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Catamounts Conclude SoCon Regular Season at VMI


Daniel Hooker

WCU Athletics


Western Carolina baseball wraps up the 2024 Southern Conference regular season this week, traveling to Lexington, Va., to face the VMI Keydets on post at Gray-Minor Stadium. The three-game set opens Thursday at 6 p.m. with afternoon starts on Friday at 2 p.m. and Saturday at 1 p.m. Game dates and times are subject to change.

 

This week’s series will be broadcast on the Catamount Sports Network with live streaming audio available online at CatamountSports.com. Each game will also be streamed on ESPN+ (paid subscription required) with live stats online at CatamountSports.com.

 

Final Weekend of the Southern Conference Schedule:

Southern Conference baseball regular-season play concludes this weekend with each team playing three-game sets beginning Thursday and running through Saturday. By the weekend, the official seeding for next week’s Southern Conference Baseball Championship presented by Holston Gases will be set and the regular-season champion will be decided.

 

Two teams – second-place UNCG (15-6, .714) and third-place ETSU (13-8, .619) – have both finished their full league schedule and step out of league play this weekend against USC Upstate and Miami (Ohio), respectively.

 

Western Carolina (11-7, .611) enters the week in fourth place, the final qualifying position into the double-elimination portion of the tournament. The Catamounts are just ahead of fifth-place Wofford (10-7, .588) who visits league-leading Samford (13-5, .722), with WCU’s final league opponent – VMI (6-12, .333) – also locked into Wednesday

 

Elsewhere, two teams already locked into Wednesday’s single-elimination portion of the tournament meet when The Citadel (1-17, .056) visits Mercer (5-12, .294) in Macon, Ga.

 

By the numbers, WCU can finish as high as second in the standings if the Catamounts sweep all three games at VMI this week to get to 14-7 and first-place Samford drops three to Wofford, relegating the Bulldogs to 13-8. UNCG would leap-frog Samford to win the regular season and garner the No. 1 seed.

 

Three Catamount wins at VMI regardless of what happens around the conference and in Birmingham, Ala., would put WCU at 14-7 and would land the squad in third place, overtaking ETSU at 13-8. Essentially, though, with a game lead over Wofford in the standings, WCU must simply mirror or be better than the Terriers to lock itself into the double-elimination portion of next week’s tournament.

 

About Western Carolina (26-23, 11-7 SoCon):

The Catamounts return to action after briefly seeing the field in a rain-halted nonconference meeting with Presbyterian on Tuesday afternoon, concluding the home portion of their schedule. WCU emphatically halted a five-game slide that included three losses at then-No. 13 Wake Forest by sweeping Mercer in Cullowhee last weekend, outscoring the Bears 36-to-19.

 

The three-game sweep of Mercer was WCU’s second in SoCon play this season as WCU also took each of the three games at The Citadel. The Catamounts additionally won the series with a pair of wins at Wofford in Spartanburg, S.C. WCU dropped 2-of-3 against the league’s top three teams – each coming at home against ETSU, UNCG, and Samford.

 

All told the Catamounts have won at least one game in each conference series this season entering the week.

 

Three Catamount regulars continue to hold batting averages over the .300 mark – with another two just below the benchmark. Zach Ketterman leads the team with a .352 average as his tear over the second half of the season continues, collecting nine doubles, two triples, and 12 home runs. Nate Stocum (.338) ranks third in the league with a career-best 19 home runs and is 10th with a team-best 53 RBI. He enters the final week of the regular season with 40 career home runs. Mason Holton (.320) is the third Catamount above the .300 mark, adding 19 extra-base hits with 13 doubles and six home runs including Sunday’s game-winner.

 

Hayden Friese (.298) and Trent Turner (.297) both rank just below the .300 mark. Turner is second on the squad with 63 hits. With 20 of his 26 seasonal hits going for extra bases, Drew Needham (.277) ranks third in the SoCon with a .757 slugging percentage and fourth in OPS (on-base + slugging) at 1.199.

 

WCU’s Active Hitting Streaks:

Kyle Riesselmann – 5 games

Nate Stocum – 4 games

Trent Turner – 4 games

Four players tied – 3 games

(Harbison, Holton, Ketterman, Mowery)

 

WCU’s Active Reached Base Safely Streak:

Mason Holton – 11 games

Kyle Riesselmann – 6 games

Drew Needham – 6 games

Nate Stocum – 4 games

Hayden Friese – 4 games

Trent Turner – 4 games

Three players tied – 3 games

(Harbison, Ketterman, Mowery)

 

Oh, What A Week:

Western Carolina batted a sizzling .340 (48-of-141) collectively as a team last week in four games with 15 extra-base hits including 11 home runs and four doubles. The Catamounts averaged 10.5 runs on 12 runs per game last week.

