Record-Setting Season Comes to an End at the Hands of Oklahoma

Photo from GoASU.com
After defeating Oklahoma and home-standing Virginia in the first two games of the Charlottesville Regional, Appalachian saw their 2012 Cinderella run come to an end after being swept in a double-header for the first time all season by the Oklahoma Sooners. After Appalachian jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the first inning of game one, the Sooners stormed back to pound out 14 runs on 13 hits to claim a 14-6 victory and force an elimination game with a trip to the Columbia Super Regional on the line.

The Mountaineers struck first for the second time on Monday as they plated a first inning run on a Daniel Kassouf double. However, as was the case all afternoon, the Sooners answered right back with a 3-run bottom half of the first that was capped off by a two-run double that fell off the glove of left fielder Brandon Burris and would have represented the final out of the frame. That would prove to be enough as the Apps plated one more run in the 6th but could not overcome a great pitching performance by Oklahoma starter Drew Harrison, who was making his first career start and went six innings, surrendering only 3 hits and 2 runs. While ASU battled and got men on base, they stranded seven men and never came up with the timely hits needed to cash in a big inning and put the pressure on Oklahoma, who displayed the poise you would expect from a program that made the 2011 Super Regionals and a trip to Omaha in 2010.

Despite the disappointing finish that saw Appalachian forced into a double-header by inclement weather on Friday, the Mountaineer baseball program took another significant step forward this season as the team etched their names all over the ASU record book. The 2012 Appalachian baseball team set the program record for wins with a final record of 41-18, won ASU's first regular season SoCon championship since 1987, made their first NCAA Regional appearance since 1986 and won their first games in NCAA tournament competition since 1973. There were also individual marks set as Ryan Arrowood will graduate as the program's all-time leader in wins (28) and strikeouts (252). In his undefeated 11-0 senior campaign, Ryan also set the single-season strikeout record with 93. Single-season records were also set by Daniel Kassouf with 17 home runs and Nathan Hyatt with 16 saves.

As is typically the case with sports fans, the sting of a season-ending loss quickly turns to looking ahead to next year. For head coach Chris Pollard and the Mountaineers, the future is bright in Boone. This season has been a great ride for ASU fans and it really exemplifies how far Coach Pollard has taken this program. When he took this job, ASU was coming off of a 10-win campaign in 2004 and sat at 10 wins again in 2005. After improving to 24 wins in 2006, the Mountaineers put together five consecutive 30-win seasons from 2007-2011 and turned the corner in 2012 to reach the 40-win plateau in a year where the SoCon was as strong as ever, putting three teams into the NCAA tournament. With the new baseball facilities on campus and the steady hand of Chris Pollard at the helm, there is quite simply a different caliber player signing to play baseball at ASU than in years past and the cupboard is far from bare even with the accomplished senior class that will depart.

The most significant losses on the mound will be starting pitchers Ryan Arrowood and Seth Grant. The void in the starting rotation will likely be filled by incumbent starter Rob Marcello, Jeffrey Springs, Jamie Nunn and a decorated freshman class that includes highly sought-after starting pitcher Blake Burkett from Cumming,GA who was recruited by Georgia, Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Auburn and Navy before deciding on Appalachian. Springs and Nunn showed flashes of their potential as relievers and mid-week starters in their freshman campaigns. Both young men were ranked among the top 35 prep players in North Carolina's 2011 high school senior class and have the ability to fight for spots in the weekend rotation for years to come. Mountaineer fans will also have one more year of fireballer Nathan Hyatt to look forward to, as he figures to return and hold down the back end of the bullpen unless he decides to forgo his senior season for the MLB draft, which seems unlikely.

