Catamount baseball goes 2&2 in SoCon Tourney

In the first round of the Southern Conference Tournament, the Western Carolina Catamounts got off to a rolling start as they breezed by the Furman Paladins 14-1 on May 24. Senior pitcher Caleb McConnell improved to 2-5 on the season as he put on quite a performance for the Cats. He pitched a season long seven innings and allowed just three hits in the game. Sophomore Steven Strausbaugh carried the way for the Catamounts in the game. He was just one triple away from hitting for the cycle. He had an RBI single, a two-run double, and a three-run homerun, en route to his 3-for-4 day and career high 6 RBI. The homerun was Strausbaugh’s 17th of the year and his first since April 29th. He became the Southern Conference’s individual homerun champion for the 2006 season. Junior Trey McDaniel also was 3-for-4 with four RBI and a three-run homerun as well. Senior Tim Hallam contributed with three hits in the game. The Catamounts advanced to face the SoCon’s second seed, and the 28th ranked team in the country, the College of Charleston Cougars, who defeated UNC-Greensboro the day before. The difference between this game and Western’s SoCon opener against Furman was the outcome. The College of Charleston snuck by the Catamounts and defeated them 1-0. In the first inning, the Cougars had hits from three of the first four batters and the only run of the game was scored. Charleston’s pitcher, the SoCon’s pitcher of the year, Nick Chigges threw a complete game with four hits, five walks, and four strikeouts. Western’s three pitchers all pitched well, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Cougars. Senior Bryan Tupper moved to 5-2 on the season and threw two strikeouts and gave up just seven hits in six innings of work. He gave up the only run in the game. Senior Brian McCullen came in the seventh inning and threw two innings of work giving up one hit, with one walk, and a strikeout. Sophomore Greg Holland threw a scoreless ninth inning. The Catamounts moved to an elimination game against the Georgia Southern Eagles on May 26. The Catamounts looked like the same team that played Furman in the Tournament opener, as they steamrolled the Eagles 13-3. Sophomore Blake Murphy, a native of Waynesville, led the Catamounts in offense recording five hits in the contest. Murphy went 5-for-5 in the game and had three doubles. He became the eighth SoCon player, and third WCU player to have five hits in a game. He tied a SoCon and WCU record with three doubles in the contest. Junior Trey McDaniel was 4-for-5 in the game with his 13th homerun of the year and three RBI, and sophomore Barrett Shaft recorded three hits in the game. In the first inning, the Catamounts were off and rolling as they sent twelve men to the plate and scored seven runs. Sophomore Jason Haynes kicked the scoring off as he hit a solo homerun towards left-field wall. After five runs had been scored by the Catamounts, Haynes ended the inning with an RBI infield single, making the score 7-0 early, they rode that momentum all game long and it carried them to a 13-3 demolition of the Eagles. Sophomore Tyler Sexton picked up the victory on the mound for the Catamounts, moving to 8-6 on the season. He gave up seven hits, and gave up two unearned runs, and had a walk and a strikeout. The victory over the Eagles moved the Catamounts to a game against the Citadel Bulldogs in the consolation semi-finals later on that night. The game against the Bulldogs would be the final game of the season for the Catamounts as they dropped a heartbreaker, 4-2. The Bulldogs scored three runs in the top of the ninth, and withstood a Catamount run in the bottom half to end the season for the Cats and advance to the consolation finals. The Catamounts struck first in the game, as they scored in the second inning thanks to a throwing error by the Citadel. Strausbaugh had a leadoff single, and then advanced to second when junior Scott Ward hit a single as well. Junior Donnie Wilson’s single would have loaded the bases but a Citadel throwing error allowed Strausbaugh to score and give the Cats the 1-0 early lead. After the Citadel tied the game up at 1 apiece in the fourth, the Cats added another run in the bottom of the fourth to take a 2-1 lead. With the bases loaded and nobody out, McDaniel scored on a double play ground out. He had a leadoff single in the inning, and then advanced to second on Blake Murphy’s single, and moved to third on Scott Ward’s single. The rest of the game was scoreless until the ninth inning, when the Bulldogs took control of the game. They scored the final three runs of the contest in the top of the ninth taking a 4-2 lead into the final outing in the ninth inning. The Catamounts, who had one last chance to even the game up, went on a little run in the ninth. With two outs and no one on base, freshman pinch hitter Andy John hit a double to left center field. Barrett Shaft reached base after being hit by a pitch. However, the game would end when Bulldog pitcher Justin Smith threw a groundball to first base to end the inning, to end the game, and to end the season for the Catamounts. Junior pitcher Brock Thornburg gave up seven hits and a run. He struck out four and threw one walk. Despite his game, he did not factor in the decision. Leaving after 6 innings of work, sophomore Greg Holland suffered the loss giving up seven hits and three runs with two strikeouts. He finished his season with a 4-4 record. The Catamounts’ season did not end the way they had hoped. However, with a string of talent coming back, and a lot of new talent coming in, the future of the Catamount baseball team looks very bright.