Feb. 13, 2014
Cullowhee, N.C. - Winter Storm Pax continued to affect the season-opening weekend for the Western Carolina Catamount baseball team on Thursday. Due to both weather and travel issues, the home series against Ohio University has been cancelled.
Instead, coming off the program's 12th SoCon regular season championship - and the 21st combined league title in school history - Western Carolina will now open its 2014 season with a three-game series in Starkville, Miss., against the nationally-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs.
The 2014 season opener is slated for a 7:30 pm ET / 6:30 pm CT first pitch on Friday, followed by a 5:00 pm ET / 4:00 pm start on Saturday. The series against the Bulldogs will wrap-up on Sunday at 2:30 pm ET / 1:30 pm CT.
Despite working all day Thursday to remove the heavy, wet snow from the playing surface at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium, field conditions were still unfavorable even 48 hours out from Saturday's rescheduled opener. Adding to the weather-related issues are forecasts for a smaller round of precipitation - mostly rain before changing to a wintry mixture then mostly snow - on Friday afternoon through Saturday morning, prompting athletic department officials, in conjunction with Ohio, to cancel the series.
Mississippi State originally had a four-game, season-opening series scheduled against Hofstra scheduled at Dudy Noble Field. However, travel issues because of heavy snow in the Mid-Atlantic States prevented the Pride from getting to Mississippi.
The Bulldogs are ranked inside the top 10 in each of the four major preseason college baseball polls. Mississippi State was ranked second in the Collegiate Baseball poll, fourth in both the USA Today Coaches' and NCBWA Polls, and eighth in the preseason Baseball America poll.
MSU, which finished 51-20 last season, was picked second in the SEC's Western Division behind LSU, and finished third in the coaches' voting for an overall SEC Champion.
Western Carolina has faced Mississippi State three times previously - each coming in the NCAA post-season in successive years between 1987 through 1989. The Catamounts, which are 1-2 against the Bulldogs, claimed the first-ever meeting in the 1987 Mid-East regional in Starkville, winning 8-1.
Seventh-year head coach Bobby Moranda is scheduled to hand the baseball to his two preseason All-Southern Conference pitchers on Opening Weekend. Junior right-hander Jeremy Null, the preseason SoCon Pitcher of the Year according to the league's head coaches, will start Friday afternoon's opener with senior right-hander Jordan Smith penciled in as Saturday's starting pitcher.
Transfer RHP T.J. Fussell is slated to start the series finale on Sunday afternoon.
Behind the All-SoCon pitching duo of Null and Smith, seven starting position players return including preseason SoCon Player of the Year - and three-time preseason All-America selection - senior shortstop Aaron Attaway, who headlines five seniors in the projected starting lineup. Joining Attaway are senior catcher Adam Martin, outfielders Cody Jones and Dykota Spiess, and utility player Luke Gragg, the recipient of the "Leggett No. 7 Legacy" honor this spring who could see time in the outfield or as the designated hitter.
All told, WCU returns seven of the nine hitters from a lineup that led the NCAA in home runs in 2013 with four returning players who hit .300-or-better a year ago. On the mound, the Catamounts bring back two-thirds of its weekend rotation with 23 of its 39 seasonal wins back. Additionally, WCU's pitching staff returns 65-percent of its 490 strikeouts (320) from 2013.
Projected Starting Pitcher Matchups:
Friday (7:30 pm ET/6:30 pm CT): WCU - Jeremy Null, RHP vs. MSU - Brandon Woodruff, RHP
Saturday (5:00 pm ET/4:00 pm CT): WCU - Jordan Smith, RHP vs. MSU - Trevor Fitts, RHP
Sunday (2:30 pm ET/1:30 pm CT): WCU - T.J. Fussell, RHP vs. MSU - Ben Bracewell, RHP
- Western Carolina has won its season-opening series each of the past seven years including sweeping the season-opening series four times - Fordham, 2012; Morehead State, 2011; Gardner-Webb, 2010; Bowling Green, 2009;
- With the change, Western Carolina will open the 2014 season on the road for the first-time since beginning the 2007 season away from home at Kennesaw State, taking 2-of-3 from the Owls on the road ... the 2007 Catamounts went on to win the regular season championship and advanced to the NCAA Chapel Hill regional;
- Western Carolina has played eight current members of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) for a combined 151 games (39-112): Auburn (6-19); Florida (3-9); Georgia (19-36); Kentucky (1-0); South Carolina (6-24); Tennessee (4-19); Texas A&M (0-1); Vanderbilt (0-4).
- Mississippi State is the second SEC-foe - and second Bulldog from the SEC - that the Catamounts will face in 2014 ... WCU travels to Athens, Ga., in tournament action, facing the Georgia Bulldogs on March 9 at Foley Field;
- Western Carolina was the preseason favorite in both polls released by the Southern Conference head coaches and voting media;
- Western Carolina was tabbed 31st in the national preseason poll as selected and released by Collegiate Baseball ... It is the first time the Catamounts have appeared among the preseason rankings from Collegiate Baseball since 2008 ... WCU appeared in the "Others Receiving Votes" section of the preseason poll in both 2006 and again prior to the 2008 season.