Western Carolina head baseball coach Todd Raleigh, who was the 2002 Southern Conference Coach of the Year, enters his eighth season at the helm. Over that time, he has won a SoCon regular-season title, won a SoCon tournament championship, has one runner-up finish at the SoCon tournament, finished among the Southern Conference top three four times and reached the finals of an NCAA Regional. Raleigh has had to fill significant voids from one year to the next - or even during a season - and done a masterful job putting the Catamounts in position to win a league title in each of the last six seasons.
Along the way, Western has recorded several key wins, including a victory over top-ranked Georgia Tech in 2005. In 2006, Western was the only team, in the nation to record non-conference road wins over two College World Series teams, winning at both Clemson and Georgia.
The 2006 season also saw several individuals shine as Steven Strausbaugh was tabbed All-Atlantic Region by the American Baseball Coaches Association for the second-straight season, while earning first team All-SoCon honors as he led the league in both home runs and RBI. First baseman Trey McDaniel, who was named to the SoCon All-Tournament team, and catcher Blake Murphy, a second team All-SoCon pick, were named National Co-Players of the Week once, while first team All-SoCon pick Jonathan Greene picked up the same honor later in the season.
Even though most did not give the Catamounts much of a chance prior to the 2005 season, Raleigh led Western to an 18-12 record in the league and one game out of second place. Along the way, Western went to Atlanta and upset the nation's top-ranked team, Georgia Tech, and later traveled to Athens to defeat the Georgia Bulldogs. Also, as he has done in the past, Raleigh developed great individual talent as then freshman Strausbaugh batted .367 with 12 home runs and 51 RBI to earn consensus SoCon Freshman of the Year honors, Freshman All-American honors and ABCA second team All-Atlantic Region honors.
Entering a season without much of a chance of being successful has become a familiar theme to Raleigh. Two years running (after 2002 and 2003 seasons), the prevailing question surrounding the Western Carolina baseball program was, "How will the Catamounts be able to fill the voids left by outstanding players from the previous years?"
Coming off a second-place finish in 2002, Western had to replace the likes of SoCon Player of the Year Donovan Minero, eighth-round draft pick Jared Burton and first team Academic All-America Ryan Schade. The answer was to win both the 2003 Southern Conference regular season and tournament titles.
In 2004, Western had to replace SoCon Player of the Year Alan Beck, three-time All-SoCon pick Todd Buchanan, All-SoCon selection and WCU doubles record holder Rod Goldston, WCU all-time saves leader Ryan Foster, seventh-round draft pick Ryan Basner, career 17-game winner Seth Foster and Joe Camac, one of the SoCon's all-time leaders in games pitched. While the 2004 season saw its ups (like a 9-5 upset over nationally-ranked and eventual ACC champion Georgia Tech) and downs (season-ending injuries to Brandon McDowell and Murphy), Raleigh worked his magic with the lineup late in the season, winning six straight during a stretch, and qualify for the SoCon Tournament as the eighth seed.
Once in the tournament, the Catamounts knew they had the talent to make noise. In fact, Western caught the attention of the baseball world by upsetting 30th-ranked and No. 1 seed College of Charleston, 4-3, in the first round to make WCU just the fourth team to hand a top seed a loss in the first round. After a 7-6 win over Elon in the second round Western shocked host team The Citadel, 5-2. The win marked the first loss the Bulldgos suffered to a SoCon team on their home field in 2004 and meant WCU would be just the second eight seed to reach the SoCon Championship game without a loss, joining the 1998 VMI team. However, The Citadel managed wins on back-to-back days to end Western's run and earn the SoCon's NCAA automatic bid.
While Western went through some tough times in 2004, Raleigh still managed to get some great individual performances. Transfer Jared Greenwood, who only had 40 at bats in two seasons at South Carolina, would rank sixth nationally and led the SoCon with 21 home runs. Also, Todd Roper left Western as the SoCon's all-time leader in assists (667) and sacrifice hits (28), while ranking 12th in league history in hits (271) and seventh in career runs scored (200).
Raleigh, who returned to his alma mater in 2000, led an impressive four-year resurgence at Western, going from an 8-22 league record and missing the SoCon tournament in 2000 to a SoCon-best 22-8 league record and NCAA Regional finalist in 2003. In the process, he was tabbed the 2002 Southern Conference Coach of the Year and the 2003 North Carolina Baseball Coaches Association College Coach of the Year.
Western went 43-21 overall and 22-8 in the SoCon in 2003, with the 43 wins marking the fourth-highest season total in WCU history. Also, Western produced a school-record 25-3 scoresheet at Childress Field/Hennon Stadium. Included in that was a 9-5 upset of 10th-ranked Clemson in what was the first-ever home night game for the Cats. Western went on to claim 12-5 and 15-9 victories at then-ranked No. 26 Oklahoma State. The OSU wins were in the middle of a 10-game winning streak by Western, placing the Cats to a 2003 season-high of 26th in the Collegiate Baseball poll.
After clinching the 2003 Southern Conference regular-season title with one series left to play and winning the 2003 Southern Conference Tournament title in dramatic fashion, Western once again was the talk of the baseball world for their play in the 2003 NCAA Wilson Regional. The Cats split their first two games of the regional. Then, McDowell tossed a one-hitter as WCU defeated 19th-ranked Virginia Commonwealth. Western then had the task of facing 12th-ranked and regional host North Carolina State. The Cats battled the Wolfpack before falling 6-4 in the 14th inning of the Regional Championship.
