Last weekend, the series against Greensboro was a big deal for Appalachian, and this weekend, the baseball games mean even more. The race is super tight for the SoCon regular season crown, and both Samford and Appalachian can make major strides to achieving their goals this weekend. Appalachian is in a good spot, controlling its own destiny, needing to win four of its last six conference games to secure the title. Samford really needs a sweep as they sit a game behind second place Charleston. Appalachian has to play its final six conference games on the road, and Samford is 7-5 at home this season against conference opponents. Those game include series wins over Citadel and Furman, taking three games from Western Carolina, and being swept by Elon. Samford had won seven in a row and eleven of twelve games before falling in the series finale at Georgia Southern last weekend.
This series will be a battle of offenses versus pitching. Both Samford and Appalachian have superior pitching staffs and high team batting averages. Appalachian hits .317 as a team compared to the .303 that Samford hits. Samford’s pitching staff edges out Appalachian with a 3.68 team ERA compared the the Mountaineers’ 3.72. This could be a very interesting series considering these powerful numbers for both teams. Most likely we will see a series very similar to the one at Georgia Southern. I doubt either team sweeps, but I can see one pitching duel, a one run game, and one blowout.
ASU Sr. RHP Ryan Arrowood (9-0, 3.77) vs. SU Sr. RHP Charles Basford (8-2, 3.87)
Two great performances by both starting pitchers resulted in neither one earning a decision. This game was up to the bullpens when Samford starter Charles Basford left in the eighth inning with runners on first and second base and one out. Samford reliever Joseph Burns balked the runners to scoring position before he threw his first pitch. Burns was able to force a groundout before a confusing intentional walk to the slumping Jeremy Dowdy with two outs. The second pitch to Trey Holmes hit him, which brought in the tying run heading into the bottom half of the inning.
Not to be outdone, Appalachian’s bullpen allowed a run on two hits with two outs in the bottom of the eighth to give the lead back to Samford heading into the final inning. Samford needed three outs to win the game. After Arthur Strauss was able to retire pinch hitter Brandon Burris, he issued a walk to Appalachian’s leading base stealer Hector Crespo. Strauss sandwiched a walk to Tyler Zupcic between Crespo stealing second and third base. Will Callaway endured a nine pitch at-bat and reached base on a fielders choice RBI that scored Crespo. With runners on first and second, Daniel Kassouf popped up in the infield. With the score now knotted at four runs apiece and still two outs, Samford’s bullpen had given up a lead in consecutive innings. Tyler Tewell would face Samford’s third pitcher of the inning, and he wasted no time. Tewell singled on the first pitch, scoring Zupcic and putting Callaway on third. Lex Rutledge would then balk, allowing Callway to score, and moving Tewell to second base. Jeremy Dowdy would then single on a 0-2 count to plate the fourth run of the inning for Appalachian on only two hits.
The bottom of the ninth inning was uneventful as Nathan Hyatt retired the side on seven pitches for his twelfth save of the season. Appalachian scored five runs in their final two at bats for the come from behind win. Rhyne Frankoff (1-1) was credited the win by striking out one batter in the eighth inning. Tyler Tewell collected two hits and two RBI, including his sixth home run of the season on a solo shot in the sixth inning. Hector Crespo and Tyler Zupcic also collected two hits. For Ryan Arrowood (9-0, 3.66), it was his fourth no decision of the season and he threw 100 pitches or more in his third consecutive start. Arrowood has also lowered his ERA in six straight starts. Arrowood only managed two strikeouts for the game, his lowest total of the season.
ASU Sr. RHP Seth Grant (6-2, 3.08) vs. SU Sr. RHP Josh Martin (9-1, 3.42)
Since Samford’s bullpen gave Appalachian the win in the first game of the doubleheader, it was only fair for the Mountaineers to return the favor. Seth Grant pitched seven innings, only giving up four hits, but managed to find himself with his fourth consecutive no decision. Appalachian needed five pitchers in the eighth inning to retire Samford. The Bulldogs recorded five of their nine hits in the eighth and also took advantage of a two out walk to score four runs, which provided the final margin, giving Samford a 4-2 win.
Appalachian could only manage five hits and two runs against Samford starter Josh Martin, who went the distance to earn the complete game. Martin threw 120 pitches, striking out six Mountaineers and only walking one. Appalachian scored their two runs on Martin in the first inning when Crespo and Zupcic led off the game with singles. Callaway was able to reach base after a throwing error which scored Crespo and allowed Zupcic to advance to third base. Daniel Kassouf grounded into a double play, but Zupcic scored on the play. Four of the five Mountaineer hits came from its top three batters in the lineup. Appalachian scored two runs or less for only the fifth time all season and fell to 1-4 in those games.
ASU Jr. LHP Rob Marcello (6-3, 4.04) vs. SU Sr. RHP Kyle Putkonen (2-5, 5.85)
In the all important rubber match, Appalachian took advantage of nine free passes and twelve hits to hold off Samford for a 9-7 win. The Mountaineers were able to chase Samford starter Kyle Putkonen after only three innings, where he allowed five hits and three runs. For the third straight game, an Appalachian starting pitcher did not garner a decision, the first instance all season. Rob Marcello was able to get through 4.2 innings, but allowed nine hits and issued four walks.
Jeremy Dowdy might have broken his slump as he hit a two-run home run in the second inning. Dowdy exited in the fifth inning in what appears to be a move to rest him, considering catching a doubleheader the previous day. Hector Crespo, Will Callaway, Daniel Kassouf and Tyler Tewell all collected two hits each. Callaway, Kassouf and Tewell all recorded their 15th double of the season. Jamie Nunn (5-0) picked up the win in relief despite allowing two runs. Tyler Moore recorded his first save of the season, the only save not recorded by Nathan Hyatt this season.
With the series win, Appalachian eliminated Samford from conference title contention. Elon still has an outside chance if they were to sweep Citadel next weekend, Appalachian were to be swept by Western Carolina, and Charleston were to be swept by Greensboro. The likelihood of that happening is very slim, but its a possibility. Most importantly, Appalachian moved its magic number to two. The Mountaineers need a combination of wins or Charleston losses to clinch its first conference title since in twenty five years. Furman remains in eighth place, and would be Appalachian’s first round opponent if the conference tournament were to start today. Furman holds a one game lead over Greensboro for the final tournament spot and can clinch that spot with two wins over Davidson, as it holds the tiebreaker over Greensboro.