Press release courtesy of Daniel Hooker, Assistant AD for Media Relations.
Cullowhee, N.C. – An opening-weekend match-up with the defending NCAA national champion as a part of seven games against 2016 postseason teams, as well as a grueling 24-game Southern Conference slate highlight Western Carolina’s 2017 baseball schedule that was finalized and unveiled this week by head coach Bobby Moranda.
The defending champion from the SoCon, Western Carolina’s 56-game season schedule opens with tournament-play at reigning national champion, Coastal Carolina, between Conway and Myrtle Beach, S.C., Feb.17-19 and culminates with the Holston Gases Southern Conference Baseball Championship, May 23-28 at Fluor Field at the West End in Greenville, S.C.
“We look forward to another challenging schedule with a solid mixture of opponents comprised not only our traditional regional opposition, but also some teams on a more national level, all the way through to our conference championship tournament,” said Moranda. “I remain a firm believer in compiling a strong schedule that challenges our players to execute at a high level every time we take the field. I feel that we have done that with our 2017 schedule. It is one that will keep our team motivated throughout, and should excite our fan base.”
The schedule features a combined 32 nonconference games and the 24-game SoCon regular season slate. WCU will have a total of 24 home dates with 27 true road games and five contests held at neutral fields prior to postseason play. Five of WCU’s 2017 opponents were among the NCAA postseason field a year ago combining for a total of seven games on the schedule. The longest scheduled home stand is five-straight on two different occasions with an eight-game road swing to open March the longest the Catamounts are away from Cullowhee.
All told, the Catamounts will square-off against teams from 11 different conferences including six games against teams from the Power Five conferences. WCU also has six games against both the Mid-American and Big South Conferences, and four games against Conference USA foes. The Catamounts travel to Nebraska (March 10-12) for a three-game set against the Big 10 opponent, and have two games against teams from the ACC, the Big East, and the Sun Belt.
Western Carolina begins the 2017 season with four-straight away from home beginning with the Caravelle Resort’s Baseball at the Beach tournament, hosted by Coastal Carolina. WCU will play two games at TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Park in Myrtle Beach, S.C., bookending the weekend by facing both St. John’s (Feb. 17) in the season-opener and North Carolina A&T (Feb. 19). The Catamounts will face Coastal Carolina for the first time since 2008 on Feb. 18 at the on-campus Springs Brooks Stadium as the Chanticleers celebrate their 2016 National Championship.
The season-opening road swing concludes on Wednesday, Feb. 22 as the Catamounts venture back to “Tigertown” – site of last year’s NCAA regional appearance – to face the Clemson Tigers in the programs’ lone scheduled meeting of the year at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
Western Carolina opens the home portion of its schedule Feb. 24-26 by hosting former Southern Conference member, Marshall, at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium. Marshall was WCU’s first opponent under the leadership of Bobby Moranda back in 2008. The Thundering Herd represents one of two nonconference three-game home series for WCU with Kent State (March 17-19) representing the other. The Kent State series is a return from the regular-season ending set played in Kent, Ohio last year – a series that was shortened due to inclement weather.
Purple & Gold will reign supreme on the first weekend of March as Western Carolina travels to East Carolina for the LeClair Classic, named in honor of former Catamount and Pirate skipper, the late Keith LeClair. WCU will face the host – and preseason favorite in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) – ECU (March 3), a second seasonal meeting against St. John’s (March 4), and a match-up with longtime mountain rival, Appalachian State (March 5) to round-out tournament play.
The Catamounts have four, mid-week home-and-home series lined up with traditional regional foes including mountain-rival UNC Asheville (Feb. 28, March 29), Kennesaw State (March 15, April 5), Gardner-Webb (March 22, April 19), and Presbyterian (April 11, May 16). WCU also has a two-game home series against first-time opponent, Savannah State, scheduled for April 25-26.
The schedule also features several premier road games including the date with Clemson (Feb. 22). The Catamounts face in-state foe, N.C. State (March 6) following the LeClair Classic before traveling to Missouri (March 8) for the first-ever meeting between the two schools. That road swing also features the three-game set against Nebraska (March 10-12) after the two teams met for the first-time ever last spring in the NCAA Clemson Regional – a 4-1 Catamount victory that eliminated the Cornhuskers. WCU also faces Charlotte (April 17) and a three-game set at Ball State (May 12-14) in Muncie, Ind., the first time the two teams have met on the baseball diamond.
Western Carolina’s 2017 Southern Conference regular season schedule features eight, three-game series equally divided between home and the road. The Catamounts open at UNCG on March 24-26, and will also play ETSU (April 7-9); Samford (April 28-30); and defending regular season champion, Mercer (May 18-20) away from home. Four league foes visit Childress Field / Hennon Stadium beginning with The Citadel on March 31 through April 2. The home conference ledger also includes Furman (April 13-15) for a special Thursday through Saturday series; VMI (April 21-23); and Wofford (May 5-7).
Western Carolina begins official team practice on Jan. 27, 2017 ahead of its Feb. 17 season opener against St. John’s. Also on the preseason docket is the 2017 “Celebration of Catamount Baseball,” which is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 4 in Cullowhee.
Among the position players entering 2017, the Catamounts return nine letter winners from a season ago including six individuals that made 30-or-more starts. Back are the squad’s top hitters as it relates to both batting average with Matt Smith (.388, 90-for-232) and for power in preseason All-America selection, 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.
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.
On the mound, 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 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.
Season tickets for the home portion of the 2017 Catamount baseball schedule are on sale now through the WCU Athletics Ticket Office. Pricing begins at just $50 for an adult general admission and $25 for youth. Reserved seating options in both field and upper level grand stands are available. For more information, visit the WCU Athletics Ticket Office on the first floor of the Ramsey Center, by phone at (828) 227-2401 or toll free at (800) 34-GOWCU, or log on to CatamountSports.com.