SoCon Tourney: Apps hold on in extra innings

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.

One more month of baseball…

The headline makes it sound like a depressing post that dreads the end of the season, but it is exactly the opposite. There are a minimum of sixteen games remaining, including two games in the SoCon Tournament, but hopefully there are more. Dreams of an at large bid in the NCAA tournament are just that, not only for Appalachian, but for the entire SoCon. The league will have one representative this year and it will all come down to Memorial Day weekend in Charleston, SC. Although a couple schools have created breathing room in the conference standings, there is not a clear favorite to win in May.

Davidson, who the Mountaineers host this weekend, has been in control for the majority of the conference slate. The Wildcats maintain a four game cushion over the Mountaineers, but there is only a three game difference in the loss column. Positioning is key for the Mountaineers for the SoCon tournament. A sweep by either team this weekend in Boone will be big for the tournament. Appalachian has yet to sweep or be swept by any SoCon school this season. However, the Mountaineer bats are coming alive in their last sixteen games, averaging over seven runs per contest. In the Mountaineers first twenty three games, the Apps failed to score ten or more runs in a game. In the last sixteen games, the Apps have hit double digits in runs in six games.

Even with a more explosive hitting attack, the Mountaineers have been without one of their stars in Dillon Dobson who has had shoulder soreness for several weeks now. Billy Jones has juggled the batting order, but it has worked to their advantage. Five different players have taken their turns swinging the bat efficiently including three who are over .300 on the season. Freshman Matt Brill is currently batting .371 with three home runs. Tyler Stroup has been a nice surprise playing left field, batting .303, with two-thirds of hits being singles on the season. Michael Pierson is batting .309 with five home runs and twenty RBI. Pierson leads the team in hits, walks and total bases and is tied for the team lead in runs scored.

A more important key to Appalachian success this weekend against Davidson is the pitching staff. The weekend rotation of Jamie Nunn, Tyler Moore and Jeffrey Springs has been incredibly solid of late. Nunn has been abused by bad luck the most this season, but his last two starts have been very promising. Tyler Moore has been the biggest surprise of them all. Moore can throw forever, and leads the team with four complete games and sports an 8-2 record with a 3.08 ERA. Sunday starter Jeffrey Springs leads the team in with five starts resulting in a no decision. Springs leads the team in strikeouts despite one fewer start than Nunn and Moore. Assuming 27 innings are played this weekend, Appalachian needs the starters to pitch at least 20-22 innings. The bullpen is limited and cannot be relied on to carry the team.

Davidson has only played two games in the last eleven days, having been victimized by weather with three rain outs. The Wildcats are 3-3 in their last six games and their last three Friday night games have all been decided by one run. Should be a great series to watch in Boone as weather does not seem to be a threat to cancel any games.


Baseball struggles continue

Through forty-one games, the Mountaineer baseball team has experienced a season up high highs and low lows. The traditional wording sounds something like, “an up and down season”, but those words do not explain the roller coaster ride the season has been. Wins are rarely convincing in the past month, and the losses are extremely are extremely brutal. Unfortunately, there are several areas of the game where this team needs to improve, and they are running out of games. For several weeks, it was obvious any postseason play would hinge solely on the conference tournament. The conference as a whole is weaker than last year, and it appears only one team will play baseball into June.

The most glaring of weaknesses is the lack on consistent pitching throughout an entire weekend series. You can’t ask for much more from Jamie Nunn on Friday nights. Nunn is 8-3 on the season, leading the conference in wins, and is fourth in total ERA. Nunn leads all SoCon pitchers in innings pitched. If there is a team MVP for the season award, Nunn is certainly worthy of that billing.

The real issues regarding the pitching staff, is the uncertainty in what kind of starts you are going to get from the Sam Agnew-Wieland and Jeffrey Srpings. Agnew-Wieland recorded back to back complete game shutouts over a month ago, but has been struggling since then. It was seemed to good to be be true, and Sam has currently returned back to earth. Springs has been a mess as well. With your third starter, you would like to think you can get more than four innings a game. Springs has started nine games this season, and appeared in relief on three occasions, and has only recorded 43.2 innings pitched. Springs and Agnew-Wieland have given up the exact same number of runs, unearned, yet Springs has pitched 22 fewer innings.

