Western Carolina will open its baseball season Friday against Chicago State at Childress Field/Hennon Stadium.

The teams will play single games at 4 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Sunday along with a doubleheader at 1 p.m. Saturday.

“We need to stay healthy as that creates our depth and competition, especially with a long season ahead,” said Bobby Moranda, who is preparing for his 13th season as coach. “Depth on the mound is something that is very important.”

The Catamounts return 20 lettermen, including seven position starters and two starters on the mound, from a team that went 21-32 and finished eighth among nine teams in the Southern Conference.

“We’ve had youth the past couple of years, but those guys have gone through the trials and they’re older now,” Moranda said. “We have a lot of guys who have experience and understand what it takes. They understand our tradition and what our program is all about. They know the standard of what it takes to play at a high level. They’re out there teaching; they’re out there leading. They have high expectations for their teammates, and it’s impressive.”

Heading the returnees is junior infielder Justice Bigbie, who is the reigning conference player of the year. He and junior right-handed pitcher Chase Walter were included among the top 150 position players and pitchers, respectively, in the country by D1Baseball.com.

Walter passed up a chance to turn pro after being taken in the 32nd round of last year’s Major League Baseball Draft by the Los Angeles Angels. He finished second in the conference with 114 strikeouts in 93 innings.

Bigbie finished third in the league last year with a .355 batting average. He is the reigning Southern Conference Player of the Year and ranked third in the league with a .355 batting average to go with 12 home runs and 51 RBIs.

Bigbie was named preseason conference player of the year by the league coaches and a preseason All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

Junior outfielder Daylan Nanny was also chosen preseason all-conference first team. Making the preseason second team are senior catcher Luke Robinson and senior designated hitter Andrew Bullock.

Nanny batted .320 a season ago. Robinson had a batting average of .300, and Bullock hit .279.

The coaches picked WCU to finish sixth in the conference, while the media has the Catamounts seventh.

The coaches went with Wofford followed by Samford, Mercer, UNC-Greensboro and East Tennessee (tied for fourth), WCU, Furman and Virginia Military (tied for seventh) and Citadel.

The media made Samford the preseason favorite, followed by Wofford, Mercer, UNC-G, ETSU, Furman, WCU, VMI and Citadel.

Season and single-game tickets are on sale through the Catamount Ticket Office on the first floor of the Ramsey Center, by phone at 800-34-GOWCU or 227-2401, or online at catamountsports.com.

The schedule is as follows:

Feb. 14 – Chicago State; 15 – Chicago State (DH); 16 – Chicago State; 21 – Illinois at Coastal Carolina; 22 – Kennesaw State at Coastal Carolina; 23 – St. Joseph’s at Coastal Carolina; 26 – Georgia State; 28 – Ball State at Greenville, S.C.; 29 – Michigan State at Greenville, S.C.

March 1 – Kansas at Greenville, S.C.; 3 – Appalachian State; 6 – Northwestern and USC-Upstate at USC-U; 10-11 – Bryant; 13-15 – at Elon; 20-22 –at Citadel; 25 – Gardner-Webb; 27-29 – East Tennessee; 31 – at USC-U.

April 3-5 – at Virginia Military; 7 – Kennesaw State; 9-11 – UNC-Greensboro; 15 – at Gardner-Webb; 17-19 – at Furman; 21 – USC-U; 24-26 – at Wofford; 28-29 – Florida International.

May 1 – at UNC-Asheville; 2 – UNC-A; 8-10 – Mercer; 12 – Eastern Kentucky at Mason, Ohio; 14-16 – Samford; 19-24 – Southern Conference Tournament at Greenville, S.C.