Pitcher Ellis Foreman (Round Rock, Texas/Stony Point) wanted no part of another 22-12 baseball game Monday night in Cullowhee, North Carolina.
The buildup to the redshirt sophomore's second appearance of 2015 was awfully similar to his first: the Crusaders were trading early-inning blows with their opponent in a tilt in which the winner would seemingly be the first to 20 runs. But instead of representing the first of six bullpen arms to climb the hill as was the case at San Diego State on Valentine's Day, Foreman threw up five zeroes and thrust Valpo into the win column to the tune of an 8-7 victory at Hennon Stadium.
Bryce Yoder (Spencerville, Ind./Eastside) earned his first career save in a tension-filled ninth inning that saw the Catamounts load the bases with two outs.
Valpo and Western Carolina traded three-spots in the opening frame.
Spencer Mahoney (LaGrange Park, Ill./Lyons Township) led the game off with a walk and scooted up to second on a throwing error. Nate Palace (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) continued to swing a hot bat as he sent a Colton Davis delivery through the left side that plated Mahoney. Daniel Delaney (Thousand Oaks, Calif./Thousand Oaks [Fresno State) followed with an infield single to load the bases for Dustin Beasley (Stony Point, Texas/Round Rock [Cisco). Beasley made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly to right field. Western Carolina shot itself in the foot two batters later when Davis' pickoff attempt went astray and allowed Palace to come all the way around from second base for the third Valpo run.
The first three Catamounts reached base in their half of the first. A leadoff walk quickly turned into a run following a stolen base and single up the middle off the bat of Austin Atwell. Second baseman Bradley Strong clubbed a Drew Hasler (South Bend, Ind./Mishawaka Marian) fastball to deep right-center field for an RBI double, trimming the Valpo lead to 3-2. Strong advanced to third base as the throw went home. Danny Bermudez subsequently sent a sacrifice fly to center, tying the game at 3-3.
Palace provided the Crusaders with a lead the very next inning. A one-out walk to Mark Johnson (Evanston, Ill./Evanston Township) came back to bite Davis. Johnson went first-to-third on a Mahoney single and was able to trot home on another Palace single through the six-hole.
Hasler issued a leadoff walk again in the bottom of third, and again it cost the righthander. Bermudez reclaimed the lead for Western Carolina with a two-run blast to left. Hasler retired the next man on strikes, but right fielder Kramer Ferrell sent an opposite-field shot over the right-center field fence to provide an insurance tally for the Catamounts.
Nolan Lodden (West Des Moines, Iowa/West Des Moines Valley [Heartland CC]) cut the deficit in half with an RBI single in the fourth that scored Mahoney. The Crusader leadoff man had worked his second walk of the night and stole second to move into scoring position for Lodden.
Down 6-5, Valpo skipper Brian Schmack gave the ball to Foreman to begin the fourth.
Foreman allowed the first man he faced to reach by virtue of a walk. But after an infield pop-up, the righthander sat the next two down via strikeouts.
Freshman Chad Jacob (Irvine, Calif./Woodbridge), who was impressed with the glove so far, rifled a two-out double to center field that scored Beasley from second base. Jacob's first run batted in as a Crusader tied the game 6-6 in the fifth.
Foreman fired off his second scoreless inning in the bottom half of the fifth, and Valpo seized its third lead in its next at-bat.
Catamount reliever Bryan Sammons registered the first two outs of the sixth with little trouble, but Lodden kept things going for the Brown and Gold with his first two-bagger of the season. Palace stroked his third lead-securing hit of the night with a double to left-center. Palace came around to score two batters later on a wild pitch, giving Valpo an 8-6 edge.
Foreman again worked around a leadoff threat in the Catamount half of the seventh. Caleb Robinson roped an opposite-field double, but was stranded 180 feet away from home after a strikeout and a pair of lazy fly outs.
Western Carolina went down 1-2-3 for the first - and only - time in the eighth.
Foreman started the ninth on the hill and coaxed an innocent ground out to open the frame. However, Ferrell recorded his second extra-base hit of the ballgame with a double the other way. Robinson made it an 8-7 contest with a run-scoring single to center.
J.D. Long kept the rally going with a single to put the tying run on second. Long represented the game-winning run on first.
At that point, Schmack called on Yoder to slam the door shut.
The sidewinder got Reece Strong to fly out to left for the second out of the inning. Brett Pope reached base via an infield single as both runners moved up a base, creating a bases-loaded scenario.
Yoder, who had fallen behind 3-1, worked back to a full count. A dramatic nine-pitch at-bat culminated with Jacob making a smooth play on the front end of a game-clinching ground out to short.
Valpo (1-6) recorded its first clean game in the field. On the flipside, Western Carolina committed five errors. The Crusaders batted 7-for-20 (.350) with runners in scoring position.
Foreman, who was awarded the win, tossed 5 1/3 innings of exceptional relief. He scattered eight hits, punched out four, and walked two while surrendering just one run.
The Crusaders will wrap up their series with the Catamounts Tuesday afternoon at 4 pm ET/3 pm CT. Freshman lefthander Connor Kaucic (Chardon, Ohio/Notre Dame Cathedral Latin) will make his first collegiate start for Valpo. Live stats - and possibly audio - will be available for the game. Links to both are up at ValpoAthletics.com.