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  • Daniel Hooker

Catamounts Visit Mountain-Rival UNC Asheville on Tuesday



Western Carolina plays its lone road game amidst an eight-game stretch on Tuesday evening as the Catamounts travel to mountain-rival UNC Asheville in the backend of the seasonal nonconference home-and-home with first pitch at 5 p.m., at UNCA’s on-campus Greenwood Field.

 

Tuesday's game is slated to be broadcast on ESPN+ (paid subscription required) with live stats available online through CatamountSports.com.

Western Carolina (9-9) enters riding a five-game winning streak, most recently sweeping three games from Ivy League preseason No. 3 Harvard at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium over the weekend. UNC Asheville (10-9) has lost three of its last four including a midweek defeat in eight innings at Liberty last Tuesday and then dropping 2-of-3 at home to VMI over the weekend. The Keydets took the series with consecutive wins on Saturday and Sunday as the Bulldogs enter the week on a two-game slide.

 

Junior transfer Trent Turner continues to pace the Catamounts with 31 base hits on the year, the second-most in the Southern Conference to date. Turner is batting .369, one of four regulars hovering around the .300 threshold. Hayden Friese, who has started nine of the 13 games in which he’s played, is batting a team-best .406, with Nate Stocum and Jack Spyke both with averages of .297. Stocum, the reigning SoCon Player of the Week announced on Monday, leads the SoCon – and ranks seventh nationally – with 10 home runs including round-trippers in five-straight games. Senior slugger Drew Needham has also surged as the weather has warmed, blasting four home runs over his last four games played including two against Western Michigan at Fluor Field.

The Catamounts are batting .276 collectively as a team with 66 of their 167 hits going for extra-bases including 38 doubles, a pair of triples, and 26 home runs, averaging 9.3 hits per game. WCU has scored an average of 7.6 runs per contest – 137 runs over 18 games – with three double-digit scoring performances.

 

In the field, the Catamounts enter the week leading the SoCon having turned 15 double plays.  WCU turns to freshman RHP Davis Budd (0-0, 8.44 ERA) to make the start on Tuesday, the first of his collegiate career. Budd has made four relief appearances to date, striking out six against two walks over 5.1 innings. The Acworth, Ga., product tossed a career-long 3.0 innings against Georgia State back on March 2 and most recently, struck out two in an inning out of the bullpen in Sunday’s win over Harvard. 

Under the direction of 10th-year head coach Scott Friedholm, UNC Asheville’s roster includes the program’s first-ever Big South Preseason Player of the Year in outfielder Robbie Burnett who was joined on the inaugural Preseason All-Big South team by fifth-year outfield mate Dylan Bacot and senior reliever Justin Honeycutt. Burnett has a team-best seven home runs and 17 RBI with a .307 batting average while senior infielder Cameron Johnson boasts a .324 average at the plate with eight extra-base hits including four doubles, two triples, and a pair of home runs.

The Bulldogs enter the week batting .280 collectively as a team with five regulars batting over .300 entering their game No. 20. UNCA has 62 extra-base hits among its 180 on the year, averaging 9.5 hits and 8.6 runs per game this season.

 

UNC Asheville was picked to finish in a tie for fourth in this year's preseason Big South poll after a 26-26 finish a year ago.

Western Carolina and UNC Asheville meet for the 82nd time on the baseball diamond Tuesday with the Catamounts carrying a 56-25 series lead into the matchup. After dropping three straight – and losing eight of nine meetings between 2015 and 2022 – WCU has won three straight over their canine rivals under head coach Alan Beck, sweeping last year's meetings 13-4 in Asheville and 19-7 in Cullowhee and earning a 6-5 walk-off victory in Cullowhee back on Feb. 27 this season.

 

In that first meeting, WCU’s Mason Holton drew a bases-loaded walk-off walk to cap a three-run bottom of the ninth inning to lead the Catamounts to the victory. James Hinson accounted for three RBI in the winning effort as he drove a two-run double to the fence in center field to bring in the game-tying runs in the final frame.

Following Tuesday's midweek matchup with Asheville, the Catamounts return home this weekend to open Southern Conference play, welcoming the East Tennessee State Buccaneers to Cullowhee for a three-game set at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium. Friday's series opener is scheduled for 5 p.m., with Saturday’s first pitch scheduled for 2 p.m., and concluding Sunday at 1 p.m. Each game is scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN+ (paid subscription required) with live stats available online at CatamountSports.com.

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