Another glaring sore spot with the pitching is that first year head coach Billy Jones has had a real difficulty in deciding when to pull a pitcher from a game. Jones has a tendency to allow a pitcher to work through the troubles that he created, or the defense creates for him. From a fan perspective, Jones is slow to make the change, where Chris Pollard, the previous head coach, was well known for a very quick decision to replace a pitcher. To experience one extreme to another has been frustrating for all parties involved.

Finally, a result of short appearances from your starters, a first year head coach, and an inexperienced bullpen is the number of runs surrendered, and how often those runs are scored. Your opponents are going to score, but limiting those opportunities is what decided the difference between a win and a loss. On too many occasions this season, most recently against East Tennessee State on Wednesday, Appalachian has given up five runs in a single inning to their opponent. It has happened eight times, and Appalachian’s record in those games is 0-7. The Mountaineers are 24-17 on the season, and if they could only manage to limit those five run innings, their record could would be much better. Imagine how different we would feel about this team if they could add a couple more wins, and take some of those losses away. Imagine being 27-14. That is not a lot to ask for.

This season is certainly not finished. There are ten games remaining, and getting to 30 wins will not be easy. That would require six wins against the top two teams in the conference in Elon and Western Carolina, a three games series against West Coast conference leader Gonzaga, and a single game against North Carolina, who has the best record in college baseball at 41-4. Despite an extra challenging end of the season, it might be what the Mountaineers need. They have been a team this season that has played up, or down, to its competition, and perhaps the tough schedule at the end of the regular season can propel this team to a deep run in the SoCon tournament.

Baseball adds series win over Ga Southern, midweek win at UNC-A

Jamie Nunn continued his consistent pitching with another strong 7 innings as the Mountaineers took game one from Georgia Southern on Friday evening 9-5. Nunn was once again over 100 pitches, and did walk four batters. He found trouble in the third inning, an inning that has become a weak spot for every Appalachian pitcher this season. Nunn allowed all four of his earned runs in the third inning. Despite the free passes, Nunn was able to improve to 6-2 on the season.

Appalachian worked the Georgia Southern pitching staff for fifteen hits. Jaylin Davis led the way with four hits and three RBI while Will Callaway added two hits and five RBI. Noah Holnes drove in the other Mountaineer run, giving the 3-4-5 hitters all of Appalachian’s RBI on the day. Josh Wilson and Taylor Thurber finished off the game allowing only two hits.

After twenty-two combined hits on Friday, App and Southern combined for only seven on Saturday afternoon in front of a record crowd at Beaver Field. Sam Agnew-Wieland gave the record crowd a show, allowing only two hits, while throwing a second complete game shutout in a week. Sam has been given several nicknames, from “Hyphen” to “Hacksaw”. The nickname of the week is Hacksaw, or Hack for short. Hack only needed 102 pitches, throwing 69 for strikes to complete the shutout.

Fortunately, for Appalachian, Hack was on fire when the Appalachian offense took a day off. The Mountaineers only had five hits, but made the most of them, scoring two runs. Will Callaway continued his hot streak with three hits. If there is one negative about Hack going nine innings, is that the Mountaineers young pitching staff is kept off the field to experience game situations.

Speaking of the young and inexperienced pitching staff, they showed their true colors in a back and forth game in which Appalachian was going for the sweep. Jeffrey Springs continues to have trouble making it deep in games, as he was able to get through 4.1  innings with his 86 pitches. Taylor Thurber came on for his usual long Sunday relief spot, but also struggled, giving up four hits in his two innings. Josh Wilson held the lead, striking out four of the five batters he faced before handing the ball over to Rob Marcello for the save with a two run lead. Marcello faced four batters. He hit one of them with a pitch and gave up three hits. Marcello was not able to retire a batter, which led to his second blown save of the season. The previous blown save came against Cornell, when Marcello gave up five runs in the top of the ninth.

From this point on, Appalachian would hit the road for a nine game stretch, including two SoCon series at UNCG and The Citadel. Greensboro is 4-8 in conference play while The Citadel is 6-6. A couple of series wins would be good for the Mountaineers, but however they came, four conference wins are needed in this stretch.

