June 2, 2012

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Arrowood, App Survive Oklahoma

By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

Sean@CollegeBaseballInsider.com @collbaseball


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Way back in the second weekend of the season, Appalachian State made early noise by taking two of three at fourth-ranked LSU.


More than three months later, that series win still resonates.


“When we got into the dog days of the season, and a Regional was a possibility, we kind of rallied around that,” Mountaineers catcher Jeremy Dowdy said.


Playing in its first NCAA Regional in 26 years, a confident Appalachian State rode the right arm of ace Ryan Arrowood and held on for dear life in the ninth inning to beat Oklahoma 5-4 Saturday night to capture its first tourney win since 1973. The third-seeded Mountaineers advance to meet top-seeded Virginia, and second-seeded Oklahoma will play fourth-seeded Army in an elimination game Sunday.


Arrowood, who beat LSU 1-0 back on Feb. 25, took a no-hitter into the seventh against the Sooners and finished with two hits, one earned run and nine strikeouts in 7.2 innings. Mixing an upper 80s fastball with a tight breaking ball and slider, Arrowood (11-0) seldom was hit hard in staying perfect on the season.


“It goes without saying that Ryan pitched an incredible ballgame and really set the tone from the first inning,” ASU coach Chris Pollard said.


Added Dowdy: “There wasn’t a whole lot that wasn’t working. I was really impressed with both of his breaking balls, his slider and his curve ball…He’s given us a chance to win every start he’s had this year.”


Arrowood did that and more against lefty Jordan John, whose gritty effort kept the Sooners (38-23) in the game. But John (8-7) had trouble with ASU’s bottom three hitters – all lefties – who combined for seven of the Mountaineers’ 10 hits.


Trey Holmes, a .249 hitter who had two games with three or more hits during the regular season, doubled for the first of his three hits to lead off the third inning and moved to third on Preston Troutman’s sacrifice bunt. Noah Holmes, Trey’s little brother who entered hitting .229 and 5 for his past 32, singled up the middle off second baseman Jack Mayfield’s attempted backhand for a 1-0 lead. Tyler Zupcic singled on a John fastball up in the zone to put runners on first and second. Will Callaway dribbled a ball back to John, whose throw was wide and helped produce a collision between Callaway and Evan Mistich at first – Noah Holmes scored on the play, and Zupcic was gunned down at the plate by right fielder Cody Reine to end the inning with the Mountaineers (40-16) leading 2-0.


John, who allowed eight hits and four runs (two earned) and struck out seven in pitching into the ninth, avoided further damage in the fifth, when Trey Holmes (3 for 4, 2 R, RBI) led off with a single and was bunted to second by Troutman. Troutman was safe at first when Mayfield covering from second collided with first base umpire Eddie Newsom when trying to catch John’s flip at the bag. With runners on first and second, catcher Tanner Toal fired to second on a failed bunt attempt to pick off Trey Holmes. And John miraculously took a liner off his shin and recovered in time near the baseline to retire Zupcic at first.


“Our lefties felt like there were seeing the ball pretty good off of him,” Pollard said, adding that John’s change was among the best he’s seen in his eight years at ASU and made it tough on right-handed hitters.


Arrowhead, meanwhile, was cruising and made the 2-0 lead stick.


The right-hander needed only 43 pitches to retire the Sooners from the third through sixth innings. Troutman preserved the no-hitter and shutout with a tremendous catch in left on a liner to the warning track by Max White in the sixth after Arrowhead had hit two batters.


"We were up there guessing a lot," said OU's Caleb Bushyhead. "Our approach as hitters wasn't great."


Entering the seventh at 76 pitches and his no-hitter intact, Arrrowood’s pitch count started to elevate. Mistich had a 10-pitch at-bat that resulted in a strikeout before Bushyhead broke up the no-hit bid with a single to center. Arrowood struck out the side to end the inning.


“From the start of the game, everything felt like it was working spot on,” said Arrowood, the Southern Conference Pitcher of the Year. “I was locating my fastball from the get-go, and the curve ball was definitely on today.”


App State added a single run without a hit in the eighth when John walked Zupcic and advanced him to second with a wild pickoff attempt. Callaway did the job with a defensive-swing bouncer to second to move Zupcic to third for Daniel Kassouf, the Mountaineers’ best bat with a .345 average, 17 homers and 60 RBI. Rather than walking Kassouf to go after lefty Tyler Tewell (0 for 3 at that point), the Sooners elected to go after Kassouf with off-speed pitches out of the zone. On the third straight change up, Kassouf lifted a long sacrifice fly to center for a 3-0 lead.


Arrowood got the first two outs of the eighth – the second being Erik Ross’ 13-pitch at-bat – and was tiring fast at more than 120 pitches, as many as he’d thrown in a start all year. He walked Reine and White; Pollard decided to let him try to finish the inning. Mustich singled to left to make it 3-1 and end Arrowood’s splendid outing after 137 pitches. Closer Nathan Hyatt entered, bringing his mid-90s fastball. Mayfield floated a ball down the right field line that Tewell made a terrific sliding catch to save two runs.


"That was probably the biggest sigh of relief of the night," Pollard said.


Pollard admitted he left his ace on the mound for one or two batters too long, but with good reason. “He’s our horse,” Pollard said, and maybe more important, the Mountaineers prefer not to use Hyatt in the eighth. “What’s been hard for him [Hyatt] is when he’s had to come over and sit.”


ASU made Hyatt sit for a while when the lefties did it again off John in the ninth, with Trey Holmes doubling in Dowdy, who had doubled and moved to third on an outfield bobble, to make it 4-1. Noah Holmes scored his brother for the second time with a deep sacrifice fly to right center, where White raced over from center and appeared to use a small trampoline to leap and amazingly catch the shot, fully extended near the track.


Hyatt came out in the ninth and looked like a different pitcher. He walked Bushyhead and Matt Oberste on four pitches then hit Garrett Carey to load the bases. A balk made it 5-2. Ryne Frankoff relieved and got Chase Simpson to ground out, but another run scored to close it to 5-3. A wild pitch made it 5-4, and the Sooners got Reine to second for White, but White flew out to right to end the game.  


“When you’re trying to get that first win at a Regional for the first time, it can be very difficult,” Sooners coach Sunny Golloway said of the Mountaineers. “But if you look at the end, we just didn’t keep it close enough. It was tough for them to finish it off, but give them credit. They were able to do it.”


Appalachian State’s reward is a date with another big-time program, Virginia.


“I’m really proud for our guys,” Pollard said. “I’m really proud for all of our seniors to come up here and make a statement like this.”


In a season that started with an opening statement, the Mountaineers are hoping for a strong closing argument.