Feb. 7, 2013
Cullowhee, N.C. - Led by preseason All-America selection Preston Hatcher, Western Carolina put a league-best five players on the preseason All-Southern Conference team as selected by the conferences' 11 head coaches. The Catamounts were also slated second in the coaches' preseason poll and sixth in the media tabulation as announced by the SoCon office.
Nine of the 11 SoCon schools placed at least one student-athlete on either the first or second teams as the coaches were not allowed to vote for their own players. WCU's five selections on the preseason squad are the most since 2008 when a total of six (three first team, three second team) Catamounts were honored. Elon and Samford trailed the Catamounts with four players listed among the top preseason players in the league. The Phoenix was joined by Appalachian State, sharing SoCon-best honors with three selections on the first team.
Hatcher, a first-team selection, was joined on the preseason All-SoCon team by fellow senior captain Tyler White on the second team. The duo was flanked by juniors Aaron Attaway and Julian Ridings, and sophomore Jacob Hoyle as the designated hitter.
Finishing with a team-leading 29 appearances a season ago, Hatcher posted a team-best six wins last season - all out of the bullpen. He also led the squad with 10 saves - a mark that ranked him third in the SoCon in 2012 and tied for the second-best, single-season in WCU program history. Hatcher was a Louisville Slugger Preseason All-America team honoree as released in late December of 2012.
White was only one of three WCU players to start all 56 games a season ago, leading the Catamounts with a .354 (75-for-212) batting average which ranked him fifth in the SoCon. He legged out 16 of his 37 career doubles a season ago and fielded an impressive .987 with 414 putouts - mostly coming at first base. Originally from Forest City, N.C., White is coming off a very solid summer that saw him earn mid-season All-Star plaudits and the Offensive MVP of the All-Star game in the Coastal Plain League with the Gastonia Grizzlies.
Attaway has become a staple along the middle infield for the Catamounts. The second of just three to start all 56 games in 2012, he hit .302 on the season after spending the first 14 games well over the .400 plateau. He finished tied for second on the squad with 75 base hits, 11 going for extra bases including a school-record five doubles in a perfect 6-for-6 showing in a home win over Iona in early March. With the leather, the Morganton, N.C., product was a part of turning 36 double plays in the field.
Ridings made great strides during the second half of 2012 and translated it into a stellar summer. He finished as the top prospect out of the Valley League as selected by Perfect Game (PG) after pacing the summer league with a .419 batting average with 14 doubles and seven homers. The Shelby, N.C., native was twice named team player of the week and was on the Valley's mid-season All-Star team. Last spring, Ridings posted a career-best .331 batting average with 53 hits, 12 for extra bases including eight doubles, a triple and three home runs. He also had 12 stolen bases in 15 attempts.
Hoyle finished as a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America selection as the DH last spring - just the fifth Catamount to land on the post-season team all-time. He played in 52 of the team's 56 games, making 47 appearances among the starting lineup. The Hickory, N.C., native hit .308 during his rookie campaign with a .449 slugging percentage. Among his 57 hits were 14 doubles - the second-most on the squad - and four home runs. Hoyle also ranked eighth in the conference with 45 RBI despite being slowed at mid-season with an oblique strain.
WCU's four second-team honorees were the most by one team on the second unit.
Samford's Phillip Ervin, who joined WCU's Hatcher on the Louisville Slugger Preseason All-America team, was pegged as the league's preseason Player of the Year while College of Charleston senior RHP Matt Pegler was selected as the preseason Pitcher of the Year
Elon edged Western Carolina in the preseason coaches' polling by five votes, earning five first-place nods and 93 points with the Catamounts in the runner-up position with 88 points. WCU was just ahead of College of Charleston with a matching three first-place votes and 87 points in setting the top three contenders. Last year's tournament champion, Samford (65), was fourth followed by Georgia Southern (64), Appalachian State (61) and Furman in seventh with 42 points.
Rounding out the Coaches' Poll were The Citadel (39), UNCG (37), Wofford (16) and Davidson (13).
In the media poll, Charleston - which shared the regular season crown a year ago - leapfrogged to the top of the board as the preseason favorite with 10 first-place nods and 195 points over Elon's 185 points and four first votes. Samford (152) garnered three votes for the top spot and 152 points, just ahead of Appalachian State in fourth with 143 points and a single first-place vote.
Georgia Southern remained in fifth place with WCU ranking sixth according to the media. Furman and The Citadel swapped seventh and eighth, respectively, with the final three slots remaining unchanged.
Western Carolina opens the 2013 season by hosting four-straight home games against a pair of teams from the PAC-12 and Atlantic Coast Conference. The Catamounts welcome the Washington State Cougars to Cullowhee for the first of a three-game series on Friday, Feb. 15, with subsequent games following on Saturday and Sunday. The following Tuesday (Feb. 19), Wake Forest out of the ACC comes to town for the front-end of a seasonal home-and-home.