It was Western's pitching in 2003 which proved to be the difference. While being known for its offense, Western's pitching staff posted 3.77 ERA in 2003 to rank 28th nationally and second in the SoCon. The low ERA in 2003 was bolstered by the WCU pitching staff throwing a SoCon Tourney-record 29.2 consecutive scoreless innings. Also, despite having numerous offensive weapons, it was two Catamount pitchers which caught the eyes of Major League Baseball scouts. In 2002, Burton was drafted in the eighth round by the Oakland A's. In 2003, Basner did Burton one better by being picked in the seventh round by the Atlanta Braves.
After going 15-38 in his first year (2000), Raleigh was runner-up in the 2001 balloting for Southern Conference Coach of the Year, leading the Catamounts to a 30-26 record and finishing third (tied) in the league. Not only were the Cats picked to finish as low as 10th prior to the 2001 season, but he directed the biggest single-season turnaround in SoCon history, improving by 14.5 games over the previous season and doubling the team's win total from 2000 to 2001. Amazingly, the success came without the benefit of a single senior on the squad, playing mostly sophomores and freshmen. Western led the league in team batting average (.311), slugging percentage (.473) and doubles (143), while finishing second in total home runs (56). (The Cats actually led the SoCon in home runs per game.)
Even though Western has had two pitchers drafted in the top 10 rounds recently, under Raleigh's tutelage, the Catamount offense still seems to be the focus of opponents and fans. That is for good reason though. In 2002, Donovan Minero was named the SoCon Player of the Year and Ryan Schade was tabbed first team Academic All-America. In 2003, Alan Beck made it two years in a row for a Catamount to earn SoCon Player of the Year honors. In fact, Western has now had 15 SoCon Player of the Year honors since 1978 (26 seasons).
Minero, who led the league in home runs twice and ranked 12th nationally in RBI as a junior, was named third team All-American in 2001. He was the first Catamount to be an All-American since 1994 and the first Catamount to pace the SoCon in home runs since Matt Raleigh in 1991-92.
Beck, like Minero, paced the SoCon in home runs in 2003, while leading the league in runs scored, RBI and walks. Beck would finish his career ranked fourth on the WCU all-time hits list, fourth in doubles, sixth in home runs, third in runs scored and third in RBI. He additionally was among the SoCon top 10 in nine offensive categories.
Beck, drafted in the 16th round by the Baltimore Orioles in 2003, was one of eight seniors on the 2003 squad to play in each of Raleigh's first four years in Cullowhee. Even though Western struggled in what was their first season, the group of seniors left an indelible mark in the SoCon and WCU record books. Goldston set a WCU and SoCon single-season record for doubles in a season, while leaving as the WCU all-time leader in the category. Buchanan, drafted in the 13th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2003, left ranked among the WCU and SoCon top 10 in RBI, total bases and walks. Foster tallied 22 saves over his career to rank first in WCU history and fifth in the SoCon. His twin brother Seth pitched 273.1 innings to rank seventh on the WCU all-time list and just missed the WCU all-time top 10 with 17 career wins. Relief pitcher Camac left his mark as one of WCU's and the SoCon's all-time leaders in appearances.
In 2004, Greenwood was snubbed by the SoCon coaches and media despite his impressive statistics. However, he would make first team All-Atlantic Region as named by the ABCA. He did not get a chance to duplicate his home run effort as a senior as Greenwood ranked third in the nation in walks, getting 0.98 free passes per game (54 walks in 55 games).
Before becoming WCU's ninth head baseball coach since 1969, Raleigh spent the 1999 season as an assistant coach at East Carolina University under former WCU head baseball coach, the late Keith LeClair. At ECU he was the Pirates' hitting instructor and recruiting coordinator, helping ECU to the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) championship, a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament and a final national ranking of 18th. As a player and assistant coach at Western Carolina, Raleigh helped the Cats capture four Southern Conference Championships, two as a player and two as a coach, and advance to four NCAA Regionals. As an assistant in 1994, Raleigh coached the Cats to a league best .295 team batting average.
Prior to his appointment at East Carolina, Raleigh served as the top assistant at James Madison for five years, serving as the hitting, outfield, and catching coach each season. He also served as interim head coach for two months during the 1997 season. Raleigh's implemented hitting techniques helped the Dukes lead the CAA in hitting four times. He also served as JMU's recruiting coordinator. Two of the Duke's recruiting classes were ranked among the nation's top 30 during his tenure in Harrisonburg, Va. James Madison finished in the top three of the CAA three times in Raleigh's four seasons there.
Raleigh's coaching career began at the University of Vermont. Following a two-year stint there, Raleigh returned to WCU in 1993 where he served as an assistant coach for two seasons. He also spent time coaching at Belmont Abbey after WCU.
As a student-athlete at WCU, Raleigh had an outstanding career for the Catamounts. He was a three-time All-SoCon selection, including a first team choice in 1991. Raleigh held the WCU and Southern Conference single-season record for RBI with 78 until 2000.
Named the Catamounts' Most Valuable Player as a senior, Raleigh signed a professional baseball contract with the Boston Red Sox after graduation, playing in the Florida State league that summer.
Raleigh earned his bachelor's degree from WCU in 1991 and his master's in 1994. He is married to the former Stephanie Deitz of Sylva. The couple has three children: Caleb John "Cal" (10), Emma Grace (8) and Carley (2).