At the plate and in the field, designated hitter Daniel Kassouf, first baseman Trey Holmes and catcher Jeremy Dowdy will all be lost to graduation. However, ASU will return 4 of the top 5 hitters in the batting order as Hector Crespo, Tyler Zupcic, Will Calloway and Tyler Tewell will all return for their final season in the black and gold. The likely replacement at first base will be rising sophomore Alex Leach, who had a decorated prep career for Ardrey Kell High School in Charlotte's Southwest 4-A conference, traditionally one of the strongest in the state. While Trey Holmes' defensive prowess will be hard to duplicate, he will provide the Apps with another power bat from the left side. Brandon Burris figures to be in the permanent outfield rotation in 2013, after batting .358 in 24 starts during his freshman campaign. In order to make room for him, the coaches will have a choice to make as Tyler Tewell may slide into the starting catcher's role unless someone else steps up in the offseason to fill Dowdy's shoes.

While I share in the disappointment of losing consecutive games to end what was an amazing and enjoyable 2012 campaign, I am very proud of our the strides that our program has made and am excited for the future of Mountaineer baseball. As anyone who has attended an ASU game this year and interacted with our players can attest, these are not only high-quality baseball players but great young men that we can all be proud of. I offer my congratulations to Coach Pollard, the seniors and everyone involved with ASU baseball on an excellent season. They have instilled a much-needed boost of Mountaineer pride into a fan base that was frustrated by our 2011 football season and the never-ending rollercoaster of conference realignment. Along with their on-field accomplishments, they have earned a bevy of new fans for ASU baseball and put a buzz on the mountain during the spring and summer months.


Mountaineers Hit the Road With an Eye On the SoCon Title

Ryan Arrowood - From GoASU.com
Coming off of a huge series win on the road over the Samford Bulldogs and exacting a measure of revenge with a 5-3 triumph in Tuesday's home finale over Gardner-Webb, Coach Pollard and the Mountaineers (37-12, 20-7 SoCon) hit the road this week to wrap up the regular season at long-time rival Western Carolina (30-21, 14-13 SoCon). Taking 2 of 3 in Birmingham eliminated the Bulldogs from contention for the regular season Southern Conference championship and dropped Appalachian's magic number to 2 entering the final conference series of the year. The wins over Samford gained even more significance on Tuesday, as the Bulldogs defeated #5 Florida 12-7 and opened the door to the possibility that the SoCon could earn 3 bids to the NCAA tournament.

Trailing the Mountaineers in the standings is College of Charleston, who is one game behind ASU with a 19-8 conference mark. Charleston will visit UNC Greensboro for a 3-game series this weekend. However, Appalachian owns the tie breaker after taking the series from the Cougars last month at Smith Stadium. With 2 wins in Cullowhee, the Apps are guaranteed at least a share of the regular season title and the top seed in next week's tournament. Elon is also yet to be mathematically eliminated from title contention, as they sit at 17-10 in conference play. In order for the Phoenix to take the regular season championship, they must sweep The Citadel and hope for 2 Charleston losses and a sweep for the Catamounts.

Due to the start of next week's SoCon tournament in Greenville on Wednesday, all conference series are being pushed forward one day and running Thursday through Sunday to give the teams an extra day of rest to prepare for a long weekend of baseball. Taking the hill for Appalachian will be the normal weekend rotation of Ryan Arrowood, Seth Grant and Rob Marcello. Western Carolina has been a tough team to figure out this season, as they have lost 4 of their last 5 ballgames, including a surprising 11-5 defeat at home last night to a Winthrop team who is currently 16-33 overall and near the bottom of the Big South. However, WCU boasts a series win at Elon, a win over the Georgia Bulldogs and two victories over Clemson.

There is no question that Appalachian will get Western's best shot this weekend, as they would like nothing more than the spoil the championship hopes of their hated rival. The pressure will be squarely in the corner of the Mountaineers, as the Catamounts have been eliminated from title contention but have secured a spot in the 8-team field next week. Along with the accomplishment of winning their first regular season championship since 1987, seeding in next week's tournament will have an effect on scheduling. If Appalachian secures the top seed, they will begin play next Wednesday at 5:00 PM. However, if they fall to the second spot, first pitch will be at 10:00 AM. The later start would provide extra time to prepare and the chance to keep a regular routine, as well as allow time for the Appalachian fans in the area to make the trip down to Greenville. The stakes of this weekend's series are not lost on Coach Pollard or the team and I expect ASU to counter every punch they receive from the Catamounts.

