolina Edges Baseball 5-4 In Series Opener
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Sophomore RHP Ryan Clark (Johnson City, N.Y./Johnson City) threw his first career complete game Friday evening, but Southern Conference leader Western Carolina mustered just enough offense to hold off UNCG 5-4 in the teams’ series opener at the UNCG Baseball Stadium.
Clark, now 1-4, was charged with five runs (three earned) and scattered six hits over the nine innings while matching his career high with eight strikeouts. He also allowed just two Catamount base runners in the final five innings.
The win went to Western Carolina’s Jeremy Null who improved to 4-1 on the season. The preseason SoCon Pitcher of the Year gave up four runs (one earned) on 11 hits in eight innings pitched while also striking out eight. The Spartans’ 11-hit performance was the first time Null has given up double-digit base knocks in a contest this season and UNCG hit the first home run of the year off of the right-hander. Tyler Powell recorded his fifth save of the campaign, throwing a perfect ninth inning.
Western Carolina (18-9, 6-1 SoCon) committed three errors while UNCG (14-14, 2-4 SoCon) produced one defensive miscue. The Blue and Gold also reached double figures in hits for the 19th time in 28 contests (11 of the last 14).
Junior Eric Kalbfleisch (Pilot Mountain, N.C./North Stokes) was 3-for-5 with two runs scored, two RBI and a solo home run in the contest while classmates Zac MacAneney (Gibsonville, N.C./Virginia Tech), Hunter King (Mason City, Iowa/Northern Iowa Area CC) and L.J. Kalawaia (Wailuku, Hawai’i) each notched two hits. Kalawaia extended his hitting streak to 13 games while King now has an 11-contest streak. Senior Sean Guite (Huntington Beach, Calif./Irvine Valley CC) is also on the verge of a double-digit hitting streak as he is currently at nine games.
A defensive lapse in the top of the third allowed the Catamounts to take an early 2-0 lead as King bobbled a grounder at second with one out and could not make the play to first. J.D. Long followed with a single to put runners on first and second before Bradley Strong moved them up a base with a deep fly out to right center. Cody Jones delivered a double to the wall in center field to score Long and Strong unearned.
A pair of Western Carolina home runs in the top of the third made the score 5-0 as Jacob Hoyle led off with a solo shot to center and Dykota Spiess followed with a two-run round-tripper.
The Spartans answered in the bottom of the inning as Kalbfleisch took Null deep to lead off the frame and pull UNCG within 5-1. King and Kalawaia then singled before junior Jordan McDonald (Perth, Australia/Chattanooga State) struck out. Redshirt freshman Julian Abreu (Miami, Florida/Florida Christian) laid down a textbook bunt down the third base line for a single that loaded the bases. However, sophomore Jake Hall struck out swinging and redshirt sophomore Nin Marrero (Greensboro, N.C./Western Guilford) flied out to right center to terminate the threat.
The Blue and Gold made the game interesting in the bottom of the seventh, plating three unearned runs with two outs. Hall reached on a throwing error at short and advanced to second before reaching third on a single by MacAneney – who was caught in a rundown trying to get to second base for the second out. Another Catamount miscue, this time at third base, allowed Guite to stand at first base and Hall to cross home. Kalbfleisch doubled down the right field line to plate Guite and King singled on the infield to move Kalbfleisch to third. Kalawaia then singled up the middle to drive in Kalbfleisch and make the score 5-4. McDonald ended the inning with a strikeout.
UNCG could not put a runner on base in the final two frames as Western Carolina held on for the one-run victory.
The Spartans and Catamounts will play the second game of their series Saturday at 2 p.m.