Against UNC-Asheville on Tuesday night, the Mountaineers pounded out fourteen hits, but left thirteen runners on base before eventually rallying for a 6-3 win over the Bulldogs. Chad Farmer got the start, and he has been sharing a very similar look to his outings as Springs has this season. Getting four or five innings this season from either one has been a blessing, but it comes with its adventures. Farmer was rolling along into the third inning before giving up a three run home run. The home run was all the runs Farmer allowed in his 4.1 innings while he struck out five batters. Tyler Moore would allow the tying run to come to the plate for Asheville in the ninth inning before giving way to Josh Wilson, who got the final out and his first save of the season.

The Mountaineers are now 18-10 on the season, and 8-6 in SoCon play. The remaining conference schedule is a combined 39-33 in league play, but the heavy hitters have to come to Boone while the weaker opponents are on the road. Prior to the season, we thought an 18-12 conference record was where this team would finish, and that seems to be on target for now. Considering three road conference series were played in the first half of the conference season, that number could inflate. Keep in mind, the cancelled game at College of Charleston will have huge implications on the conference tournament seeding. Currently, the top seven teams in the conference standings are separated by only three games.

Baseball wins series over Wofford

First off, a little housekeeping. I have been away for a couple weeks for a variety of reasons. The basketball season can get long, and I just needed a break after starting a new job in December. The slower start than some expected by the baseball season, coupled with the typically late Boone winter, provided some low moments. Winter seems to be over, and a more consistent baseball season appears to be on the horizon. Without any hesitation, I am back.

In game one of the series, the Mountaineers ran into a veteran pitcher from Wofford in Brandon Yarusi who won his first game of the season pitching the full nine innings. Yarusi used 120 pitches to strike out nine Mountaineers, while only walking one batter and giving up only four hits.

Jamie Nunn was moving along nicely until the fifth inning on Friday night. Nunn walked three batters in the inning. Wofford would record four hits, three singles and a double en route to scoring five runs in the frame. The five run inning has hurt the Mountaineers all season long, and this one would eventually do the Mountaineers in. Nunn fell to 5-2 while his ERA jumped up to 3.45 on the season.

In game two, Sam Agnew-Wieland countered Yarusi with a complete game of his own. The Hyphen struck out ten batters, yielding only five hits and walking only two. Along with sending ten Wofford batters straight from the batters box to the dugout, Wieland also forced twelve groundouts and only three fly balls. The infield did a great job behind him, completing the game without an error while also converting two double plays.

Game three was the typical rubber match as both teams combined for eleven of the games thirteen runs during the second, third and fourth innings. Appalachian edged Wofford in the bottom of the ninth with a walkoff win to take game 7-6, and the series two games to one.

Appalachian recorded ten hits on Sunday afternoon and eleven on Saturday, which led to both of their wins. When the bats are creating opportunities and giving their pitchers leads, this team can be successful. When this team struggles is when they fall behind on the scoreboard and start pressing. It is obvious that Appalachian is missing Alex Leach right now, he continues to work back into the lineup from his concussion he suffered in Georgia. Even though Leach has been out of the lineup, Appalachian has managed to stay in the SoCon race.

Six teams are separated by only 2.5 games with Georgia Southern leading the conference at 9-3. Elon comes in second at 10-5, having played one more series than the rest of the conference. Charleston sits at 7-4, while Western Carolina comes in at 7-5, followed by Appalachian at 6-5. The Mountaineers and Charleston have played one less game as their rubber match was cancelled due to rain last weekend. Georgia Southern visits Boone this weekend after losing a series to Greensboro last weekend. The Eagles also face a midweek test on the road at Jacksonville before making their way back to the mountain this weekend. The Eagles could be road weary, and this a big spot for Appalachian. In the meantime, Appalachian will hit the road to Richmond for a game against Eastern Kentucky on Tuesday. The Colonels have lost seven in a row and are 5-18 on the season.

Baseball (9-5) hosts defending Ivy League champ Cornell

After splitting a midweek set of games to Georgia, Appalachian returns back home to the friendly turf at Beaver Field after nearly a three week layoff. The Mountaineers have not played at home since February 27th, a win over High Point. The Mountaineers have struggled on the mound recently, as the back half of their weekend starters have had trouble going deep in games.

Jamie Nunn has been solid all season, but Jeffrey Springs and Sam Agnew-Wieland have been erratic, combining for six appearances that have lasted fewer than five innings, compared to only three starts going six innings or more. Both of their earned run averages are well over 5.00, but somehow have managed a 4-2 combined record. They have also combined to hit nine batters and have given up five runs on three occasions. Before conference play, at least one of them has to get their act together for Appalachian to contend in conference play.