 

Four individuals batted over the .400 threshold last week. Nate Stocum led the team with a .474 (9-for-19) average with seven singles and two home runs. Moved from the lead-off spot to No. 9 in the lineup, Kyle Riesselmann rebounded by hitting .444 (8-of-18) with seven singles and a double to raise his seasonal average to .287, while one of Sunday’s heroes Mason Holton batted .417 (5-for-12) with three extra-base hits with a double and two home runs.

 

For senior Drew Needham, it was about quality not quantity in batting .400 on the week – 4-for-10, though each hit left the ball yard with four home runs to boast a 1.600 slugging percentage. The Liberty, N.C., product collected 11 of WCU’s 41 RBI on the week. Additionally, Needham drew nine freebies with eight walks and an HBP, matching Holton with a team-best .650 on-base percentage.

 

WCU’s pitching staff struck out 31 batters over the weekend with Gavin Mortenson fanning six in his six-inning winning effort and Dante Visconti striking out five in his six-inning performance. Dusty Revis picked up his first save out of the WCU bullpen, as both he and Cole Beverlin made a team-best three appearances apiece.

 

About VMI (26-26, 6-12 SoCon):

VMI was the only team in the SoCon able to play its final nonconference midweek game on Tuesday, downing Commonwealth foe Radford 8-1 on the road to even its seasonal record.

 

VMI was swept by the top three teams in the SoCon standings this season against Samford, UNCG, and ETSU – but has won the series against the remaining competition, taking 2-of-3 at home against both Wofford and The Citadel, while scoring a pair of wins at Mercer.

 

Entering the week, four Keydet regulars were batting over the .300 mark with two others within percentage points of the threshold. Justin Starke is tied for eighth in the SoCon with a team-leading .372 average including 25 extra-base hits with 11 doubles, a pair of triples, and 11 home runs. Ty Swaim (.357), Trey Morgan (.311), and Brett Cook (.306) are each batting over .300 with Swaim and Morgon both tallying 12 doubles. Grayson Fitzwater (.283) leads VMI with 16 doubles, 16 home runs, and 58 RBI.

 

VMI starting pitcher Will Riley ranks third in the SoCon with 75 strikeouts in 71.2 innings. Trey Morgan has worked 70.0 innings this season with reliever Nathan Hawley eighth in the league with 57 strikeouts.

 

The Keydets are batting .292 collectively as a team – fourth in the SoCon – and lead the nation with a staggering 164 stolen bases. Four Keydet players have 20+ thefts on the year as VMI occupies six of the Top 10 of the conference’s leaders. On the mound, VMI is seventh with a team ERA of 6.81 and the Keydets have committed a SoCon-high 73 errors with a league-low .960 fielding percentage. With 375 runs scored on 487 hits, VMI is averaging 7.2 runs on 9.4 hits per game while surrendering 7.5 runs on 10.2 hits per contest.

 

Despite having five preseason All-SoCon selections including four on the first team including the preseason Player of the Year in Justin Starke, VMI was picked seventh in the eight-team preseason coaches’ poll. Starke was joined by senior catcher Cole Garrett, and senior outfielders Cole Jenkins and Trey Morgan on the first team. Senior second baseman Ty Swaim was a second-team honoree.

 

Western Carolina at VMI – All-Time Series:

The Catamounts and Keydets have met 95 times previously on the baseball diamond with WCU holding a decisive 70-25 series lead over VMI, though the last 10 meetings have been closer with a 6-4 margin in favor of WCU. The Keydets won both meetings over the Catamounts last season in Cullowhee, sweeping a Thursday doubleheader 14-11 claiming a 14-11 win in 10 innings and 17-12 in game two with the remainder of the series rained out.

 

WCU leads the series in games played in Lexington, Va., 25-12 – but the Keydets have won four of the last six meetings played at Gray-Minor Stadium, sweeping the series back in 2018 with the Catamounts winning the series 2-1 most recently in 2022 thanks to an 8-5 victory in the finale in 10 innings.

 

Last Time We Met:

Western Carolina posted big-inning rallies in both ends of Thursday's doubleheader against VMI at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium but was unable to counter with shutdown innings as the Keydets claimed both ends of the Southern Conference twin bill, winning 14-11 in 10 innings in game one before out slugging the Catamounts 17-12 in the nightcap.

 

Through two offensive games, the two teams combined for 54 total runs on 64 hits including 27 for extra bases – 14 doubles and 13 home runs. VMI had 36 hits with five doubles and nine homers while the Catamounts legged out nine doubles with four homers.

 

On Deck for Western Carolina:

Following this week’s final three Southern Conference regular-season games, the Catamounts turn their attention to next week’s SoCon Baseball Championship in Greenville, S.C. Results of the weekend will determine WCU’s seed; when the Catamounts will open tournament play; and its first opponent. The full bracket will be released over the weekend with all-conference teams released next Tuesday, May 21, ahead of the two single-elimination tournament games on Wednesday.

 

Each game WCU plays in the tournament is slated to be broadcast on the Catamount Sports Network with live streaming audio as well as video streaming through ESPN+ (paid subscription required) and live stats linked online at CatamountSports.com

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