May 19, 2014
Cullowhee, N.C. - Back-to-back regular season champion Western Carolina had a combined seven student-athletes honored as the Southern Conference unveiled its post-season all-conference squads on Monday. It is a second-consecutive year that WCU had seven players honored in voting by the league's 10 head coaches and members of the media.
Three Catamounts were selected to the first team by both the coaches and voting media as starting pitcher Jordan Smith, catcher Adam Martin and first baseman Jacob Hoyle each landed on the top of both lists. Junior right-handed pitcher Jeremy Null was selected second team by both voting groups. Junior second baseman Bradley Strong garnered first team All-SoCon plaudits from the coaches and Bryan Sammons landed on the coaches' all-freshman team, while junior reliever Tyler Powell earned second team honors from the media.
The All-SoCon recognition is the second in the career of Martin and Null, both of whom were second team selections in 2013. The two also earned All-Freshman honors in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Hoyle likewise earned his second all-conference accolade, tallying a second team nod at designated hitter as a freshman in 2012. Powell, Smith and Strong earned their first honors, though Strong was a freshman honoree in his rookie campaign.
Due to several ties in the voting on the coaches' ballot, the first team was comprised of 14 members and the second and all-freshman teams both had 13 members. Western Carolina and runner-up Davidson shared league-best honors with five All-SoCon selections apiece with WCU placing a league-high four on the first team.
In the media tabulation, the Catamounts and Wildcats both put three players on the first and two on the second teams. Samford was the only other team with multiple first-team picks with two to complement a pair of second team honorees.
Jordan Smith led the Catamounts with eight seasonal victories in 2014, earning his 25th career win to move into sixth-place in program history while also moving atop Western Carolina's career lists for starts (58) and innings pitched (368.1) in the process. The Liberty, N.C., product became WCU's all-time leader in career starts in guiding the Catamounts to a 7-1 road win over Samford, striking out six in eight innings of work.
Smith tossed a SoCon-leading 98.2 innings during the regular season and was tied for second with 80 strikeouts including a conference-best 37 Ks looking. In league play, Smith finished 6-2 with three complete games, boasting a team-best 2.41 ERA and 62 strikeouts amongst the starters. He twice returned to the mound after lengthy rain delays this spring, scoring wins at Elon and the aforementioned victory at Samford on the road. Smith garnered the SoCon's Pitcher of the Month honor in April after charting a 3-1 record with 1.64 ERA in the month.
Putting together player of the year-caliber numbers, Catamount senior Adam Martin swept the top spot in both tabulations at the catcher position. The slugger paced the SoCon with 64 RBI on the year to rank sixth nationally, recording a team-best 17 multiple RBI games. He batted a career-best .303 during the regular season with 59 hits including 24 for extra bases, adding a career-high seven stolen bases. Martin hit 13 home runs - eight coming in conference play and two as grand slams - with 10 doubles and a triple.
Martin held an 11-game hitting streak this season and ranked third on the squad with an 18-game reached base safely streak. His name appeared on the Johnny Bench Award Watch List - an honor that goes to the nation's top catcher - for a second-consecutive season. He earned his second SoCon Player of the Week accolade in mid-March en route to garnering the league's top monthly award, batting an impressive .415 in 17 games with 35 RBI, eight home runs, five doubles and a triple in March alone.
The regular-season SoCon home run leader, Jacob Hoyle rounded out WCU's trio of first team selections from both post-season voting. A native of Hickory, N.C., Hoyle finished the regular season tied for the team-lead in batting average at .332, collecting 72 base hits including 25 for extra bases. He hit a team-best .379 in conference games alone with seven homers and eight doubles for a .660 slugging percentage. He was second on the team with 52 RBI to rank tied for second in the conference behind Martin.
Hoyle, who put together WCU's longest consecutive game hitting streak this season at 15-straight, leads the team with 25 multiple hit games and is third with 14 multi-RBI outings this season. Named SoCon Player of the Week on May 5, Hoyle was also named Capital One Academic All-District 3 - the fourth different Catamount baseball player to receive the recognition all-time - and is eligible for Academic All-America honors.
