Matt Pita inside the park homer highlights VMI doubleheader sweep
Matt Pita hit the first inside the park home run for a VMI player in over 10 years, highlighting a Keydet doubleheader sweep of the Western Carolina Catamounts, 12-9 and 5-4, Saturday at Gray-Minor Stadium. The wins gave VMI (18-17, 7-5 SoCon) a series sweep of WCU (3-31, 1-11) and marked the Keydets’ first sweep of a home conference series since 2014.
Game one was a slugfest, but VMI scored four of the game’s last five runs and Nathan Eaton closed it out with a two-inning save as VMI prevailed, 12-9.
Western Carolina had rallied, completing a comeback from a six-run deficit to tie the score, 8-8, headed to the bottom of the seventh, but a RBI double by Jacob Jaye untied it and the Keydets added three more in the eighth.
Collin Fleischer blasted his second homer of the weekend and Callen Nuccio, playing in his first career game, drilled a RBI double and scored on an ensuing wild pitch/error continuation to stake Eaton to a four-run lead.
WCU clawed across one run in the ninth to account for the final margin.
On the mound, neither starter factored in the decision as Zak Kent was knocked out in the fifth inning and was charged with four runs in 4 2/3 frames, whie Tristan Baker labored through a 125-pitch outing and gave up eight runs (six earned) in 5 1/3.
The decisions went to Derek Tremblay, who pitched a perfect seventh inning to move to 2-2, and Zach Franklin, who gave up the last four VMI runs and dropped to 0-4. Eaton picked up his second save.
Offensively, Fleischer continued his blistering recent run by going 3 for 4 with three RBI and his homer, which pulled him to within one of tying Jordan Ballard for the school record. Pita added three hits, Dunlevy went deep for the fourth time this season and Nuccio, in his first career appearance, was 2 for 5 with a RBI and a run scored.
Matthew Koehler was 3 for 5 to lead Western Carolina, while Luke and Caleb Robinson added home runs for the Catamount offense.
In game two, Pita drilled an inside the park home run in VMI’s first inning and the Keydets then rallied from a 4-1 deficit to complete the sweep, 5-4, in an abbreviated seven-inning contest.
With one out in the first, Pita hit a long fly ball to deep left center. The ball bounced off the wall and rolled back into the gap, allowing Pita to circle the bases for the first inside the park home run by a VMI player since March of 2008, when Mike Roberts accomplished the feat at Auburn.
WCU then scored two runs in both the second and third innings and led, 4-1, but the Keydets scored three times in the fourth. Nuccio, starting once again, was right in the middle of one of the key plays, as with runners on second and third and one out, he laid down a bunt near home.
WCU catcher Spencer Holcomb fielded the ball and attempted to tag Matt Dunlevy, the runner trying to score, but completed the tag with the hand that did not contain the ball. Dunlevy was safe, Nuccio was credited with a sacrifice bunt and a RBI and the Catamount lead was 4-2. One batter later, Pita singled home two runs to tie the game, and a Jake Huggins single in the fifth gave the Keydets the lead for good and accounted for the final margin, 5-4.
On the mound, Kyle Staats moved to 4-2 by allowing four runs in five innings. Matt Eagle pitched the final 1 1/3 innings for his sixth save of the season, and Taylor Purus threw 128 pitches in a six-inning complete game. Purus dropped to 1-8 with the loss, as he walked seven and allowed five runs despite 13 strikeouts.
Offensively, Pita led the way by reaching base in all four of his plate appearances, while Dunlevy and Huggins added two hits apiece as well. Will Prater went 2 for 3 for the visitors.
VMI baseball will return to action Wednesday, when the Keydets travel to Richmond to face the Richmond Spiders. First pitch is set for 3 p.m.