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Western Carolina Splits Opening Day of 2024 SoCon Tournament



By Daniel Hooker

WCU Athletics


Western Carolina softball used an early offensive explosion and the power of 10 hits to advance into the double-elimination portion of tournament action with an 8-6 win over sixth-seeded Furman in its opener at the 2024 Southern Conference Championship.


In Wednesday night’s action, No. 3 seed Samford used a four-run third inning to rally the Bulldogs past the seventh-seeded Catamounts 5-2 at the UNCG Softball Stadium.


Western Carolina drops into the loser’s portion of the tournament bracket and is now in a must-win matchup on Thursday with the first pitch scheduled for 4 p.m. against Thursday’s loser between No. 4 seed Mercer and top-seeded Chattanooga. Tournament game times are subject to change, check CatamountSports.com, SoConSports.com, or WCU’s social media for any schedule alterations.


Freshman Lily Bell posted three hits over Wednesday’s action including her 21st multi-hit game of the season as part of the victory over Furman. Bell also tallied her team-high 32nd stolen base of the season to go along with her team-high 68 seasonal hits.


Seniors Savannah Baldwin and Jeralynn Wells both posted two-hit games in the win over the Paladins and Wells added a pair of RBI in the setback to the Bulldogs. Tessa Juett connected on her fifth home run of the season in the opener. Kennedy Stewman, Taylor Waitley, and Sydney Dirks each had hits in game one while Bell, Wells, and Stewman had base knocks in the nightcap.


Junior Makenzie Martin tossed the final 5.1 innings against the Paladins and limited the traffic to three hits and one run to earn the victory and followed that performance up with four innings of work against Samford with two hits and two runs along with one earned run.

GAME ONE: #7 Western Carolina 8, #6 Furman 6


After trading five-run spurts in the opening two innings, a three-run burst in the middle innings and steadying relief pitching from Makenzie Martin allowed the Western Carolina to down the Paladins 8-6 and send WCU into Wednesday night against #3 Samford.

 

With the win, WCU avenged a three-game regular-season series sweep at the hands of the Paladins back in March in Greenville, S.C.

 

Western Carolina wasted little time in its tournament curtain raiser as Bell reached on an infield single before a Juett sacrifice moved the runner up. Baldwin added a single before Taylor Waitley connected on an RBI single to give the Catamounts the early lead. Jeralynn Wells added an RBI single before an RBI groundout from Sydney Dirks plated a third run. The inning was capped by a Paladins throwing error on a stolen base to make it 4-0 WCU after half an inning.

 

After a leadoff hit-by-pitch, Juett retired the next three Paladins in short order to send the Catamounts back to the bat rack in the second.

 

Furman sat the first two WCU batters down before Juett turned on one down and laced a line-drive home run down the right field line for a solo blast to stretch the Catamounts lead to five. However, the Paladins answered the early offense from WCU and erased the deficit with a five-run second inning to even the score at five after two frames.

 

The Catamounts answered the Paladins' big inning with an RBI double from Sydney Dirks and an RBI single from Kennedy Stewman pushing the designated visiting squad back in front 7-5 after three complete.

 

WCU continued its offensive explosion in the fourth inning as Baldwin added an RBI single down the right field line to plate Bell and extend the Catamounts lead to three, 8-5. Martin put the Paladins down 1-2-3 in the fourth inning to keep the advantage at three.

 

In the home half of the sixth inning, the Paladins pushed across an RBI groundout to cut it to a two-run game headed to the seventh. After the Catamounts were erased quietly in the top half of the frame, Martin finished off her victory including the first two outs on just two pitches before inducing a right-side ground out to clinch it.

 

Juett got the start and went 1.2 innings but didn’t factor in the decision after scattering six hits and five runs with a walk and a strikeout. Martin (1-13) went the distance going 5.1 innings as she allowed three hits and one run with a strikeout in earning her first win of the year.

 

Sierra Tufts got the start for the Paladins but likewise was not involved in the result, lasting just 1.2 innings while allowing five hits and five runs with four earned in the no-decision. Lauralee Scott (1-5) went 1.1 innings limiting WCU to three hits and a pair of runs in the loss. Emme Buzhardt finished the contest for Furman going the final four innings with two hits allowed and a run with three strikeouts.

 

GAME TWO: #3 Samford 5, #7 Western Carolina 2

Third-seeded Samford used a four-run third inning to erase Western Carolina’s early 2-1 advantage to pull in front and never looked back as the Bulldogs advanced in the winner’s bracket by claiming the 5-2 win on Wednesday night in the final of four games played on the first day of the tournament.

 

The Catamounts followed the same script as Wednesday afternoon’s first game as Lily Bell reached on a single before Tessa Juett and Savannah Baldwin loaded the bases in the opening half inning. Jeralynn Wells lined a single through the right side to plate a pair of runs to give WCU an early 2-0 lead.

 

Samford answered with a run on a sacrifice fly to cut the Western Carolina lead in half at 2-1 after an inning of action.

 

After a scoreless inning and a half, Samford put together a decisive four-run frame that included a two-run double down the left field line as the Bulldogs jumped in front 4-2 after three complete.

 

Kennedy Stewman reached in the fourth on a two-out single that stretched her to second, but the Bulldogs quickly erased the threat and kept it a three-run game. Martin began her first clean inning in the fourth and sat Samford down 1-2-3 with nice defensive work from Baldwin and Maya McPherson.

 

WCU sent the minimum to the plate in both the fifth and sixth innings with Martin keeping WCU within striking distance by working around a pair of runners on the bases in the fifth with a strikeout and popup and in the sixth she worked around a one-out walk without trouble to send the final frame with a 5-2 Samford lead.

 

Down to the final three outs, Samford erased the Catamounts in short order in the seventh to send the Bulldogs to the victory, 5-2.

 

Juett (13-15) got the start and went two innings allowing two hits and three runs with two of those earned against the Bulldogs. Martin returned to the circle and tossed the final four innings allowing two hits with a pair of runs which included one earned on three walks with a strikeout.

 

Jordyn Partain faced just three batters in her start without recording an out with a hit and two runs along with a pair of walks. She was lifted for McKenzie Newcomb (9-3) who pitched the remaining seven innings, scattering two hits with a walk and seven strikeouts in earning Samford the tournament win.

 

Western Carolina (17-34) now turns its attention to an elimination game on Thursday (May 9) with the first pitch scheduled for 4 p.m. WCU will face either fourth-seeded Mercer or top-seed Chattanooga depending upon the outcome with the loser joining WCU in the late afternoon session at the UNCG Softball Stadium. Coverage of all the tournament games is available on ESPN+ (paid subscription required) and with live stats through CatamountSports.com.

 

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