BaseballCoach Bobby Moranda and his team react after winning the SoCon tournament

WHEE ARE THE CHAMPIONS

Catamounts earn NCAA Baseball Tournament appearance

By BOB BERGHAUS

Last fall, during his first scrimmage with the Western Carolina baseball team, infielder Nobu Suzuki got out of the way when it appeared he was going to be hit by a pitch. The next day, Catamounts assistant coach Todd Guilliams had a chat with the player, who had transferred from Skyline Junior College in northern California.

“He told me we don’t move. It will help us win the championship,” said Suzuki, who was born in Connecticut but spent most of his early years in Japan before returning to America for his senior year in high school.

Fast forward to May 29 at Fluor Field, in Greenville, South Carolina. It’s the bottom of the ninth inning in the winner-take-all game for the Southern Conference championship between Mercer and WCU. Score tied at 2, bases loaded and Suzuki is at the plate. The first pitch sails directly toward Suzuki, a right-handed hitter. He rolls into the pitch, taking it on the left thigh. Matt Smith scores from third, and the Cats win 3-2 to advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.

“First time in my life in a championship game,” said Suzuki. “I never thought I would have that opportunity to do something for the team. To be honest, being hit by a pitch was the last thing I expected to happen. After I got hit, I lost my mind. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Suzuki was hit eight times this past season. As a team, the Cats took first base 94 times after being drilled by pitches. That’s a number that pleases head coach Bobby Moranda, who has stats that show the more times you’re hit, the better chance you have of winning. “We don’t try to get hit,” Moranda said. “We’re giving them the proper way to roll into it, which is the safest way, looking the other way. That’s exactly what Nobu did.”

When Suzuki finished junior college, he told his coach he wanted to play for a Division I program. Moranda was looking for an infielder and, through connections he has in California, the coach made contact with Suzuki, who drove to Cullowhee without the benefit of a campus visit.

“My first day last fall, (Moranda) had a meeting,” Suzuki recalled. “It was very intense. He talked about the culture and what a great program this is. I felt I made a good decision coming here,” he said. “I wanted to be part of a great baseball program. It’s also very beautiful here with the mountains. Very green and nice weather.”

Moranda’s also happy to have Suzuki in Cullowhee. “He came here from California, loved it and the rest is history,” Moranda said. “He gets hit by a pitch to win the SoCon championship. That’s pretty cool.”

The Catamounts would go on to play in the NCAA baseball tournament regional held at Clemson, where they lost their first game to the host Tigers before knocking out Nebraska and falling for the second time to Clemson.

Reprinted in edited format with permission of the Asheville Citizen-Times.

TrackSoCon

WHEE ARE THE CHAMPIONS

Men’s and women’s squads claim twin track and field titles

By TYLER NORRIS GOODE

As the Southern Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships were winding down on the final evening of the event May 13, all that stood between the Catamounts and a sweep of the men’s and women’s titles was the women’s 4×400-meter relay. That’s why the heart rate of Western Carolina coach Danny Williamson ’84 MAEd ’86 didn’t rise too much as the relay teams waited for the starting gun.

“Thirty-plus years ago when our program wasn’t so good, we decided to focus on the 4×400 relay,” Williamson said. “We wanted people to think we were good, and most people remember the last thing they saw at a meet – so we wanted to be good at that. Not a lot of people want to run it, to be honest, because it hurts. But our kids take pride in it … so I was calm. I knew we had a shot because of who we had on the track.”

Indeed, that foursome (Corinna Archie-McMillan ’16, Tayla Carter, Sage Proffitt and Bri Anna Adams) smoked the rest of the field to help Western Carolina’s women join the men atop the podium. WCU was leading Samford by 1.5 points going into the final and pivotal event.

“There was a lot of pressure, but we had trained all year for it,” said Carter, who also won the individual 100- and 200-meter titles for the fourth straight year while running a leg on the winning 4×100 relay squad. “We knew once we stepped out on the track that we had to win for the team.”

While WCU’s women scraped to a 255-251.5 victory over Samford, the Catamount men overcame a one-point deficit at the start of the meet’s second day and cruised to a 93-point victory over VMI.

Though Williamson wasn’t sure how many SoCon team championships the Catamounts have won under his watch, Sean Forrester in WCU’s athletics media relations department confirmed the total stands at 32. In February, the men’s track and field team captured its third straight conference indoor championship as the women’s squad came up just short of a fourth consecutive indoor title, finishing second to Samford University.

And, just as this magazine was about to go to press, Williamson announced his decision to retire after 30 years with the cross country and track and field programs to be able to spend more time with family.

“I feel honored to have been able to do something that I have loved doing for the past 30 years. It has been an incredible ride that not everyone gets to take,” he said. “There is never a really good time to walk away, but I feel that now is the time. Winning both the women’s and men’s 2016 Southern Conference Outdoor Championships this year here in Cullowhee is a perfect ending and a great avenue for me to exit and allow the next chapter of Catamount cross country and track and field to be written.”

Cale McDaniel ’10 MAEd ’12, a former WCU track and field student-athlete now in his sixth season as an assistant coach in the program, has been named interim head coach, said Randy Eaton, WCU director of athletics.

Reprinted in edited format with permission of the Asheville Citizen-Times.