Birmingham, Ala. – Western Carolina returns to Southern Conference play on the baseball diamond this weekend, visiting first-place Samford for a three-game set at Joe Lee Griffin Field. The series is slated to open Friday evening 6 pm CT / 7 pm ET with first pitch on Saturday at 2 pm CT / 3 pm ET and Sunday at 1 pm CT / 2 pm ET.
All three games of the series are slated to be broadcast on ESPN+ (subscription required) with live streaming audio available online at CatamountSports.com. Fans can also follow the game with live stats linked online at CatamountSports.com, with updates on social media available on Twitter using the handle @catamounts.
Western Carolina (18-25, 7-11) reaches the mid-point of an eight-game road swing on Friday as it opens the series against Samford. The Catamounts have dropped five-straight games and have suffered losses in 10 of their last 12 games overall including losses in four of their last six league games.
Second in the SoCon as a team with a .296 collective batting average, the Catamounts have several players among the league leaders entering the penultimate weekend in conference play. Sophomore infielder Justice Bigbie, who has hits in 12 of his last 13 games on the year, leads the SoCon with a .381 batting average with teammates Matthew Koehler (.371) and Daylan Nanny (.335) ranked third and 10th, respectively. Combined, WCU has a SoCon-best 156 extra base hits on the year – a feat that is more impressive in that the Catamounts have played the fewest seasonal games (43) than any other team in the conference.
On the mound, Saturday starter Chase Walter ranks second in the league with 92 strikeouts that includes 47 Ks in his last four SoCon starts. Friday starter Taylor Purus ranks tied for 10th on that same chart with 60 strikeouts, 35 of which have come in SoCon play. In the field, the Catamounts rank tied for sixth nationally with a conference-leading 49 double plays through 43 games – fourth in the NCAA with an average of 1.14 double plays turned per game.
The all-time series between WCU and Samford in baseball is even at 18 wins and 18 losses apiece through the first 36 series meetings, though Samford has won five of the last seven meetings including taking 2-of-3 in Cullowhee last spring. The Bulldogs have a 10-5 edge in games played in Birmingham, winning the two most recent SoCon series held at Griffin Field in 2015 and 2017, both coming on the heels of WCU’s first series win on the road back in 2014.
About the Samford Bulldogs:
Samford enters the weekend league-best records of 34-15 and 14-4 in SoCon play – but come into Friday’s game on the heels of dropping its first conference series last weekend, losing 2-of-3 at Mercer last weekend. The Bulldogs reached the 30-win plateau faster than any previous Samford team, doing so back on April 23 in a home win over Alabama A&M.
As a team, the Bulldogs rank in the top half of most offensive categories including fourth in batting average (.281), second in hits (462), scoring (304 runs), RBI (281), and on-base percentage (.380). Samford has been led by Brooks Carlson who leads the league in hits (70) and Sonny DiChiara who ranks second in the SoCon in home runs (15).
Samford also boasts one of the top pitching staffs in the league with a team ERA of 3.79, second in the league, while limiting opponents to a SoCon-low .248 batting average against that includes a SoCon-leading 419 combined strikeouts. Each of Samford’s three weekend starters rank on at least one SoCon top 10 chart while closer Steven Jones boasts a league-best 23 games finished including 11 saves.
Projected Pitching Match-Ups:
Friday, May 10 – WCU: LHP Taylor Purus (3-3, 6.12) vs. SAM: LHP Samuel Strickland (6-2, 4.71)
Saturday, May 11 – WCU: RHP Chase Walter (5-4, 4.77) vs. SAM: Zach Hester (6-3, 1.94)
Sunday, May 12 – WCU: TBA vs. SAM: RHP Jesse McCord (4-1, 3.18)
Storylines Entering the Weekend Series:
As the regular season winds down the next two weekends, each game is huge as all roads point to the 2019 Southern Conference Baseball Championship, presented by Holston Gases, set for May 21-26 at Fluor Field. Samford (14-4) sits in first place, two wins ahead in the loss column of second-place Wofford (11-6), which hosts Upstate rival, Furman (9-9) this weekend.
Half a game behind sixth-place ETSU (7-10), Western Carolina (7-11) enters the weekend percentage points ahead of the eighth-place cut-off line for the Tuesday, single-elimination opening game in the tournament. VMI (8-13), which hosts fourth-place UNCG (11-7) this weekend, plays its final conference series of the year at home.
Fans can keep track of any weather-related schedule changes for the weekend series online at CatamountSports.com and on social media through Twitter using the handle, @catamounts or the baseball-specific account, @WCUCatamountBSB.