May 21, 2012
Cullowhee, N.C. - Five Catamount baseball players were honored on Monday afternoon as the Southern Conference unveiled its coaches' all-conference teams. Senior Ross Heffley and junior reliever Preston Hatcher captured first team All-SoCon honors with rookie DH Jacob Hoyle landing on the second team. Hoyle and classmates Jeremy Null and Bradley Strong were all named to the SoCon's All-Freshman team following Monday's vote.
The league's 11 head coaches also selected two all-conference teams and an all-freshman team. The coaches were not permitted to vote for their own players or themselves in the voting process.
Heffley earned his second-consecutive, first team All-SoCon honor at second base while the other four honorees picked up the first post-season plaudits in their career. Hatcher is the first WCU reliever to score All-SoCon accolades since 2007 when Greg Holland was named to the first team.
College of Charleston center fielder Marty Gantt was voted the SoCon Player of the Year while teammate Christian Powell, a junior right-handed pitcher, was honored as the Pitcher of the Year. Georgia Southern catcher Chase Griffin earned Freshman of the Year honors while Appalachian State head coach Chris Pollard was voted by his peers as the league's Coach of the Year after guiding the Mountaineers to a share of the regular season championship for the first time since 1987.
Appalachian State and Samford led the way, both with six all-conference selections with the Bulldogs grabbing a league-high four on the first team. College of Charleston had four all-SoCon selections followed by three from Western Carolina and two from Elon.
Heffley started all 54 games during the regular season, finishing with 26 multiple hit and 12 multiple RBI games. He has 21 extra base hits including 12 doubles and a team-high eight home runs among his team-leading 78 hits on the year - a mark that ranked him fifth in the SoCon. Heffley hit a team-best .370 in league play during the regular season. He added a team-best 16 stolen bases in 18 attempts this year making him both a threat at the plate and on the bases. Combined with his infield counterparts, Heffley has been a part of turning 40 of WCU's 52 double-plays this season.
Already the program's all-time leader in base hits with 352-and-counting, Heffley is just three hits shy of tying for second place, and just eight hits shy of matching the all-time record in SoCon history.
Additionally, Heffley is still in contention for WCU's annual Triple Crown for leading the team in batting average, homeruns and RBI. He ended the regular season pacing the squad with eight home runs, tied for team lead in batting average with Tyler White (.350) and is just three RBI behind Hoyle in the runner-up position. The 14th different Catamount hitter to claim the program's Triple Crown in 2011, Heffley is vying to become the first-ever to win the Triple Crown more than once.
Taking over as the Catamount closer in 2012, Preston Hatcher has turned in a career-best season. The hard-throwing right-hander from Atlanta, Ga., has a 6-1 overall record - matching the team lead in seasonal wins including three in league play - with 10 saves through regular season play, tying him for second in the SoCon. Hatcher also ranks tied for second in the WCU record books with 10 saves, matching Holland's 2007 seasonal performance. It also ranks him seventh on the school's career charts, tied with Derrick Hawk (2003-05).
Hatcher boasted a 1.47 ERA through 28 relief appearances during the regular season, tossing 49 innings while holding opponents to 16 runs - eight earned - and a .242 batting average against. He struck out 52 batters including 30 in conference play.
Hoyle, who earned second team plaudits in addition to his All-Freshman team nod, paced WCU with 45 RBI during the regular season, tied for eighth in the SoCon. He saw action in 50 of the 54 games while making 46 appearances among the starting lineup as a rookie. The Hickory, N.C., native raced out of the gates with 30 RBI through his first 19 games before being slowed by an oblique strain that limited his productivity, but did not keep him out of the WCU lineup. Hoyle enters the conference tournament with 56 hits including 17 for extra bases, ranking second on the team with 13 doubles.
Joining Hoyle on the All-Freshman team were third baseman Bradley Strong and starting pitcher Jeremy Null. Strong overcame a sluggish start at the plate to hit .300 as a true freshman - an average that was bolstered by a .333 batting average in SoCon play, third on the squad. All told, 21 of Strong's 23 RBI came against league foes as the Richlands, Va., native also tallied 12 extra base hits including a team-best three triples.
Null was thrust into a weekend starting role right out of the gates as a freshman with 14 of his 16 appearances in the regular season coming as a starter. The tall, hard-throwing right-hander finished the season with a 5.16 overall ERA and a 4-4 record. He tossed 68 innings with 60 strikeouts against 26 walks, limiting foes to a .269 batting average against. The Claremont, N.C., native scored his first collegiate win in his first outing against Fordham, setting his career-high in strikeouts at eight - a mark he matched through six innings in a start against the College of Charleston in late April.
Western Carolina (32-22) opens its quest for a 10th Southern Conference Tournament Championship on Wednesday evening, battling the fourth-seeded Samford Bulldogs in the night cap of the opening round. The game is scheduled for an 8:00 pm first pitch at Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C.