McDowell magical again
WCU to meet N.C.
State for regional title
By Sean Ryan
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
“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.”