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Furman Clips Western Carolina In Bottom Of The Ninth, 9-8

Alex Abrams
Alex Abrams

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Alex Abrams' RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning scored Will Muzika from second base to give Furman a 9-8 victory over Western Carolina in a Southern Conference Tournament elimination game Thursday afternoon at Fluor Field.

With the victory, No. 8 seed Furman (27-30) will now play the loser of Thursday's Samford/Appalachian State contest in an elimination game on Friday at 7:00 p.m.  Western Carolina (32-24), which entered the tournament as the No. 5 seed, had its season ended with the loss.

The triumph was the fourth final at bat victory in Furman's last six games against SoCon opposition.

"We gave up one unearned run," said Furman head coach Ron Smith after witnessing his squad yield six unearned runs in the Paladins' 7-5 opening round loss to No. 1 seed Appalachian State on Wednesday.  "I  thought we battled against a really good team, the best hitting team by average in the league.  We competed very well offensively and played pretty solid defensively.  We played much better today."

Muzika led off the ninth with a single down the left line off Western Carolina closer Preston Hatcher.  Hunter Burton followed with a sacrifice bunt that advanced Muzika to second, and after Hatcher was relieved by Vance Chavis, Abrams bounced a 1-1 offering up the middle, just out of the reach of diving Catamount second baseman Ross Heffley, allowing Muzika to score the game winner.

Furman's decisive run made a winner of freshman reliever Matt Solter (2-2), who came on in the ninth after Western Carolina had tied the game on a Dykota Spiess two-out, infield single in the eighth.  Solter retired the Catamounts in order, striking out Heffley looking for the final out that sent it to the bottom of the ninth.

The loss was charged to Hatcher (6-2), who entered the game with one out in the sixth and worked three innings, allowing three hits, two runs, and four walks while fanning three.

The Paladins knocked out Catamount starter Morgan McKinney in the first inning, plating five runs on four hits and an error.  Paul Nitto's RBI double knotted the game at 1-1, and he later scored on a Taylor Johnson single.  Furman then scored two runs after McKinney's flip throw for an attempted force play at the plate sailed over catcher Adam Martin's head, allowing Will Miller and Johnson to score.  Chris Ohmstede finished off the five-run Furman first with an RBI grounder.

Western Carolina responded with three runs in the second, highlighted by a Tyler White two-run single, to make it a 5-4 game.

A Hunter Burton RBI single and Abrams RBI grounder in the fifth stretched Furman's lead to 7-4.

On the strength of Aaron Attaway's two-run single to right center field, the Catamounts rallied with a three-run seventh against Paladin reliever Tyler Wood to tie the game at 7-7.

Furman went up 8-7 with a two-out rally in the bottom of the seventh, which Western Carolina matched with a run in the eighth.

Miller led Furman at the plate, going 3-for-3, scoring two runs, and stealing three bases.  Will Owens, Jake Jones, and Will Muzika finished with two hits apiece for the Paladins.

Julian Ridings topped Western Carolina's 16-hit attack with a 3-for-4, two-run performance.  Attaway went 2-for-5 with three RBI.

Paladin starter Nate Smith struggled in 4 2/3 innings of work, allowing four runs on 10 hits and three walks.  He struck out five, including Ridings for the final out in the fourth with the bases loaded.

Furman Notes:

With three hits against Western Carolina, Will Miller improved his career total to 241, the fifth highest total in Furman history.  Will Owens' two hits upped his career tally to 231, which places him seventh on the Paladins' all-time ledger.

Furman's 27 victories are the most since 2008 (33-24).

Furman knocked Western Carolina out of the 2009 Southern Conference Tournament, which was also played at Fluor Field.

The Paladins are now 7-21 in all games played at Fluor Field, including 3-4 in SoCon Tournament games (2009 & '12)