Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina baseball wraps up the regular season portion of its 2017 schedule with a three-game Southern Conference road series at Mercer which opens Thursday evening at the on-campus OrthoGeorgia Park in Macon, Ga. First pitch on both Thursday and Friday is scheduled for 6 pm with a 2 pm start on Saturday on Mercer's Senior Day.
Fans can follow each game online through live stats available through StatBroadcast, linked online at both MercerBears.com and CatamountSports.com. Though there will not be audio coverage on the Catamount Sports Network for the series, Mercer will have a live online audio broadcast available.
Mercer (38-13, 17-4 SoCon) secured its third-consecutive SoCon regular season championship and the top seed in next week's SoCon Baseball Championship, presented by Holston Gases last Sunday by sweeping both ends of a league double-header at Wofford. Western Carolina's last league foe was also the Terriers, taking 2-of-3 in the series in Cullowhee. WCU (26-26, 13-8 SoCon) has since dropped four of its last six including midweek losses at both Kennesaw State and Cincinnati, and Tuesday's home shutout loss to Presbyterian. The Catamounts took 2-of-3 from Mid-American Conference (MAC) West Division preseason favorite, Ball State, last weekend in Muncie, Ind.
Western Carolina and Mercer squared off six times during the 2016 season with WCU dropping 2-of-3 at home in Cullowhee including an extra-inning, 9-8, loss in game two -- however, after dropping their third-straight to the Bears early in the 2016 SoCon tournament, the Catamounts won back-to-back games on Championship Sunday, 4-2 and 3-2, to claim the 2016 SoCon Tournament crown and earn the automatic bid to the NCAA regional field.
All told, WCU trails in the all-time series with Mercer, 5-6, first meeting back in 2007 and 2008 in a midweek home-and-home, both teams winning on the road. The Catamounts are 4-5 against the Bears as fellow Southern Conference members, winning both regular season meetings the past two years. WCU carries a 2-2 record in games played in Macon, Ga., into this year's series.
Both WCU and Mercer have hit above .300 collectively as teams this season with the Catamounts ranking tied for second overall with a .307 average while the Bears are at an even .300 on the year. WCU has batted a SoCon-leading .326 against conference foes while Mercer is fifth at .294.
Three Catamounts carry double-digit reached base safely streaks into the Mercer series, paced by senior Matt Smith at 34-consecutive games, followed by junior Brett Pope at 17-straight, and redshirt sophomore Matthew Koehler at 13. Redshirt senior OF Bryson Bowman is on the heels of his second, double-digit reached base safely streak entering Thursday's game at nine, that after reaching in a school single-season record long 42-consecutive games that included a single-season record tying 27-game hitting streak.
Bowman continues to lead the SoCon with 57 RBI on the year, ranking second (to Pope, 81) with 77 base hits, second in on-base percentage (.460), fourth in both batting average (.376) and slugging percentage (.615), fifth with 15 doubles and 34 walks, and is tied for seventh in runs scored (48).
Mercer, which is 18-7 at home this season, dropped its midweek meeting with in-state foe, Kennesaw State, 6-1 on Tuesday -- the Bears' second-straight home loss after dropping its second game to UNCG on April 30. In addition to leading the SoCon in walks this year with 278, Mercer also paces the conference in doubles (114), home runs (75), slugging percentage (.494), RBI (354), on-base percentage (.407), and sacrifice bunts (70). The Bear pitching staff has a SoCon-best 470 strikeouts including 156 looking.
Mercer catcher Charlie Madden has a league-leading 16 home runs on the year while designated hitter J.T. Thomas has hit 12 with a league-leading 18 doubles, and is just two RBI behind Bowman for the league lead with 55.
Teams: Mercer (38-13, 17-4 SoCon) vs. Western Carolina (26-26, 13-8 SoCon)
Location: Macon, Ga. | OrthoGeorgia Park
Thursday: May 18 | 6 p.m. | Live Stats | Listen
Friday: May 19 | 6 p.m. | Live Stats | Listen
Saturday: May 20 | 2 p.m. | Live Stats | Listen
Projected Series Pitching Match-Ups:
Thursday: WCU - Sr. LHP Bryan Sammons (7-3, 3.19 ERA) vs. MER -- RHP Ryan Askew (4-1, 4.50 ERA)
Friday: WCU - Jr. LHP Brendan Nail (5-7, 7.11 ERA) vs. MER -- LHP Austin Cox (3-1, 5.64 ERA)
Saturday: WCU - Soph. LHP Tristan Baker (4-3, 6.75 ERA) vs. MER -- RHP Josh Knies (5-2, 4.81 ERA)
* NOTE: Be sure to keep track of any weather-related schedule changes online at CatamountSports.com or through WCU Athletics' social media outlets on Facebook (fb.com/catamountsports) and Twitter (@catamounts or @WCUCatamountBSB).
Looking Ahead to the SoCon Tournament Seeding:
- Entering the final week of the regular season, Western Carolina is currently tied for second in the SoCon standings, matching UNCG with a 13-8 record but would be the No. 3 seed due to the head-to-head tiebreaker held by UNCG ... the Catamounts can finish anywhere from second to fifth in the SoCon seeding for the tournament:
- To earn the No. 2 seed, WCU must win at least two at Mercer and have UNCG lose at least two at Samford ... A second-place seeding = 4:00 pm game on Wednesday, May 24;
- If WCU finishes tied with UNCG with a 16-8 or a 15-9 record (two-or-more weekend wins), the Spartans will have the tie-breaker due to winning 2-of-3 during the regular season ... A third-place finish = 7:30 pm game on Wednesday, May 24;
- If WCU and UNCG both only win one game, the two will finish with matching 14-10 records and slip into a three-way tie with Furman -- in that scenario, UNCG would be No. 2, Furman No. 3 and WCU No. 4 ... It could also become a four-way tie for second at 14-10 if the above happens AND Wofford sweeps The Citadel ... In the event of a four-way tie, UNCG is No. 2 seed at 6-3 vs. the group, Wofford would be No. 3 at 5-4 vs. the group, putting Furman at No. 4 and WCU at No. 5;
- Furman (14-10) could still finish second in the league out right if neither WCU nor UNCG win another game with at least one Wofford loss at The Citadel ... Wofford, too, could still finish as the No. 2 seed if WCU and UNCG lose out and the Terriers sweep The Citadel to finish tied with Furman at 14-10 -- Wofford took 2-of-3 during the regular season to hold the tie-breaker;
- A 4th or 5th place finish in the regular season = 9:00 am game on Wednesday, May 24;
Southern Conference Weekend Games (Thursday-Saturday):
(current league seeding)
ETSU (8) at VMI (7) -- Lexington, Va.
UNCG (2) at Samford (6) -- Birmingham, Ala.
Western Carolina (3) at Mercer (1) -- Macon, Ga.
Wofford (5) at The Citadel (9) -- Charleston, S.C.
Furman (4) at Belmont -- Nashville, Tenn.