Cullowhee, N.C. – Western Carolina baseball opens its 2017 season this weekend with three games in the Caravelle Resort’s “Baseball at the Beach,” tournament, hosted by the NCAA defending national champion, Coastal Carolina, between their on-campus Springs Brooks Stadium in Conway, S.C., and TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Park in Myrtle Beach.
WCU faces St. John’s on Friday morning at 11:00 am at TicketReturn.com Field before facing tournament-host, Coastal Carolina, on Saturday afternoon around 2:30 pm at Brooks Stadium. The three-game event wraps up on Sunday afternoon with a 3:00 pm first pitch against North Carolina A&T, again at TicketReturn.com Field.
Fans can follow each game through live GameTracker, online at CatamountSports.com. Audio coverage of the first two games on Friday and Saturday will be available online through Stretch Internet free of charge through CatamountSports.com, with subscription video coverage of Saturday’s meeting with Coastal Carolina available through the Chanticleers’ website.
The Catamounts are making their third appearance at the “Baseball at the Beach” tournament all-time, participating in the tournament in both 2001 and 2008. WCU went 2-1 back in 2001 with victories over Kent State and Delaware to bookend the appearance with a loss to the host Chanticleers. In 2008 – the first under head coach Bobby Moranda – WCU played four games in the tournament finishing 1-3 with a victory over Marshall and losses to West Virginia, George Mason, and Coastal Carolina.
Western Carolina will look to get off to a quicker start than it did a year ago with a season-opening tournament in Wilmington, N.C., as the Catamounts stumbled out of the gates with a 0-3 start.
Coming off the program’s first NCAA postseason appearance since 2007 a year ago, the Catamount roster entering the 2017 season returns nine letter winners from 2015-16 including six individuals that made 30-or-more starts. Back are the squad’s top hitters as it relates to both batting average with preseason All-Southern Conference selection, OF Matt Smith (.388, 90-for-232) and for power in three-time preseason All-America selection and first-team All-SoCon honoree, Bryson Bowman (.661 slugging, 19 home runs). That duo collected postseason All-SoCon plaudits a year ago, as well as All-Freshman team selection, Andrew Bullock, who collected a second team preseason nod this year.
All told, the Catamounts return 61-percent of their base hits (397-of-651) from a season ago and 60-percent (274-of-453) of their runs scored off a team that averaged 7.3 runs off 10.5 hits per game in 2016. The team returns a combined 65-percent of its extra base hits — 116 of 179 — from a year ago including 51 of the 72 home runs, or 71-percent.
Making the off-season change prior to fall practice, assistant coach Nate Cocolin took over supervision of the Catamount pitching staff. WCU returns a total of 11 pitchers return from last year including eight which recorded at least one start and four that made seven-or-more starts. Seven of the returners tossed 30-or-more innings a year ago including a team-high 100.1 by senior LHP Bryan Sammons – a preseason All-SoCon second team honoree – and 85.0 from junior LHP Brendan Nail. Combined, the Catamount pitching staff returns 77.5-percent of its strikeouts from last spring (397-of-512), and nine of the 12 saves including five by senior RHP B.J. Nobles, who like he did in the championship game of last year’s tournament will assume a starting role entering 2017.
Western Carolina vs. St. John’s:
The Catamounts and Red Storm square-off in Friday’s season-opener for both squads, meeting on the baseball diamond for the sixth time dating back to 1985 … WCU holds a slim, 3-2, edge in series games, but has dropped the last two meetings after winning the first three match-ups … Friday is the third neutral field meeting between the two programs with St. John’s handing WCU a 14-3 loss in Wilmington a season ago.
Last season, a pair of back-to-back four-run frames in the fourth and fifth innings broke-open a two-run affair as the Red Storm grabbed an 11-1 edge midway through the game in the winning effort.
Projected Pitching Match-Up:
WCU – Junior LHP Brendan Nail vs. SJU – Junior LHP Kevin Magee
Western Carolina vs. Coastal Carolina:
The Catamounts and Chanticleers meet for the ninth time on the baseball diamond with Coastal Carolina holding a 7-1 edge in the eight previous meetings … WCU won the first-ever meeting back in 1999, 5-2, in Conway, but have dropped seven-straight including the most-recent meeting in 2008 as a part of the same tournament. Five of the eight meetings have been decided by three or fewer runs with a pair of one-run affairs in 2003 and 2005.
Projected Pitching Match-Up:
WCU – Senior LHP Bryan Sammons vs. CCU – Sophomore RHP Jason Bilous
* Saturday afternoon’s game will also feature a special pregame ceremony for honoring Coastal Carolina’s NCAA National Championship from last season. The ceremony is scheduled to start around 2:00 pm with first pitch to follow the ceremony and pregame warm-ups. CCU Athletics is expecting a large crowd on Saturday, so please plan accordingly.
Western Carolina vs. North Carolina A&T:
The Catamounts and Aggies meet for the ninth time on Sunday with WCU having been victorious in each of the eight previous meetings … Sunday’s game is the first meeting not to be played at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium in Cullowhee as each prior match-up has been played in Cullowhee with all eight occurring between 1999 and 2002.
Projected Pitching Match-Up:
NCA&T – Junior LHP Jonah Owenby vs. WCU – Senior RHP B.J. Nobles