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High drama: Mountaineers use mid innings rally to win Sunday slugfest

By David Rogers. BOONE, N.C. — Looking at a 15-14 final score, the casual observer might think the winning team was successful on 2-point conversion to explain the winning margin.

But no, this was a college baseball game. Seven home runs, 27 hits total and eight errors by both teams combined made for a heart-stopping thriller at Smith Stadium, a walk-off win on a one-out, bases loaded single to right field in the bottom of the 9th inning. For host Appalachian State, it may have been as improbable a win as it gets in winning the game and weekend series (2-1) over visiting Georgia State.

Andrew Terrell, coming home, and Hayden Cross, running to first base, start to celebrate as Cross’ sharp ground ball gets past the Georgia State first baseman, allowing Terrell to score the winning run for App State on March 26 at Smith Stadium. The Mountaineers staged an improbable comeback to win, 15-4. Photographic image by David Rogers

We’ll get to what led up to the 9th inning in a moment, but drama doesn’t get more invigorating than what occurred in the last frame.  App State broke open a 12-12 tie and jumped to a 14-12 lead in the bottom half of the 8th inning when catcher Hayden Cross clubbed a leadoff home run to left, then shortstop Alex Aguila sent an RBI-producing sacrifice fly to left and first baseman Golston Gillespie tagged up at third and outraced the throw to home plate.

I wanted that at-bat.

Although the Appalachian fans in attendance were smelling victory, Georgia State wasn’t done. Panther head coach Brad Stromdahl sent Michael Mcginnis to the plate to bat for catcher Kyle Hilton. Maginnis rewarded his manager for the decision by promptly rapping a single to left center. Two batters later, designated hitter Max Ryerson proved why he was in that position by launching a 3-2 pitch over the left field fence for a 2-RBI home run, tying the game. The Panthers got two more runners on, but could not bring them home so the game went to the bottom of the 9th all tied up at 14-14.

Andrew Terrell (3) puts himself in scoring position, sliding into third base in the 9th inning. Photographic image by David Rogers

Mountaineer third baseman Andrew Terrell led off the inning with a single, followed Xavier Moronta knocking another single through the left side with Terrell advancing to third base.

At this point, the Panthers had drawn in their left fielder, creating a presumably impenetrable, 5-man infield. It seemed to work when the Mountaineers’ Austin St. Laurent poked a ground ball toward third base, where the left fielder held the runner and sent a rocket to first base, catching St. Laurent for the first out of the inning.

Meanwhile, Moronta advanced to second, putting runners on second and third and leaving first base unoccupied.

The next batter up was App State second baseman Luke Drumheller, with catcher Hayden Cross on deck. GSU head coach Stromdahl called for an intentional walk to Drumheller, loading the bases.

And Cross didn’t waste any time in ripping a ball under the first baseman’s glove for a single, plating Terrell with the winning run and sending the entire Mountaineer dugout racing onto the field to embrace a jubilant Cross near second base.

On an 0-2 count as the leadoff batter in the 9th inning, Andrew Terrell makes contact, ripping the ball into centerfield. Photographic image by David Rogers

Was loading the bases and pitching to Cross the right call?

While on the surface it seemed incongruous to walk Drumheller and pitch to Cross, the Mountaineers’ leading RBI producer with runners in scoring position, when asked about his counterpart’s decision after the game, App State head coach Kermit Smith did not hesitate in saying it was the right call because a ground ball could lead to a force out at any base and possibly even a double play to end the threat.

“Yes, it was the right call,” explained Smith. “You have to play for a force out there. It really has less to do with who is coming to the plate than it does with the situation.”

Cross had a home run early in the game but didn’t hesitate in describing his most important hit of the afternoon.

I think scoring is up because umpires are being held more accountable to a legitimate strike zone, just like in the majors.

“Yes, the last one was the biggest,” he said with a big smile. “I was trying to hit a ball in the air because they had five guys in the infield. The pitch kind of got inside on me so I didn’t get it in the air but thankfully it got through.

“I thought they might intentionally walk Drumheller to load the bases and play for a force out,” said Cross, “but I was ready. I wanted that at-bat.”

Early in the game, the Panthers pounced on scoring opportunities. They opened the first inning with a walk and a hit batter before consecutive doubles by centerfielder Cameron Jones and JoJo Jackson. Jones sending a ball all the way to the fence through the gap in right center and Jackson ripping a ball down the right field line to the corner, accounting for GSU’s first three runs. Then third baseman Will Mize followed with a 2-RBI home run, giving the Panthers a 5-0 lead before App State had even had an at-bat.

In the bottom half of the 8th, Hayden Cross pounded a solo home run over the left field fence to lead off the inning, giving the Mountaineers a 13-12 lead — but the App State side wasn’t done yet — going on to defeat Georgia State, 15-14, with Cross’s walk-off, bases loaded hit in the bottom of the 9th. Photographic image by David Rogers

While the Mountaineers manufactured three runs in the 2nd inning thanks to a 2-run home run by Golston Gillespie and then Alex Aguila coming home on a wild pitch, Georgia State scored two runs in the second inning and three more in the third to take a 10-3 lead with the game only a third of the way completed.

But this was a game of comeback rallies. The Mountaineers battled back with nine runs in the 4th, 5th, and 6th innings, while the Panthers added just one more over the same span, giving the Mountaineers a 12-11 lead. Both teams held the other scoreless in the 7th inning, but that just led to the closing offensive fireworks and drama.

“Both teams would probably say they wished some things were done better on the mound and defensively,” said Smith about the high scoring game. “Early on, specifically, that was the case for us. Later, I thought we did a pretty good job, although we gave them a couple of runs. The other side of it though is that Georgia State can just hit. They are a good offensive team. Overall, though, if you look across the country the number of runs scored are up everywhere.”

Smith also suggested that his team has evolved, grown and gotten better.

“If you look back over the last few years, we haven’t scored as much with teams. Now teams are scoring a little bit and we are playing with them,” said Smith.

Smith offered an interesting observation as to why the runs scored may be increasing and it has nothing to do with juiced balls or changing the technology of bats.

“I think college umpires are now being held more accountable to a legitimate strike zone, which means pitchers have to do more work in the actual strike zone, too.,” Smith said while pointing to camera equipment fixed atop the press box and aimed specifically at home plate. “Umpires are actually being graded and there are reports just like in Major League Baseball that go back out to the conference offices.”

App State’s Jackson Steensma (2-0) was credited with the win. GSU’s Zach Ottinger (0-3) took the loss.

App State plays Queens on March 29 at Truist Field in Charlotte before traveling to Louisiana to test the Ragin’ Cajuns next weekend.

BONUS PHOTOS (all photo graphic images by David Rogers)






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