Cullowhee, N.C. – Western Carolina sophomore infielder Justice Bigbie was selected as the 2019 Southern Conference Baseball Player of the Year by both the league head coaches and the SoCon Sports Media Association (SCSMA), headlining three Catamounts to garner postseason honors as the All-Southern Conference baseball teams were announced ahead of Tuesday’s opening of the annual championship event.
Bigbie was one of two first-team All-Southern Conference selections as redshirt senior outfielder Matthew Koehler joined him on the honorary squad, while freshman infielder Colin Bertsch collected SoCon All-Freshman team accolades.
Bigbie is the 17th different Catamount to collect Southern Conference Player of the Year plaudits with WCU boasting the league’s top player a combined 19 times since joining the league in 1977. He is the third Catamount player under head coach Bobby Moranda to collect top player honors, joining former student-athletes Bryson Bowman (2017) and Tyler White (2013).
A preseason second-team All-SoCon selection after collecting all-freshman and Freshman All-America honors a season ago, Bigbie paced the SoCon in batting average during the regular season, finishing with a .371 average that included a SoCon-only average of .381 that also led all players with a SoCon-best 37 hits in conference play. Bigbie ranked inside the league’s top 10 in a combined seven offensive categories including slugging percentage (5th, .609), on-base percentage (2nd, .462), base hits (4th-t, 73), home runs (5th-t, 12), runs scored (5th, 50), and RBI (3rd, 50). He additionally ranks inside the national top 100 in each of the aforementioned categories.
Bigbie, a product of Chesapeake, Va., finished the season with a team-high tying 73 base hits including 23 for extra bases – 11 doubles and 12 homers. Adding a team-best 29 walks and six HBPs, he led the team in on-base percentage. On the year, Bigbie had a 12-game hitting streak and reached base safely in 20-consecutive games, entering the conference tournament with a six-game RBS streak.
Matthew Koehler has added an exclamation point to his Western Carolina career. The fifth-year senior added first-team All-SoCon to his list of accomplishments in the Purple & Gold, his first performance-based postseason honor. The Raleigh, N.C., native is batting a career-best .365 – third in the SoCon – matching Bigbie with a team-best 73 hits. Tied for the most triples (5) in the league and fourth in the conference with 13 homers, Koehler led the conference in slugging percentage in the regular season at .660. He additionally ranked fifth in on-base percentage (.450), RBI (45), runs scored (48) and stolen bases (17) while ranking sixth in runs scored (48).
Through the 2019 season, Koehler enjoyed a pair of career-long streaks including 16-consecutive games with a base hit and reaching safely in 21-straight – both the longest streak by a WCU player this spring. Just one of three seniors on the squad, he was voted a team captain by his teammates and coaches in the preseason.
Colin Bertsch finished his freshman regular season with a .289 batting average, playing in 36 of the team’s 50 games with 15 starts along the infield. He saw the bulk of his action at shortstop, platooning with classmate Jalen Jones, while also playing at both second and third base. He posted a career-best six-game hitting streak during the season. Among his rookie season highlights was his game-winning pinch-hit single in early April that lifted Western Carolina to a 4-3 win over league runner-up, Wofford.
On the season, Bertsch posted three multi-hit games including a career-high three hits in a road win at Gardner-Webb. In the field, he was a part of turning seven of WCU’s SoCon-leading 54 double-plays.
Each of the nine SoCon schools was represented on the postseason All-SoCon teams between the coaches and media with the tournament’s top two seeds – Samford (7) and Wofford (8) putting a combined 15 players on the coaches’ team. Five Bulldogs collected first-team All-SoCon honors with one player on the second and a freshman recognized. One Terrier earned first-team accolades with a league-high four collecting second-team plaudits and three landing on the rookie team.
Eight of the nine teams had an All-Freshman team selection as voted on by the league’s nine head coaches, though they were not allowed to vote on their one players.
In addition to Bigbie, Samford’s Casey Dunn was a unanimous pick for SoCon Coach of the Year, while the top pitcher and freshman honors were split. UNCG reliever Chad Sykes collected the coaches’ pitching honor while Samford’s Zach Hester was recognized by the media. Wofford rookie right-hander Hayes Heinecke was tagged as Freshman of the Year by the coaches with Samford slugger Sonny DiChiara honored by the voting members of the media.
Seeded eighth, Western Carolina (20-30) opens play in the 2019 Southern Conference Baseball Championship presented by Holston Gases on Tuesday morning at Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C. Fresh off a three-game series in Cullowhee, WCU and No. 9 seed The Citadel (13-42) will play a fourth time in the single-elimination portion of the champion-crowning event. The winner will advance into the double-elimination portion of play on Wednesday morning against top-seeded Samford (39-17).
Fans can follow every Western Carolina game on the Catamount Sports Network with live streaming audio available online at CatamountSports.com. Each game of the tournament will also be broadcast on the SoCon Digital Network with live video available online at SoConDN.com.