Jeremy Null, the only three-time SoCon Pitcher of the Week and the league's top pitcher in the month of February, was a second team selection by both voting groups. He posted a 6-3 seasonal record with a 2.66 ERA, fifth in the league. The conference's preseason pitcher of the year, Null paced the SoCon with 88 strikeouts in the regular season including 32 batters struck out looking, second only to teammate, Smith. He limited opposing hitters to a .227 collective batting average against, third in the league.
A native of Claremont, N.C., Null battled through muscle tightness in his back late in the season, but returned to form in the regular season finale with his first career complete game to guide the Catamounts to their second-straight conference title. He recorded five-or-more strikeouts in 11 of his 14 seasonal appearances including a dozen in the season-opening victory at No. 2 Mississippi State, earning the third National Pitcher of the Week accolade of his career in the process.
Earning a fourth, first-team selection for the Catamounts, Bradley Strong shared second base honors on the coaches' vote with UNCG's Hunter King. Strong finished the regular season tied with Hoyle atop the team's batting average charts at .332, and enters the conference tournament riding a career-long 12-game hitting streak. The third-year starter ranks second in the league with 19 doubles with his five triples putting him tied for third among conference foes. The Richlands, Va., native paced the conference with 58 runs scored while his team-high 76 base hits ranked second in the SoCon. He has 20 multiple hit games and is second on the squad with 15 multi-RBI performances including two of five-or-more RBI.
Strong has set single-season career bests in each of the extra base hit categories - doubles (19), triples (5) and home runs (6). With 12 career triples, the speedster moved into third place on WCU's career triples chart, just three, three-baggers shy of matching the program record. Strong had perhaps his best career day at the plate on March 2 against La Salle as both he and middle infield mate, Aaron Attaway, hit for the cycle in the same game. Strong finished 5-for-6 with five RBI in the win.
Tyler Powell earned second team relief pitching honors from the voting media, closing the regular season with a 2-0 record and a career-best 13 saves, tied for second in the SoCon and third in WCU's single-season record books to date. The Charlotte, N.C., product made 21 appearances out of the bullpen on the year, tossing 23.2 innings as the primary Catamount closer. He tallied 22 strikeouts against just eight walks, holding foes to a .176 batting average against.
Powell's 15 career saves currently rank him tied for seventh in WCU's record books, matching former closer Daniel Ottone who had 15 saves from 2007-10.
Rounding out WCU's honorees on Monday was freshman left-handed pitcher, Bryan Sammons. The first-year southpaw landed on the All-Freshman team, finishing the regular season with a 4.50 ERA and a 7-2 overall record. Entering the conference tournament, he ranks fourth on the squad with 57 strikeouts through his 60.0 innings of work.
The Wilmington, N.C., native made 21 appearances including 10 starts, moving into a weekend starting slot midway through the season. Sammons scored his first career save in the season-opening upset win over No. 2 Mississippi State and picked up his first career win in just his third appearance, striking out three in a three-inning relief appearance in an 8-0 shutout victory over Winthrop.
Seeded first in this week's Southern Conference Baseball Championship, Western Carolina (37-16, 20-7 SoCon) awaits its first round opponent which will be determined in Tuesday's tournament-opening game between the eighth-seed Furman Paladins and ninth-seeded UNCG Spartans. WCU and the winner of that first game will play at 1:00 pm on Wednesday, May 21 at Joseph P. Riley Park in Charleston, S.C.
Tickets to the 2014 Southern Conference Baseball Championship are $30 for a tournament booklet or $10 for single-day tickets. Contact The Citadel ticket office at (843) 953-3647 or go to the box office at Riley Park to purchase.
Western Carolina's Alumni Affairs will hold a special pre-tournament social event in Charleston on Tuesday, May 20 at the Marina Variety Store Restaurant (17 Lockwood Drive). The event is from 6:00 - 8:00 pm, and all food is Dutch treat. RSVP by contacting Beau Busby, Assistant Director in Alumni Affairs at (877) 440-9990 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, prior to first pitch of WCU's games in Charleston, the Catamount Club will hold a special tailgate in the parking lots at Riley Park. Just look for the Catamount tents and Purple Zone signage for the WCU tailgate.