By David Rogers. BOONE, N.C. — Appalachian State only needed to score two late touchdowns to defeat Gardner-Webb on March 5. If only they were playing football instead of baseball.
The visiting Bulldogs scored runs in every inning except the 3rd and the 8th but they saved the best for last, scoring six runs in the top of the 9th for a runaway, 19-6 win over the Mountaineers to split the weekend series.
If folks thought Gardner-Webb was productive, offensively, in the 12-11 loss on March 4, the Bulldogs put an exclamation point on that thinking a day later — and all but kept App State’s bats at bay in the process. GW’s starting pitcher, Tyler Switalski, pitched five scoreless innings before back-to-back, 2-out doubles by the Mountaineers’ Golston Gillespie and Dylan Rogers put a run on the scoreboard for the home team in the bottom of the sixth inning.
It was just a nibble into GWU’s 12-1 lead as the two in-state adversaries finished the sixth inning. More offensive production was to come. The visitors’ second baseman, Pete Capobianco homered to lead off the top of the 7th, but with a change in Bulldog pitchers (Phil Fox replacing Switalski on the mound), the Mountaineers manufactured five runs in the bottom half of the inning.
It might have been too much for the almost 700 mostly Mountaineer fans in attendance to hope for another comeback miracle, but the five-run outburst started with a single by shortstop Jonathan Xuereb, leading off from the bottom of the batting order. Third baseman and leadoff batter Andrew Terrell was promptly hit by a Fox pitch that was a bit too far inside. Designated hitter Xavier Moronta popped up to short for the first out, but leftfield Austin St. Laurent drew a walk to load the bases.
In one of the more interesting personnel moves of the afternoon, head coach Kermit Smith brought North Wilkesboro native and sophomore catcher Braxton Church on to hit for senior catcher Hayden Cross, the previous day’s hero in bringing home the winning runs with a 2-out, 2-RBI double in the bottom of the 9th to produce a 12-11, walk-off victory. On the first pitch to Church, Fox was again too far inside, hitting Church, advancing the runners and forcing Xuereb home in the process.
Next up was Mountaineer second baseman Luke Drumheller. He fouled off the first pitch, but on an 0-1 count ripped the ball to left field, all the way to the fence, scoring St. Laurent and Terrell.
App State wasn’t done and the energy in Smith Stadium was building. With runners now on second and third, leaving first base open, Gillespie walked to again load the bases. Rogers fouled off three pitches before facing a full count, then watched ball four sail wide of the plate to force in another run in the form of Church.
That was enough for Gardner-Webb head coach Jim Chester, who brought in the Bulldogs’ third reliever of the afternoon, Connor Maggi. The sophomore hurler from Virginia didn’t help his cause by throwing wild on a pickoff attempt, scoring Drumheller on the error, but settled down to get the remaining two outs and produced a three-up, three-down inning the App State half of the 8th inning.
For the Bulldogs, a six-run outburst in the top of the 9th inning was just icing on the proverbial cake. They scored the half dozen runs on little more than “small ball,” including four singles, an error-producing bunt, two walks and an RBI-producing fielder’s choice before the Mountaineers’ sixth pitcher, Jake Beaty, was able to get the final two outs.
App State didn’t threaten in the bottom of the 9th, only sending four batters to the plate.
For Gardner-Webb, designated hitter Humberto Torres was arguably the offensive hero for the Bulldogs, with two home runs. He hit 2-for-5, but the two hits were big ones. His day included three runs scored and 5 RBIs. Third baseman Trevor Mattson also had a productive day at the plate, rapping out two doubles while going 4-for-5, scoring three runs and knocking in 4 RBIs. First baseman Alec Burns only hit 1-for-4 on the day, but was credited with 1 run scored and 4 RBIs thanks to forcing in a run with a bases loaded walk, a run producing Mountaineer error that allowed him to reach base. His 2-RBI single in the top of the 9th inning helped put the game fully out of reach for the Mountaineers.
On the mound, GWU’s Switalski gave up only a walk and one single in the first three innings before having to wiggle out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the 4th inning. He gave up two more singles in the bottom of the 5th, but no runs. He finally gave up a run in the bottom of the 6th inning on those back-to-back doubles by Gillespie and Rogers, but escaped major damage before being pulled.
Most of App State’s offensive damage came after Switalski’s exit. On the day, they left 10 runners stranded while producing six runs on seven hits and two Bulldog errors. Gardner-Webb countered with 19 runs on 17 hits and one Mountaineer error, stranding 5 runners.
“Our hitting coach, Anthony Morris, had a great plan going into this weekend and our guys executed at a high level, with quality at-bats,” said Gardner-Webb head coach Jim Chester after the game. “We had multiple extra-base hits and took advantage of mistakes made by the App State pitchers. It all led to a great weekend that we had, offensively.”
Chester also had high praise for his starting pitcher.
“Switalski also did an outstanding job against an App State offense that was on fire, yesterday,” said Chester. “He came in today and had their bats pretty well silenced for his whole time in there, on the mound for us.”
Asked about how fast Switalski worked between pitches, Chester noted his hurler’s development from last year to this year.
“As a freshman, he was pretty slow between pitches. Now, with the new college rules (limiting pitchers to no more than 20 seconds between pitches) and our efforts to get him to move quicker, it has allowed him to be more effective,” said Chester.
Now in his third year at the helm of the Bulldog program, Chester said his team is looking to play North Carolina A&T on Tuesday (March 7) before facing St. Bonaventure next weekend in a 4-game series, then UMass on March 15 as they prepare for the start of Big South Conference play vs. Longwood. After consecutive wins most recently against the Big 10 Conference members Northwestern and Michigan State, as well as non-conference wins over Toledo and Western Carolina before splitting the weekend series with Appalachian State, the Bulldogs are 6-5 on the young season.
“The great thing is that Boone showed up this weekend for these two games,” said Mountaineer head coach Kermit Smith, obviously disappointed in the Sunday result but enthusiastic about the local support. “Both Saturday and today we had great crowds. It was awesome, so a big thank-you for our community for coming out to support these guys. We could feel the energy.”
Smith had a lot of praise for the Bulldogs.
“Their starting pitcher, Switalski, did a really good job. We waited a little too long to get adjusted to him,” said Smith. “And while he was doing that, they were doing a really good job, offensively, too. We simply weren’t doing a very good job on the mound and we weren’t doing a very good job offensively. He kept us at bay. When you have an (opposing) team putting up some runs and having a guy filling up the strike zone with some pretty good stuff, it usually doesn’t go your way.”
Winning pitcher was Switalski (2-1), while Mountaineer starter Ryan Sleeper (0-1) was credited as the losing pitcher of record.
Now 8-2 on the season, Appalachian travels to Durham on March 7 to face the Duke Blue Devils. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m. They return to Boone for two more back-to-back non-conference series, including three games vs. Campbell (March 10-12), then two games vs. West Virginia (March 14-15), before opening their Sun Belt Conference slate at Marshall for three games, March 17-19.