An eleventh inning solo home run by Michael Pierson was the difference on Wednesday afternoon as Appalachian State beat Georgia Southern 3-2 in the first round of the 2014 SoCon Baseball Tournament.
For the second time in as many games, the Mountaineers used a ninth inning rally to extend the game, as they trailed by a run going into the final frame. Last Saturday, Appalachian trailed Furman by a run going to the ninth and used a walk off base hit by senior Tyler Zupcic to win and set up the matchup with the Eagles. Appalachian was 0-28 on the season when trailing after 8 innings, but have now managed to come from behind in their last two games.
Appalachian was kept off the board until the top of the seventh inning. Michael Pierson led off the inning with a single and eventually advanced to third base after a couple of Eagles wild pitches. With two outs, Georgia Southern pulled their starter, and SoCon pitcher of the year Josh Wirsu in the middle of Jaylin Davis’ at bat. The sophomore centerfielder was unfazed as he slapped a base hit up the middle to score Pierson.
The ninth inning began with with Preston Troutman reaching second base on an a throwing error. It was the only error in the game, and the Eagles paid for it. Pierson advanced Troutman with a grounder to the right side of the infield. One batter later, Dillon Dobson smashed a single through the left side with two outs to tie the game at two.
Both teams squandered chances to score runs in the tenth inning which set the stage for Pierson in the eleventh. Pierson curled a 1-1 pitch pitch off the foul pole in right field. At Joe Riley Park, the right field line is measured at 337 feet and the wind was blowing in from right field for most of the game. Pierson hit the ball to perhaps the most difficult part of the park for the winning run.
Both teams got excellent pitching from their starters despite neither factoring into the decision. Tyler Moore went eight innings only surrendering two runs on five hits, and walking none, Moore threw 91 pitches, which is a perfectly low count for a tournament format. Moore can be used later in the tournament should the Mountaineers advance. Robert Whaley picked up his third win of the year on thirty pitches and will most likely be unavailable on Thursday.
Appalachian was also the benefactor of great defense. Tyler Stroup made two great catches in the game, saving extra base hits. In the first inning, Stroup caught a ball as he collided with the left field wall nearly simultaneously. Stroup also made a diving catch in the ninth inning that would have given Georgia Southern a runner in scoring position had the play not been made. Jaylin Davis doubled up Georgia Southern in the tenth inning with two runners on base. Davis made the catch on the run and fooled the Eagle runner on second base, making the catch look easy. Davis then fired the throw behind the runner whose late slide was not in time to beat the throw.
Appalachian will now face Furman, who they played last weekend to advance in the winners bracket. A win would give Appalachian a day off on Friday, while the loser will play the winner of Georgia Southern and Western Carolina on Friday. Being a team without a tourney loss on Saturday would force the winner of the losers bracket to beat that team twice on Saturday to advance to the title game on Sunday.