My prediction: Appalachian takes 2 of 3


Brian Quick Drafted 33rd Overall By the St. Louis Rams

Brian Quick - From GoASU.com
On Friday evening, Brian Quick became the highest NFL Draft selection in Appalachian State history as the St. Louis Rams picked Brian with the 1st pick of the 2nd round (33rd overall). Coming into the draft, Brian was predicted to go anywhere from early 2nd round to middle of the 3rd. Fortunately for Quick and all of the Appalachian fans anxious to hear his name called, the wait on day two of the draft was brief as Rams legends Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce announced Brian as the first player off the board in round two.

Quick left ASU as the all-time leader in receptions (202), yards (3,418) and receiving touchdowns (31) in spite of playing just one year of prep football at Ridge View High in Columbia, SC. Brian focused on basketball his first three years in high school and those skills translated smoothly to the gridiron, becoming part of what had scouts salivating over his potential. At 6 foot 4 and 220 pounds with 4.5 speed and a 36-inch vertical leap, Quick has the size to be a match-up nightmare even at the highest level.

According to Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports, it was a private workout at the indoor practice facility in Boone last Friday that shot him up Jeff Fisher's list. The Rams just missed on Justin Blackmon in the first round and were so impressed with Quick that they would have considered taking him at 33rd even if Blackmon was already on board. With the offseason departure of Brandon Lloyd, Brian will have the opportunity to start right away in St. Louis if he can pick up the offense this summer. His athletic ability is off the charts and with an experienced coaching staff in place with the recent hiring of Jeff Fisher along with a good young quarterback in Sam Bradford, the sky is the limit for Brian.

There is a significant amount of pressure for Quick to perform and contribute almost immediately, as he is filling a position of serious need for Coach Fisher and the Rams. Nobody has ever questions Brian's work ethic and if he is able to stay humble, keep his focus and adjust to the speed and complexity of the pro game, we should have the pleasure of watching him on Sundays for years to come.


ASU Dominates Furman in 3-Game Sweep, Tewell Earns SoCon POW

Tyler Tewell - From GoASU.com
After a rough stretch that saw the Mountaineers (28-9, 13-5 SoCon) drop 4 of 5 including a tough loss in the rubber match in Statesboro, Appalachian bounced back in dominating fashion. In a series that spanned just over 24 hours and was seemingly over before it began, ASU outscored Furman (18-23, 7-14 SoCon) 34-7 in three games at Smith Stadium that came just days after the Paladins defeated the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens. Due to impending weather, the series concluded with a double header beginning at noon on Saturday.

Daniel Kassouf led the way in the 14-2 game one romp, going 4-for-5 with 4 runs, 3 RBI and 2 HR. After the completion of the series, Kassouf now sports a .387 average (4th in the SoCon) with 15 HR (2nd), 45 RBI (T-1st) and is still very much alive in his quest for the conference's triple crown. Ryan Arrowood turned in another solid outing in the opening game as well, going 7 innings, allowing 2 earned runs and striking out 5 with no walks. Ryan improved to a perfect 7-0 on the year and remains in a 4-way tie for the conference lead in wins.

Offensively, Saturday's twin bill was all about Tyler Tewell. After a 1-for-3 performance in the opener, Tyler went 3-for-4, scoring two runs and driving the final dagger in the Paladins to conclude a back and forth contest with a walk-off, bases loaded single off of Jacques de Gruy in the 9th to lift ASU to a 6-5 victory. Nathan Hyatt pitched a perfect 9th inning to earn his first victory of the season.

