BOONE, N.C. – App State overcame a big Arkansas State rally and an hour-and-a-half rain delay, plating the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh inning, to win the series opener 7-6 in a contest that stretched into the early hours of Saturday morning at Smith Stadium.
Five innings into the ballgame the Mountaineers (24-21, 13-11) were in the driver’s seat. App State led 4-0 behind a pair of solo home runs from CJ Boyd, and another dominant strikeout performance from Xander Hamilton, who allowed just five baserunners in his first five innings while striking out eight.
The two-homer game was the first of Boyd’s career, and tenth of the season, becoming the first Mountaineer since Wes Hobson in 2010 to record double-digit home runs and steals in the same season.
In a ballgame that saw the first pitch pushed back two hours due to weather, the rain in the High Country vacillated between a drizzle and a downpour, even after the ballgame got underway.
In the sixth inning, after Hamilton picked up his ninth strikeout of the ballgame, the rain intensified, as did the Red Wolves rally. Five consecutive batters reached against Hamilton, highlighted by a two-run double from Brayden Caskey, and with the bases loaded for Arkansas State, following a walk, the umpires waved the players off the field.
Just before 11:30 p.m. play resumed, with the Red Wolves carrying the momentum across the delay, as with two outs, Will French cleared the bases with a triple to deep left field to give the visitors their first lead of the ballgame at 5-4.
Arkansas State would increase that advantage to 6-4 an inning later on a misplayed ball in right field, but Collin Welch minimized the damage by retiring the next three hitters, including a pair of strikeouts.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Mountaineers punched back. Xavier Moronta reached on an infield single, and Luke Drumheller followed with an RBI double to left-center to make it 6-5. Moronta reached base four times in the ballgame and extended his hitting streak to 11 straight games.
With one out in the inning, the Mountaineers continued to chip away. Golston Gillespie walked to put runners at first and second and Dylan Rogers followed with a ground ball to the hole at shortstop that was thrown away at third base allowing Drumheller to score the tying run. One batter later, Alex Reed doubled to left to put App State back in front, 7-6.
Welch (win, 2-2) backed the offense up with a scoreless eighth inning, helped by a relay throw from Alex Aguila to cut down a run at the plate on a double to left-center.
Jackson Steensma (save, 6) worked around a leadoff double and a walk in the ninth inning, getting a double-play and a strikeout to seal the victory.
The middle game of the series is set for 3 p.m. on Saturday, with Senior Day festivities beginning at 2:40 p.m.