Cullowhee, N.C. - The Citadel battled back from a late four-run deficit to pull within one in the ninth before Western Carolina held on for a 7-6 victory in the opening game of a Southern Conference series Friday evening.
The Bulldogs dropped to 15-11 and 4-3 in the SoCon with their fourth loss in the past five games and sixth defeat by one or two runs on the year. The Catamounts are 15-12 and 6-4 in the conference and have won 13 of the last 16 games against The Citadel in Cullowhee.
The marathon lasted 3:53, edging out by one minute the longest nine-inning game for The Citadel in games in which boxscores are available dating back to the 1970 season. The previous long was 3:52 against Winthrop on March 18, 1997 and Air Force on March 27, 2009.
Game two of the series will be Saturday at 2 p.m. followed by the finale Sunday at 1 p.m., although the weather forecast may dictate a Saturday doubleheader. The Bulldogs need to win both remaining games whenever they take place in order to take their first series at Western since 2002.
The Bulldogs had a final chance to pull the game out in the ninth against Catamount closer Preston Hatcher. Trailing 7-5, Bo Thompson drew a leadoff walk and Jason Smith pinch ran for him. After a pair of strikeouts, pinch hitter Brett Bullard drove in Smith with a single to center, but Calvin Orth grounded out to third to leave the tying run on base.
Austin Pritcher started for the Bulldogs and was charged with his second loss of the season. The senior right hander allowed eight hits and all seven Western runs (six earned) with four walks and five strikeouts in five innings. Kevin Connell allowed two hits and struck out one in 1 1/3 innings, and Zach Sherrill pitched 1 2/3 perfect innings with a pair of strikeouts.
The appearance was the 21st of the season for Sherrill, who leads all of Division I in that category.
Catamount starter Jeremy Null battled through five innings, giving up five hits and three runs (only one earned) with four strikeouts to pick up his third victory in four decisions. Hatcher gave up a run but stranded the tying run on base to earn his seventh save of the year.
The Citadel trailed 7-3 after six innings before scoring twice in the seventh. Mason Davis led off with a bunt single down the third base line for his 100th career hit, and Joe Jackson singled through the right side to put runners on first and third.
Davis scored on a wild pitch on ball four to Bo Thompson, and Jackson later scored on another wild pitch to make it 7-5. Johnathan Stokes singled to put runners on the corners again, but Ryne Hardwick popped out to second in a pinch hitting role.
The Bulldogs threatened in the eighth with walks to Hughston Armstrong and Davis. Drew DeKerlegand flied out to deep center, and Jackson hit a hard liner that was right at second baseman Bradley Strong.
The teams traded two-run second innings. The Citadel took advantage of a pair of errors on shortstop Aaron Attaway and an RBI single by Armstrong to take a 2-0 lead. Jacob Hoyle drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the frame, and Austin Neary scored from third when Dykota Spiess got into a rundown between first and second to pull the Catamounts even.
A run-scoring single by Tyler White highlighted a two-run Western third and a 4-2 lead. Orth doubled in Tyler Griffin to get the Bulldogs a run closer in the fourth, but the Catamounts responded with a run in their half of the fourth and two in the fifth to build a 7-3 lead.
The Bulldogs hurt their own cause by stranding 11 runners on base and had two runners caught stealing after entering the game successful on 32 of 37 attempts on the year. Davis was thrown out trying to swipe third in the fifth, only the second time in 14 tries he has been caught on the year.
Thompson was held without a hit but walked twice, extending his streak of reaching base to all 22 games this year and 25 in a row dating back to the end of the 2012 season.