Cornell has played eight games thus far this season, going 4-4 against non baseball powers. The Big Red have been a team that has played a lot of small ball this season. Cornell has yet to register a triple or a home run and only fourteen of their sixty-two hits are for doubles. Appalachian has already registered  52 extra base hits, including 16 home runs and 33 doubles. The big key in this game will be the pitching. Appalachian always swing the bat well at home and usually puts up plenty of runs, but will it be enough to back up the damage that Springs and Agnew-Wieland will give up? Cornell’s pitchers have not pitched a lot this season, having only played eight games and Beaver Field offers a differnt dynamic for any opposing team.

First pitch for the Saturday’s doubleheader is set for 1pm, while the third game of the series will also get started at 1pm on Sunday.


Furman edges App Baseball in Game 1

It was a rough night for the Appalachian battery in what turned out to be a pitchers duel in Greenville as the Paladins won the first game of the series 3-1. The Mountaineers outhit Furman 10-7, but could not get the clutch hit that would send runners across the plate. Appalachian stranded ten runners for the game, five in the final two at bats, and six in their last four innings. The bottom third of the Mountaineer lineup was a combined 0/10 at the plate, outside of a pinch hit by Dillon Dobson. Noah Holmes was granted a night to be the designated hitter while Dobson was slumping, keeping William Head at third base. Holmes batted fifth in the lineup, pushing Jaylin Davis down to sixth spot.

Jamie Nunn (3-1, 2.00) was good enough on the mound to keep the Mountaineers in striking distance, but did not receive any support on offense, or behind him in the field. The Mountaineers committed two errors on the night, one from Will Callaway and another from Jaylon Davis. Nunn pitched seven innings, adding six strikeouts, and twelve ground outs while throwing 98 pitches. Tyler Moore worked the eighth inning on 14 pitches, but did strikeout two batters. The loss was Nunn’s first since a relief effort against Western Carolina last season.

Baseball visits Furman for first place

It is extremely early in the season, only the second conference series for both teams, but Furman has made its presence known early in the season. The Paladins are fresh off of a series win over Elon where the Paladins crushed Elon in their two wins, scoring ten runs in both games. Even more impressive was that the series was played at Elon. Furman then went on to win two games at usually strong Coastal Carolina in the midweek. The Chanticleers are now only 4-8 this season, but have lost to North Carolina, Kentucky, Elon, and NC State. Coastal’s record may not look great, but those are some good baseball programs they lost to. Furman’s other losses are to Gardner-Webb and South Carolina. Seems to me that Furman is legit, and this series will be huge in determining the SoCon race.

Furman was predicted to finish 7th in the SoCon by the coaches and 8th by the media, so this record is a surprise to everyone in the SoCon world. This is best start to a season for Furman since 2001. Last year, Appalachian had one of its best weekends of the season against Furman in a Friday game and Saturday doubleheader. The Mountaineers outscored Furman 34-7 in those three games, with the Mountaineers scoring fourteen runs in two of those games.


Baseball (7-2, 2-1) wins series over Davidson

Reminder: Baseball updates will be abbreviated until after the SoCon Basketball Tournament concludes this weekend in Asheville.

Game One:

Appalachian opened its conference schedule with a 4-1 win over Davidson on the road. Jamie Nunn continued his strong start to the season, keeping Davidson off balance over seven strong innings. Nunn scattered five hits and struck out eight Wildcat batters, while walking three batters. Nunn is now 3-0 on the season, pitching 20 innings and striking out 19 to only five walks.

William Head, who has assumed the starting role at third base, picked up two hits as did Alex Leach. The corner infielders also picked all three of the Mountaineers RBI in the game. Jaylin Davis and Preston Troutman walked twice each. Taylor Thurber pitched a scoreless eighth inning and Rob Marcello picked up his fourth save of the season.

Game Two:

Appalachian carried a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning before falling in the final at bat to Davidson. Billy Jones made his first mistake as coach by leaving in Josh Wilson for what was going to be a three inning save. The Mountaineers could only retire one batter in the bottom of the ninth as Davidson produced three runs and three hits while capitalizing on two Mountaineer errors.

