Ninth-inning long balls spur VMI rally in 11-6 win over Western Carolina

vmi_logo2A three-run shot by Collin Fleischer broke a ninth-inning tie and Gary LeClair added a two-run shot as the VMI Keydets rallied to down the Western Carolina Catamounts, 11-6, in the opener of a doubleheader Friday afternoon in Cullowhee, N.C.

The Keydets (20-27, 12-11) had squandered a 5-3 lead and trailed 6-5 going to the ninth, but WCU (20-28, 10-13) closer Tyler Powell was extremely wild. Powell hit Ray Lopez to start the inning and then threw two consecutive pitches to the backstop to allow Lopez to go to third. One out later, David Geary drove a RBI double to deep center to tie the game and Matt Winn was intentionally walked.

Fleischer then launched a three-run shot into the trees beyond left-center field for his third home run of the year, and one batter later, pinch-hitter LeClair hammered the first pitch he saw for a two-run homer to cap the scoring. LeClair’s long ball was the first of his four-year career.

Josh Worthley (1-1) picked up the victory on the mound, pitching 1 1/3 innings and giving up one run, while Powell (2-3) took the loss as he was tagged for five runs and recorded just one out.

It was Western Carolina that jumped out to the early lead, as Bradley Strong got to Austin Heenan for a three-run home run in the first inning for a 3-0 Catamount lead. Those would be the only WCU runs off Heenan, and the Keydets took the lead in the fourth.

A ringing double by Jordan Tarsovich scored Ray Lopez and two batters later, Fleischer walked to force in a run. A two-run single for Connerley followed and gave VMI a 4-3 lead. Fleischer then scored on a passed ball charged to Danny Bermudez to push the margin to 5-3.

Neither team would score again until the seventh, when Brett Pope reached on a bunt to lead off the inning. After a sacrifice bunt, Matthew Koehler was hit by a pitch and one out later, a wild pitch then moved up both runners. Matt Smith followed with a hard ground ball to shortstop that took a bad hop on Tarsovich, who then threw wildly to first. The single and error allowed two runs to score and tied the game, 5-5.

Kramer Ferrell then hit a solo home run off Worthley in the eighth to give WCU the lead and set the stage for VMI’s dramatic ninth-inning rally.

Neither starter figured in the decision. Heenan went six innings and allowed three runs on four hits, while B.J. Nobles surrendered five runs (three earned) in 4 2/3 innings. He walked five and struck out five.

Offensively, Tarsovich and Geary had two hits apiece while Fleischer drove in four runs for the Keydets. Smith and Bermudez had two hits apiece for WCU.

In the nightcap, VMI is bidding to finish with its first winning record in conference play since 2011.

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