GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Jeremy Simpson hit a two-out, three-run double in the top of the ninth inning as 27th-ranked Catawba rallied from a five-run deficit to edge Tusculum 7-6 Friday night in a South Atlantic Conference baseball thriller from Pioneer Park.
The Catawba Indians (28-12, 14-5 SAC) move into a two-way tie for first place with Lincoln Memorial, who defeated Newberry earlier on Friday. TC, Catawba, LMU and Newberry all entered the day in a four-way for first place in the league standings.
Tusculum jumped out to a 6-1 lead after three innings, but Catawba chipped away at the deficit scoring one run in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings to trail by two (6-4). Meanwhile, Catawba reliever Clay Young held the Pioneers at bay as he pitched five shutout innings, scattered two hits, one walk and posted five strikeouts.
In the top of the ninth, Tusculum reliever Chase McAllister walked the first three batters of the inning to load the bases. TC closer McKenly Berry came aboard and struck out pinch-hitter Bryce Fowler and got Jackson Raper to fly out to shallow left field for the second out of the inning. On the first offering from Berry, Simpson sent a deep drive to the gap in right center field where rightfielder Zach Finchum made a diving effort but was unable to come up with the catch. Simpson's double, his seventh of the year, cleared the bases and gave the Indians a 7-6 lead.
In the bottom of the inning, Catawba closer Bryan Blanton went to a full count on the first two batters, but got a strikeout and a fly ball for the first two outs of the inning. Daulton Martin lined a single up the middle to put the tying run aboard and keep TC's hopes alive. But Blanton struck out pinch hitter Colby Skeen to secure his 11th save of the year.
Catawba plated an unearned run in the top of the first inning off of TC's Ethan Carpenter, who was making his school-record 47th mound start. Tusculum answered with three runs in the bottom of the frame, including a Bradley Evans' RBI single and a two-run base hit from John Topoleski.
TC added two more runs in the second as Evans came through again with another RBI single and Cole Baxley had a sacrifice fly to make it a 5-1 contest. TC tacked on another run in the third when Zach Finchum singled and later scored on a Jeremy Glore sacrifice fly.
Catawba started its rally in the fifth when Chance Bowden posted a one-out RBI single. Raper led off the sixth inning with his second triple of 2017 and he later scored on Simpson's sacrifice fly out.
In the seventh, Kyle Smith reached on a one-out single. After a fly out, Malachi Hanes hit a chopper to the third base side of the mound. Hanes legged out the hit and Carpenter's throw to first went wide, allowing Smith to score all the way from first to trim the TC lead to 6-4.
In the bottom of the seventh Topoleski was hit by a pitch with one out. Dante Key doubled off the wall in left field and Topoleski rounded third trying to score, but the relay throw to the plate was in time to gun down Topoleski for the second out and to keep the game a two-run contest.
Catawba threatened again in the eighth as Carpenter got the first out of the inning, but gave up a walk to Simpson. McAllister relieved Carpenter after his gutty 144-pitch performance. Luke Setzer hit a double to left field to put the tying runs in scoring position at second and third. McAllister gathered himself and recorded back-to-back strikeouts to end the threat.
Young picked up the victory to improve to 3-0 on the year, while McAllister (1-1) suffered his first loss in a Pioneer uniform.
Simpson finished the night with four RBI, while Setzer, Smith, Hanes and Raper all tallied two hits apiece.
Evans went 3-for-5 at the plate with two RBI, while Edison Cabrera also had a 3-for-5 performance while scoring twice.
The two teams will wrap up the weekend series with a 1 p.m. Saturday doubleheader. Tusculum will be honoring its 13 seniors prior to Saturday's first contest.