Jeffrey Springs pitched well enough to win despite giving up nine hits to the Wildcats. Springs struck out six batters in six innings, but had to work for it as he threw a season high 108 pitches for the game. Wilson was relieved by Thurber in the ninth, but the damage was done, as all runs were charged to Wilson.

Appalachian had six hits in the game, but no Mountaineer collected multiple hits in the game. In all, the Mountaineers struck out ten times for the game. This was a winnable game for Appalachian, even with the offense scoring their fewest runs of the season in their second loss.

Game Three:

Appalachian woke up on Sunday morning and made up for lost time from Saturday. After only accumulating six hits on Saturday, the Mountaineers pounded out 15 hits and exploded for ten runs. The Mountaineers bolted out to a 7-0 lead and never really looked back. The Mountaineers did get into a small jam in the eighth inning, where they led 10-4, but were able get out of a bases loaded jam against the Wildcats.

Sam Agnew-Wieland (3-0, 4.82 ERA) pitched seven innings striking out eight while walking one. The “Hyphen” was also wild on occasion as he hit two batters and had two wild pitches. Luckily the offense built enough of a lead for those statistics to become moot this time around. Ryne Frankoff made his first appearance of the season and gave up a run in the eighth inning. Tyler Moore threw six pitches in the ninth inning and was rewarded with three easy groundouts.

C-Notes: Appalachian has stolen 22 bases this season, with Hector Crespo tying a school record on Sunday with his 85th career stolen base…..Both Mountaineer third baseman are batting over .380…..William Head is second on the team batting .440 while Noah Holmes is batting .381….DH Dillon Dobson may lose some AB’s to Holmes as he is batting a team low .156…Appalachian failed to hit a home run against Davidson


Baseball now 5-1 after late rally vs. High Point

Southpaw Chad Farmer will make his first start on Wednesday afternoon against High Point. This will be Farmer’s third career start and his first since his freshman year in 2011. Coincidentally, Farmer’s first career loss came to High Point. Farmer has primarily been a long reliever throughout his career, mostly being used when the Mountaineers were trailing in games. Farmer only pitched 15.1 innings last season, all of them coming out of the bullpen.

High Point starter Ryan Retz was scheduled to start against the Mountaineers last season off the mountain, but that game was a complete washout that was never made up. Retz works mainly as the High Point first baseman, where he is one of the leading batters on the team. Retz has yet to pitch yet this season.

This game pits a battle of two different styles, as High Point has used small ball thus far this season to lead them to five wins, while Appalachian has become a team of bomb squaders, already with ten home runs on the season in only five games. Appalachian has six regulars currently batting over .300 while seven different Mountaineers have hit a home run this season, led by Alex Leach, Jaylin Davis and Preston Troutman with two home runs each.


Chad Farmer struggled from the start, giving up six hits and only striking out two batters through the first three innings before he was relieved by Josh Wilson out of the bullpen. Wilson came in a held the Mountaineers close until the bats warmed up in the eighth inning. Wilson only gave up two hits in four complete innings and is credited with his first win of the season. Once the Mountaineers tied the game in the seventh, Taylor Thurber came on and retired the side.

High point scored four runs in the first three innings, taking a 4-1 lead after the third inning and holding onto it until the home half of the seventh. High scored in the first and second innings on back to back lead off doubles to start both innings. Appalachian scored in the third inning on a slew of fielders choice plays by High Point.

Appalachian used a triple by Alex Leach, a double by Josh Zumbrook and a sacrifce fly by Will Callaway to draw even with High Point in the seventh inning. High Point used three pitchers in the inning. In the eighth, Jaylin Davis was hit in the head by a pitch and gave way for Thomas Kincaid to pinch run with one out. A single by Hector Crespo and a fly out by William Head put runners on the corners for Alex Leach. As he has done all year long, Leach came through in the clutch, delivering a two out double to left field that easily scored Head and the speedy Crespo to give Appalachian its first lead of the game

The ninth inning was left for Rob Marcello who retired the side in order on a pair of ground outs and a strikeout to end the game. Marcello picked up his third save in only the sixth game for Appalachian. Alex Leach drove in four Mountaineer runs, giving him twelve on the season. Leach is the first Mountaineer with ten hits this season. His ten hits break down to 5 doubles, 2 home runs, 2 singles and one triple. His slugging percentage is a ridiculous .958.

Conference season starts this weekend as the Mountaineers visit Davidson for a three game set.