Tyler's bat did not cool off at all for the nightcap, as he turned in a 2-for-5 performance with 3 runs scored and 5 RBI. Tewell drove in 4 of those runs with one swing in the 7th inning, as he belted his first career grand slam off of Elliott Warford to break the game wide open and extend the ASU lead to 12-0 after Warford hit two consecutive Mountaineer hitters. Behind all the offensive fireworks, Rob Marcello pitched 6 scoreless innings, notching 3 strikeouts with no walks as Appalachian cruised to a 14-2 victory.

Today, Tyler Tewell was announced as the Southern Conference Player of the Week on the heels of his 6-for-12 weekend with 6 RBI and 6 runs scored. Tyler's hot weekend has moved him just past teammate Daniel Kassouf and into 2nd in the SoCon with a .393 batting average. The award was the first of Tewell's ASU career.

Up Next:

The Mountaineers will put their 3-game winning streak on the line Tuesday night, as the High Point Panthers (23-20, 8-7 Big South) make the trip up the mountain for a single game. First pitch is set for 6:00 PM and while the pitching match-up has not been officially announced, I would expect to see freshman right hander Jamie Nunn (3-0, 1.61 ERA) take the ball for Coach Pollard and the Apps. The Panthers are expected to counter with junior righty Jared Avidon (1-3, 8.68 ERA). Despite his unimpressive statistics, Avidon was able to go 7 strong innings, giving up only 1 earned run in a home victory over East Carolina on March 21.

Appalachian is 10-5 against the Panthers since 2000 and leads the all-time series 27-23, although HPU swept both games last season. The clubs originally had a game scheduled for March 20 in High Point that was postponed due to rain. To date, no make-up date has been scheduled. The Panthers are winding down a six game road trip and declined to turn Tuesday's contest into a double-header. Although I would love to see the game made up, I cannot fault them for turning down the offer. They are coming of a brutal stretch of road contests at UNC, Elon and Coastal Carolina (3), posting a 1-4 record.


Series Preview: Paladins Visit Boone for SoCon Weekend Tilt

Saturday starter Seth Grant. Photo from GoASU.com.
After having a mid-week series with Eastern Kentucky wiped out by rain, the Mountaineers (25-9, 10-5 SoCon) will take the field for the first time since Sunday's heartbreaking loss to Georgia Southern against another long-time conference rival as Furman visits Smith Stadium for the weekend. The Paladins enter the series with an overall record of 18-20 and a 7-11 mark in conference. In spite of having a losing record overall and in SoCon play, Furman is a dangerous team who has taken 3-game series from Elon and Georgia Southern. In their last game on Tuesday, the Paladins traveled to Athens and took down traditional SEC power Georgia by a 5-4 final. 

The Apps hope to build on their late offensive surge displayed in Statesboro last weekend and statistically speaking, their is no better conference match-up to revive the Appalachian bats than Furman. The Paladins' pitching staff currently ranks last in the conference in ERA (5.53), runs per game (6.3) and opponent batting average (.286). Given the season long struggles of the FU pitching staff and the offensive power of the Mountaineer line-up, particularly at home, this series provides an opportunity for ASU to bounce back from a rough week on the road.

The Apps will send their regular weekend rotation of Ryan Arrowood (6-0, 4.18), Seth Grant (6-2, 2.98) and Rob Marcello (4-3, 4.59) to face the Paladins. While Arrowood looks to build on a gutsy effort in last Friday's win in Statesboro (7 IP, 1 ER, 7 K, 5 BB), Grant and Marcello will look to bounce back from being roughed up by the Eagles. Both young men struggled with location last weekend, as Grant (4.2 IP, 1 K, 3 BB, 6 ER) and Marcello (5.0 IP, 2 K, 3 BB, 4 ER) took consecutive losses for the first time this season.

