For a team that was predicted to finish in the middle of the Southern Conference at the beginning of the season, the results can be viewed from an outsider as one of an overachieving team. For baseball purists, any team that can win a title in the country’s eighth ranked conference by RPI, is a sign of a good team, not an overachieving one.
The Appalachian baseball gained their notoriety very early in the season. Appalachian started their season at the Elon Tournament, which was needed after St. Peter’s backed out of a series that was to be played in Forest City, NC. Appalachian fell to a somewhat unknown George Mason team in a 2-1 pitching duel. Mason finished their regular season at 33-22 and fourth place in the CAA. Appalachian then swept a doubleheader over Akron the following day. The first true road series came at nationally ranked Louisiana State. Heading into that series, winning one game was considered an accomplishment. The Mountaineers had other plans, winning the series with brilliant pitching performances from Ryan Arrowood and Rob Marcello. After leaving Baton Rouge, Appalachian was 4-2 and suddenly was being noticed by every major baseball outlet.
The Mountaineers followed the wins in Baton Rouge with ten straight victories, including two wins over Duke and series sweep of Davidson to start conferrence play. Next up, the 14-2 Mountaineers visited another nationally ranked program in South Carolina. Appalachian started the first inning with two home runs and four runs. Eventually, errors led to the Mountaineers misfortune and they fell 6-4. It was a quality loss, but one they felt like they gave away. Appalachian followed the loss to the Gamecocks with a home sweep of The Citadel before hitting the road for their first road conference series.
It was the Elon series where some trends for this team started to take place. Appalachian was 17-3 at this point in the season. In the three losses, Appalachian had commited 6 errors. At Elon, Appalachian faced a weather delay in the Friday game, committed three errors and lost 10-8. Appalachian won on Saturday, but lost on Sunday. At that point, their record was 18-5, and the Mountaineers had committed 10 errors in their five losses. Appalachian then won six of their next seven games, the only loss coming at home to College of Charleston. Once again, two errors were commited in that loss. However, the series victory over Charleston was another huge addition to the Mountaineers season resume.
Standing at 24-6, Appalachian was ranked for the first time by several baseball publications before heading to Gardner Webb for non-conference action. To this point of the season, Appalachian had a very clean record, without any bad losses. They were doing what they were supposed to, beating everyone that they should have beaten. However, the error bug once again bit Appalachian, as they committed a season high five errors in a 6-3 loss. Appalachian followed the midweek loss with a series loss to Georgia Southern on the road, including another game where four errors were committed. The error trend started to rear its ugly head. Pitching had been great, but the defense was suprisingly unreliable. It was a mental thing. Appalachian could go a couple games without an error, but when the first one occurred, it usually opened the flood gates.
After the 1-3 week, Appalachian fell out of the rankings. It was the first occurrence on the season of being ranked, and laying the proverbial egg the following week. Appalachian then rang off seven more victories in a row, which included a home sweep of Furman and a road sweep of Wofford. Appalachian was ranked again and then fell on the road at East Tennessee State. It was Appalachian’s second “bad loss” of the season and the scenario of being ranked and falling short of expectations had happened again.
Appalachian went into the home series against UNC-Greensboro really needing a sweep with two road series looming on the horizon. The Mountaineers opened the series with two one-run wins, but fell in the finale. It was another series where errors came into play, but in a different matter. Appalachian commited four in the first two games, but won in each case. In the third game, it was a single situational error that led to the loss. At that point, the Mountaineers had given a game back to Charleston, and could not afford any mistakes heading into their final two series.
Appalachian went to Samford needing wins and they got them with a series win. The error trend was starting to reverse itself once again. Four errors were commited in the wins, and none were commited in the loss. However, Appalachian’s magic number was lowered to two in order to clinch a share of the conference title. Surprisingly, the Mountaineers were ranked going into the final weekend, something not many were expecting. It seems the ranking may gotten in the players heads once again. Weather was also an issue for the final series at Western Carolina. Appalachian was shut out in six innings in the first game which was suspended until the following day due to weather. Appalachian came out swinging the final three innings, but it was not enough to pull off the win. The second was game also delayed due to weather. During the second game, Appalachian learned that Charleston had lost to Greensboro and only needed a win to clinch the title. Appalachian scored five runs in their final at bat and clinched the conference title in dramatic fashion. The Mountianeers lost the finale, another game where an error played a huge part of the final score.
Most likely, Appalachian will not be ranked heading into the conference tournament, which might be a good thing. At no point in the season did the Mountaineers play well with that distinction. Weather had broken up Appalachian’s rhythm most of the season. A total of four weekend series were affected by weather and four midweek games were cancelled due to downpours. The weather in Greenville for the conference tournament is expected to be warm and rain does not appear to be in play as of yet. Earning the top seed, Appalachian will have the most friendly start times for most games if they can remain in the winners bracket. Appalachian does have an advantage of playing in bigger venues this season, with their series at LSU, and midweek games at South Carolina and Duke, which was played in the Durham Bulls Park. Barring a total meltdown, Appalachian is most likely in the NCAA tournament without an automatic bid, but this week will determine where Appalachian is sent and what seed they are given in a regional. There is a huge difference between being a two seed and a three seed. A two seed usually means a short distance to travel, and being the home team in your first regional game, where the three seed can be sent packing on a long trip.