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  • Daniel Hooker

Ninth Inning Rally Leads UNCG Past WCU at SoCon Tournament

Jack Spyke and Cole Jones delivered consecutive run-scoring singles to push seventh-seeded Western Carolina to a late lead with a pair of runs in the top of the ninth inning on Wednesday evening. However, No. 6 seed UNCG capitalized on two walks as pinch-hitter Luke Jenkins delivered a bases-loaded, walk-off double off the wall down the left-field line in the bottom of the frame to lift the Spartans to the 4-3 victory at the 2023 Southern Conference Baseball Championship presented by Holston Gases at Fluor Field.

The Spartans (23-32) advance to the double-elimination portion of the bracket and face No. 3 seed Wofford at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday in an amended tournament schedule. The Catamounts see their season – the first under head coach Alan Beck – come to an end at 21-33 with a sixth, one-run loss in league play.

UNCG used a lead-off solo home run by Zack Budzik and a run-scoring double down the left-field line by Bradley Bott to break a three-plus inning scoreless deadlock with a two-spot in the home half of the fourth inning and carried a 2-0 lead into the fifth.

WCU got one of the runs back a half inning later, though, as Kyle Harbison plated a run on a RBI groundout. The Catamounts were inches away from scoring the equalizing marker in the frame on a close play at first base where UNCG pitcher Julien Peissel shoveled the ball to the bag at first base with his glove just ahead of Brandon Butterworth with the out erasing a would-be run by James Hinson.

The Spartans carried the one-run, 2-1 lead into the ninth inning. Landen Morrison opened the final frame with a single to right center field to extend his hitting streak to seven-straight games. Zach Ketterman pushed the game-tying marker into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt. After a strikeout left WCU down to its final out and with first base open, Hinson was intentionally walked to get to Spyke to the plate. The Lawrenceville, Ga., product then drilled an 0-1 pitch into left-center to bring Morrison home with the tying run. Pinch-hitter Cole Jones then delivered a second-consecutive run-scoring single for the Catamounts with Hinson crossing the plate to hand WCU its first lead, 3-2.

The Spartans managed to come back in the bottom half of the frame, however, with Dallas Callahan and Daniel Cerda drawing walks to open the inning. After a popup on the infield for the first out, Kennedy Jones collected his third hit of the game on a single to left, but pinch-runner Jeremy Wolf tripped rounding third and UNCG was unable to score. Jenkins remedied that just four pitches later, bringing Wolf and Cerda home to keep the Spartans’ season alive.

Hinson paced the Catamounts’ seven-hit attack, going 2-for-2 with two of Western Carolina’s five walks to reach base five times. Spyke, Jones, and Harbison each collected RBI.

Jonathan Todd (2-5), WCU’s fourth pitcher of the day, took the loss for the Catamounts after allowing a pair of runs in an inning of work, giving up two hits. The loss overshadowed a solid start by Kyle Riesselmann, who struck out three against three walks over 3.2 innings, and a superb relief appearance by Dante Visconti who fanned five over 3.1 scoreless innings with two hits and two walks allowed.

Luke Thomas (4-4) picked up the win for UNCG despite surrendering the two runs in the top of the ninth, as he pitched the final two innings, allowing three hits. Starter Julien Peissel allowed one run on four hits in 5.2 innings with a pair of strikeouts.

Jones led UNCG offensively by finishing 3-for-4 with a double. Caleb Cozart was 2-for-3 with a run scored for the Spartans, who totaled 11 hits and drew seven walks in the contest.

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