Furman will counter Arrowood on Friday with senior righty Bobby Lyne (5-3, 3.78 ERA). On Saturday, junior left hander Nate Smith (3-4, 6.39 ERA) with face off with Seth Grant. For the finale, sophomore righty Tyler Wood (3-5, 6.08 ERA) will take the hill for the Paladins against Rob Marcello. Lyne is the most experienced starter of the bunch and is clearly the ace of the Furman staff. In 52.1 innings pitched this season, Lyne has struck out 36 batters while issuing only 11 walks. Despite taking the loss in the first of a 3-game sweep in Cullowhee last weekend, Lyne pitched 7 strong innings, surrendering 3 earned runs and striking out five men. It will be crucial for the Mountaineers to set the tone for the weekend tonight and if ASU can manage to get past the lone consistent Paladin starter, they should have a great shot to get back to their winning ways and build on their 17-1 home mark.

Offensively, Furman is paced by leadoff man Will Owens. The senior left fielder leads the team with a .353 batting average, .444 on-base percentage and 35 runs scored. The run production in the middle of the Paladin order is provided primarily by senior center fielder Will Miller (.310, 8 HR, 31 RBI) and junior catcher Paul Nitto (.284, 2 HR, 36 RBI). Junior second baseman Will Muzika is also a player to watch on the base paths as he leads the team with 13 stolen bases and is also batting a healthy .291 with 24 runs scored.

The Mountaineers find themselves at a bit of a crossroads, sitting in a 4-way tie atop the Southern Conferences standings at the exact midpoint of a 30-game conference season. Having already played two co-leaders Elon and College of Charleston, it is vital that the Apps take care of business in the following weeks against Furman, Wofford and UNC Greensboro, 3 of the bottom 4 teams in the conference. Having no shortage of rest or motivation, the Mountaineers should be primed to protect their home field this weekend against the rival Paladins. Appalachian leads the all-time series 54-42 and has won 7 of their last 10 against Furman. A series win or possible sweep would put the Mountaineers back on track as they vie for a favorable seed in the SoCon tournament and polish their resume for potential at-large bid to the NCAA Regionals if they cannot lock down the auto bid.

I like the Mountaineers to get back in the win column tonight and take 2 of 3 from the Paladins. Considering the struggles of the back end of Furman's weekend rotation, a sweep is not out of the question, as Grant and Marcello could very well bounce back strong from a disappointing series. However, anything less than a series win at home would be crippling at this key point in the season.

First pitch is set for 6:00 PM Friday, 3:00 PM Saturday and noon on Sunday.


ASU Set to Host Eastern Kentucky for a Mid-Week Set

After dropping the final two games in Statesboro and 4 of their last 5 contests, Appalachian (25-9, 10-5 SoCon) will send true freshman right hander Jamie Nunn to the hill as they look to recover from their first extended struggles of the 2012 season. Nunn has appeared in 10 games with 4 starts and has made the most of his playing time, posting a perfect 3-0 record and an impressive 1.67 ERA. In 27 innings pitched, he has notched 25 strikeouts to only 10 walks. Although he is a relatively inexperienced young pitcher, Jamie has proven to be reliable thus far and has the makings of a future weekend starter.

The Colonels (16-17, 8-4 OVC) will counter with junior RHP Chase Greene, who will be making his 4th start of the 2012 season in the opener of the 2 game mid-week series. In 15.2 innings pitched, Greene holds an 0-2 record, 10.54 ERA and a concerning ratio of 14 strikeouts to 12 walks. While the strikeout per inning figure is solid, he has struggled to keep men off base as batters are hitting .394 against him to go with the high walk total.

As a team, Eastern Kentucky's overall record is a bit misleading, as the Colonels enter Tuesday's match-up having won 9 of their last 11 ball games. Their wins have come against a light schedule of Jacksonville State (RPI #217), Marshall (202), SIU Edwardsville (148), Southeast Missouri State (232) and Eastern Illinois (190), but the Apps should fully expect a confident team to show up at Smith Stadium this evening.

