Greenville, S.C. – Ninth-seeded Western Carolina landed three players on the 2018 Southern Conference Baseball Championship All-Tournament team following its incredible run that landed the Catamounts one game shy of advancing to the championship round. Senior shortstop Cameron Blaquiere, redshirt sophomore first baseman Justin Sparks, and redshirt junior left-handed pitcher Taylor Purus were each named to the all-tournament team.
The SoCon All-Tournament team, voted on by media members in attendance during the six-day postseason event, was unveiled following Sunday afternoon’s championship game won by No. 2 seed Samford with a walk-off home run in a run-ruled, 14-4, victory over No. 5 Mercer at Fluor Field at the West End in Greenville.
This year marks the 15th year since 1990 that WCU has put players on the all-tournament team at the conclusion of the event – and the 11th-time that multiple Catamounts were selected. This year marked the fifth-time that WCU landed three players on the honorary squad.
Tournament-champion Samford placed four players on the post-tournament squad with WCU having three players honored, one more than runner-up, Mercer, with two. ETSU, UNCG, and Wofford each landed on player on the 12-member team.
Blaquiere finished with nine base hits on the week with seven going for extra bases – five doubles and a pair of home runs that helped lift Western Carolina out of Tuesday’s single-elimination game against No. 8 seed The Citadel. He also drove in the game-winning run on a two-base hit that just missed getting over the fence in left-center for his third round-tripper of the day in Tuesday’s tournament opener. All told, the Jacksonville, Fla., native recorded three multi-hit games, twice tallying a season-high three hits against The Citadel and in the final game against No. 5 Mercer in batting .375. In Saturday’s rematch with UNCG, Blaquiere doubled twice in a 2-for-4 showing with a pair of RBI and two of his six runs scored. In the field, he was a part of turning three double-plays.
Sparks had a monster tournament, leading WCU with a .478 batting average including a team-best 11 hits with a double and a home run for a .678 slugging percentage. He posted three, multi-hit games and reached base in five of the six games played by WCU while also holding the right corner defensively at first base. Sparks was productive in Greenville, collecting a team-high 10 RBI among WCU’s 37 runs driven in. Against No. 1 UNCG on Wednesday, Sparks went 3-for-5 with two RBI, igniting the Catamount offense with a solo home run. In the team’s second elimination game after playing The Citadel, the Hendersonville, N.C., native again collected three hits including a double, plating four runs over his first two plate appearances. Sparks collected his third multi-hit game by matching a career-best with four hits in the rematch against UNCG, driving in three in a 4-for-4 performance. In the field, Sparks was on the receiving end of three double-plays with 41 putouts at first base.
Purus made three appearances for the Catamounts during the six-game run including two starts, finishing with three decisions – a 1-1 overall record and a save, recording a 1.69 ERA. The Hudson, N.C., product finished with a team-high tying 15 strikeouts, matching redshirt freshman starter Chase Walter. Purus tossed a combined 10.2 innings including scoring the victory after a seven-inning, seven-strikeout start against top-seeded UNCG in Wednesday’s victory before striking out four of the five outs he recorded in picking up the save on short rest against the Spartans on Saturday afternoon. After securing the save, he rolled right into Saturday night’s rematch with fifth-seeded Mercer, striking out four over two innings before exiting.
Western Carolina finished the season 11-47 overall, winning four of its final six games in making a run through the SoCon tournament. The ninth-seeded Catamounts upset the top-seed UNCG, 10-2, marking the first No. 9 over a No. 1 since 2007. WCU later became the first nine-seed to defeat a No. 1 twice in the same tournament with Saturday’s, 8-4, win.
2018 Southern Conference Championship All-Tournament Team:
SP – Samuel Strickland, Samford
SP – Taylor Purus, Western Carolina
RP – Wyatt Burns, Samford
C – Anthony Mulrine, Samford
1B – Justin Sparks, Western Carolina
2B – Jackson Ware, Mercer
SS – Cameron Blaquiere, Western Carolina
3B – Cade Gilbert, ETSU
OF – Trey Truitt, Mercer
OF – Andrew Moritz, UNCG
OF – McClain Bradley, Wofford
DH – Brooks Carlson, Samford
Walt Nadzak Most Outstanding Player
Brooks Carlson, Samford
Pinnacle Award (highest GPA on championship-winning team)
Kyle Stuart, Samford