May 31, 2003


CBI Live
McDowell magical again for Catamounts
WCU to meet N.C. State for regional title

By Sean Ryan Co-Founder

WILSON, N.C. – In his last outing, Brandon McDowell took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in a 1-0 win over Georgia Southern in the Southern Conference Tournament.


Last night, Western Carolina’s lefty was on an even bigger stage – and turned in an even better performance.


This time, McDowell took a no-hitter into the ninth inning before Eric Latura singled to right field, but the Catamounts captured a 2-0 win over Virginia Commonwealth at Fleming Stadium.


The win pushed WCU (43-20) into Sunday’s final against North Carolina State, when the Catamounts will have to beat the Wolfpack twice to advance to the Super Regionals. The Rams, who had won 12 straight and 20 of 21 before Saturday, finished their season at 46-13 after two heartbreaking losses Saturday.


“Outstanding, I guess that’s the best word,” Catamounts coach Todd Raleigh said of his southpaw. “Brandon was phenomenal…Under the circumstances, how big a game it was, it was just phenomenal. I really gotta say we just rode him all night long.”


McDowell (7-2) walked three batters and struck out seven in his gem. After several near-misses – none closer than pinch-hitter Robbie Gragnani’s grounder to second in the eighth – Latura looped a clean single to right to lead off the ninth. No-hitter aside, McDowell had some work to do with the 2-3-4 hitters coming up. He got two on fly balls and one on a strikeout.

“It doesn’t really matter,” McDowell said of losing the no-no. “We got the win, that’s all that matters.”


What made McDowell’s flirt with a no-hitter more intriguing was the fact that one swing of the bat could have turned masterpiece into misery.


Take the play in the eighth, for example.


With runners on first and second, Gragnani hit a hard two-hopper that looked like it might be the Rams’ first hit and possibly even score a run. Todd Roper ranged to his left, angling into the slick outfield grass and gloved the ball. But Roper slipped, fumbled the ball and threw from his knees. With Roper laying flat on his stomach, first baseman Todd Buchanan made the pick to help McDowell and WCU get out of the jam.


“I obviously knew that he had a no-hitter,” Roper said. “I slipped out there. I said: I gotta do something. I gotta do something. I just looked and threw as hard as I could.”


Raleigh said he was monitoring McDowell more than thinking about the no-hitter, and he was keeping tabs on when the Rams’ Jeff Parrish, who hit three homers in the tournament, was coming up.


McDowell was up to every challenge.


“We used a lot of fastballs early…Brandon kind of overpowered them early,” Raleigh said. “And then for some reason, he caught his slider late, and I just kept calling it, much more probably than I normally would. But they kept swinging over the top of it.”


Said Rams coach Paul Keyes: “It’s funny. Our guys were coming back saying he didn’t have much. We’ve sort of struggled with those guys all year long, the soft-throwers who throw the ball over. He did a good job keeping the ball away from us early…then he came late in the game, started throwing his slider down and in at our right-handers’ feet. It was a great performance by him, and their club, they had a good day.”


The Catamounts took advantage of a pair of Rams errors to score their first run in the fifth inning off Matt Prendergast (8-1). With one out, Brian Sigmon reached on an infield hit to third and moved to second on a bad throw on the play. After a well-placed hit by Todd Roper (2 for 4) to right moved him to third, Sigmon had to stay on third on a fly ball to left fielder Jose Pabon, who one inning earlier had nailed Todd Buchanan trying to score from second on a base hit. Sigmon then scored on Paul Swack’s error on an in-between hop at short.


Sigmon later drove in Rod Goldston (2 for 4) for the only other run of the game.


“That was tournament baseball at its finest,” Keyes said. “We burned a lot of energy and had a disappointing loss [to N.C. State]. I think our goal was to win here. We felt we were one of the better clubs and had a chance to win here. I think when we went down 4-3 to N.C. State, it sort of took the wind out of our sails offensively.”


Meanwhile, the Catamounts have the challenge of winning two games against the host school to win the regional. That comes after they began their Saturday well before they got to the park at 8:40, and it likely extended a little past they left around midnight.


“We’re playing for a championship,” right fielder Rod Goldston said. “If you can’t get up for that, it doesn’t matter how much sleep you get. If you can’t get up, something’s wrong.”