|Photo from GoASU.com|
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.