Cullowhee, N.C. – Fresh faces abound for Western Carolina head baseball coach Bobby Moranda as his squad has commenced fall practice in preparation for the 2020 season. Roughly a third of the Catamount baseball roster was not on campus a season ago with a total of seven returning seniors providing leadership for the perennial Southern Conference championship-contending squad.
“We have a great returning core of players from last year joined by a solid influx of newcomers to this year’s squad,” said Moranda, who is entering his 13th season in the Catamount dugout after taking over the program during the summer of 2007. “Competition this fall across the board for practically every position is going to be intense. And it’s that continued competition, day in and day out, that is going to challenge our players to be their best and make us a better baseball team.”
With an NCAA-regulated 27 fall practice dates through a 45-day window, the Catamounts are currently practicing five days a week with Sundays and Wednesdays as scheduled off-days. The team is practicing as a unit on Monday and Thursdays with Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday representing intrasquad scrimmage practice days, putting the players in game-like scenarios as much as possible through the fall schedule.
Moranda and his staff have also announced that Nov. 16-17, 2019 is WCU Baseball Alumni Weekend in Cullowhee. The weekend includes the Catamount football home game against Samford on Saturday, Nov. 16 (2 pm). There will also be BP on the field along with other Baseball Alumni festivities throughout the weekend.
WCU’s seven seniors are led by Luke Robinson, last year’s recipient of the coveted Leggett No. 7 Legacy, wearing the No. 7 jersey during the season. The McLeansville, N.C., product has blasted 14 homers over his first three seasons with a combined 81 RBI. Robinson is joined his twin brother, Andrew, is also back giving the Catamounts a multitude of speedy options in the outfield, and by fifth-year slugger Andrew Bullock, who took a medical redshirt in 2018 after being sidelined just 13 games into the year. The Chesapeake, Va., native returns after an All-Star summer with the Northwoods League-member Fond du Lac Dock Spiders, bringing a .290 career average with 13 home runs and 57 career RBI.
On the mound, four seniors – all of which are in their second season after transferring to WCU – return with a myriad of pitching experience from a season ago. Ty McCulloch (7), Jack Snyder (5), and Joe Vranesic (5) each combined to start 17 games a season ago, though the bulk of their action came out of the bullpen while Jacob Corn brings his four saves back to the bullpen in 2020.
Among WCU’s top returners is reigning SoCon Player of the Year in junior Justice Bigbie. After collecting top player honors during the spring, he translated that solid play into summer league hardware including a Northwoods League Midseason All-Star selection – where he played alongside Bullock in earning Most Valuable Player honors from said All-Star game, and was also dubbed the Northwoods League Player of the Year. His classmate Will Prater returns after garnering a SoCon All-Tournament team nod at the event in late May, while SoCon All-Freshman team honoree Collin Bertsch is also back vying for playing time in a talented Catamount infield.
After being drafted in the 32nd round by the Los Angeles Angels, redshirt junior RHP Chase Walter also returns for the Catamounts after working a temporary contract in the prestigious Cape Cod League during the summer. The Catamounts also look to have a healthy Zack Franklin back on the mound.
In addition to its on-campus practice and intrasquad games, Western Carolina is scheduled to play two scrimmage games this fall, both coming away from Cullowhee in Ohio in mid-October. The Catamounts are slated to return to beautiful Prasco Park in Mason, Ohio to face Ohio State in a 2:00 pm tilt on Sunday, Oct. 13 in the annual Prasco Fall Classic. Last fall, WCU squared-off against Ohio at the same facility before defeating Eastern Kentucky in the regular season at the park. The second game of the two-game swing is the following day, Monday, Oct. 14, as the Catamounts visit Miami (Ohio), under the lights for a 7:00 pm first pitch.
As a part of the trip to Prasco again this year comes the team theme of giving back. The Catamounts will take part in a community service project at Prasco in assembling bikes that will be gifted to youth in the community. WCU’s student-athletes will also join in a joint youth clinic at the Prasco Park fields.
“Our partnership and friendship with the Arington family and Prasco continue to offer our student-athletes with great opportunities both on-and-off the baseball diamond,” said Moranda. “The chance to play at a first-class baseball facility is just a small part of the trip to Ohio. The team bonding surrounding a fall road trip and the opportunity to give back with a couple of community service efforts are immeasurable and help with our goal of educating great leaders and great men of character in our program.”
In the week following WCU’s return from Ohio, the squad will hold it's annual intrasquad College Fall World Series at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium. More information including the intrasquad game schedule surrounding the Catamount fall classic will be released closer to the date.
Western Carolina will announce its complete 2019-20 roster and the 2020 spring schedule later this fall. In the meantime, keep track of everything related to Catamount baseball and WCU Athletics through its social media outlets on Facebook (fb.com/CatamountSports) and Twitter (@Catamounts, @WCUCatamountBSB).