In spite of the fact that the two clubs are currently trending in opposite directions, I like the Mountaineers to rebound and get back into the win column. ASU sports a 17-1 record at home this season and are 44-7 against non-conference competition since Smith Stadium opened in 2007. With the sting of a gut-wrenching loss to rival Georgia Southern fresh on their minds and an opposing pitcher who has struggled with his command, I expect the Mountaineers' offense to get back on track and provide Jamie Nunn with sufficient run support to remain perfect on the season and pick up his fourth career win.

Tonight's game has been moved forward 45 minutes in anticipation of rain hitting the High Country. First pitch will be at 5:15PM, with audio and video available here.

*Photo from GoASU.com


Mountaineers' Comeback Bid Falls Short as GSU Holds On Late

After Georgia Southern jumped out to an early 3-0 lead Sunday on a shot to dead center off the bat of catcher Chase Griffin, Appalachian continued their season long 2-out heroics in the top half of the 4th. After Will Calloway singled with the bases clear, Daniel Kassouf and Tyler Tewell strung together RBI doubles to pull the Mountaineers back to within 3-2.

However, the Eagles had a response. After tacking on a single run in the 6th, GSU responded with a 2-out rally of their own to seemingly put the game away. A pair of singles from T.D. Davis and Stryker Brown were followed up by a back-breaking double from Tyler Avera off ASU closer Nathan Hyatt to stretch the Eagles' lead to 7-2.

Despite trailing by 5 runs late in the game, the Apps had one more rally in store. Hector Crespo led off the 8th inning with a single and following a Tyler Zupcic strikeout, Will Calloway reached on an error by shortstop Eric Phillips. As he has seemingly done in clutch situations all season, Daniel Kassouf came through with a towering 3-run shot to left field to cut the deficit to 7-5 and breathe some life into the Mountaineers.

With the bases empty and 2 outs in the 9th, Coach Pollard decided to send Preston Troutman to the plate in place of Noah Holmes. The move paid off, as Troutman legged out an infield hit and turned the line-up over to Crespo, who hit a sharp single up the middle. A double to left field by Tyler Zupcic chased home Troutman but was played cleanly by Michael Burruss, who held the speedy Crespo at 3rd, preserving a 7-6 GSU lead. The seemingly safe lead was in great jeopardy as Will Calloway stepped to the plate with the tying run at 3rd and the go-ahead run in scoring position as well. Calloway hit a sinking line drive to center field and Scooter Williams made a shoestring catch to save the day for Georgia Southern and send Appalachian home with stinging series loss.

The loss dropped ASU to 25-9 overall and a 10-5 mark in Southern Conference play. Dropping the finale in such dramatic fashion is a real punch to the gut, taking away a potential series win in Statesboro that could have been a springboard for the Apps. ASU is now in a virtual tie atop the SoCon with Charleston (14-7), Elon (12-6) and Western Carolina (10-5). The Mountaineers will play 10 of their next 13 in the friendly confines of Smith Stadium, where they are 17-1 on the season. ASU will host Furman (17-20, 7-11) for a weekend series beginning Friday and will travel to Wofford (14-22, 3-12) for a 3-game set next weekend. After tough series with Elon, Charleston and Georgia Southern, the pressure is now on ASU to come away with wins over the teams in the bottom half of the conference. A strong showing over the next two weeks could place the Mountaineers in a very favorable position for the stretch run, while continuing their current slide could remove them from title contention.

Up Next:
ASU will host Eastern Kentucky for a 2-game set beginning tomorrow, April 17 at 6:00PM. Appalachian will conclude their series with the Colonels at 2:00PM on Wednesday. The match-ups have not been officially announced, but I would expect to see Jamie Nunn and Jeffrey Springs get the nod for ASU. EKU comes in with an unimpressive overall record of 16-17 but have won 9 of their last 11 ballgames, while Appalachian has dropped 4 of their last 5.

Both games are available at GoASU.com, with a free audio stream and live video for all Premium members.