Sept. 14, 2012
Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina and sixth-year head coach Bobby Moranda opened fall practice for the 2013 season today, on campus at Childress Field / Hennon Stadium. The baseball team will work through 27 practices over an NCAA-regulated 45-day period, culminating with the annual intrasquad Fall World Series in mid-to-late October.
Moranda anticipates the squad holding regular practices during the week with intrasquad, game-like scenarios most weekends. The team will take a week off amidst its scheduled practices October 12-17 for the University's fall break, resuming with a uniformed scrimmage on Saturday, Oct. 19.
Once students returned to campus this fall, Moranda and the Catamounts began individual instruction and conditioning workouts. Fall workouts have included early-morning weight lifting and running sessions with position and batting cage work. On Friday afternoon, the team was able to gather as one for the first official team fall practice.
"The first day was great, we had a really nice workout," said Moranda standing just outside the home dugout at Childress Field. "This weekend, we'll go more into intrasquad scrimmages for the first time mainly in an evaluation process. I just want to see what we have going forward."
"With our fall practices, we are really into developing our team chemistry. Working hard, we are tweaking a few things - being `agents of change,' making some adjustments and getting better. It's going to be intense, it's going to be tough and we're going to get after them. We scratched the surface last year, but we've got to do even better if we want to take it to another level and that's what our guys are expected to do," Moranda said.
Western Carolina is coming off a season where it finished 32-24 overall, 16-14 in the Southern Conference. The Catamounts return the bulk of their lineup from a season ago including seven of the eight position starters, four starting pitchers with all three members of its weekend rotation and five relief pitchers that carried lion's share of the bullpen work.
The Catamounts bring back eight hitters which batted over .300 last season including senior Tyler White who hit .354 in helping WCU hit a SoCon-leading .310 collectively. A total of 128 of the team's 155 extra base hits (82.6%) from 2012 are back, including 30 of the team's 39 home runs (76.9%). White paced the squad with 16 doubles, just ahead of sophomore Jacob Hoyle who had 14 and was named a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America selection by Collegiate Baseball.
On the hill, WCU returns 30 of its 32 victories (93.8%) including six-game winners in redshirt senior Morgan McKinney and classmate closer Preston Hatcher, who also had a team-high 10 saves en route to being tabbed first team All-SoCon. Six pitchers - all returners - had four-or-more wins including mid-week starting ace, senior Adam Curtis who had five victories, and weekend hurlers Jordan Smith and All-Freshman selection, Jeremy Null, with four wins apiece.
All told, WCU's pitching staff returns 349 of its 399 strikeouts (87.5%) from last year.
Looking to factor into the returning veteran lineup are 13 newcomers including 10 freshmen, redshirts in infielder Austin Neary and transfers left-handed pitchers Bryce Danielson and John McClure. WCU also returns redshirt junior hurler, Taylor Sandefur who missed last season due to a shoulder injury.
Several Catamounts are coming off of strong summer outings. White was an all-star in the wooden-bat Coastal Plain League, while junior Julian Ridings was named one of the top prospects in the Valley League. Sophomore infielder Bradley Strong was a part of a championship squad with the West Virginia Miners in the Prospect league, pacing the conference in stolen bases.
Moranda added, "We're committed to our guys in the weight room. We're really into getting our guys stronger. Jeff Pitman and Ryan Flood are doing an excellent job with our strength training. I want more power in our lineup this year. We feel like we're going to have a shot at a Southern Conference championship and a NCAA regional."
Moranda's coaching staff for 2013 includes former Catamount baseball standout, Alan Beck, and Bruce Johnson as the full-time assistants. They are flanked by former right-handed pitchers Brandon Johnson, who joined the staff as the volunteer coach after a year as the student assistant, and Kyle Deese as the undergraduate coach.
Western Carolina's fall practice sessions are scheduled to conclude in late October with the 2013 schedule set to be released around the same time.