June 3, 2012

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App State Survives Virginia

By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

sean@collegebaseballinsider.com @collbaseball

press conference photo by Sean Ryan

action shot by ASU Athletics/Dave Mayo


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Chris Pollard remembers being a high school junior at Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, Va., nearly 25 years ago and playing at the University of Virginia, back when there was one set of wooden bleachers and worn Astroturf once used by the Cavaliers football team.


Appalachian State’s eighth-year baseball coach remembers playing for Virginia pitching coach Karl Kuhn in summer ball while on break from his playing days at Davidson College. And he remembers coaching and battling for recruits against Cavaliers assistant Kevin McMullan when McMullan was on the staff at East Carolina.


On Sunday, Pollard’s Mountaineers were playing the first in a series of games that will be labeled the biggest in the program’s history. And against a school that he has so many fond memories, his third-seeded Appalachian State squad moved into the driver’s seat of the Charlottesville Regional by scoring six early runs and holding on for dear life in a 6-5 squeaker over top-seeded Virginia.


“Now, to sit here in one of the nicest facilities in the country, and to compete against a program that perennially is an Omaha contender, it’s a great honor for us and our team,” Pollard said. “It’s certainly if not the best, one of the best staffs in the country. To able to be in the opposite dugout from those guys and compete against those guys in this atmosphere with what a great college baseball crowd this is, it was just special.”


The Mountaineers (41-16) stunned Virginia (39-18-1) and silenced its crowd of 4,142 by scratching for one in the first and exploding for five in the second.


It started badly for the Cavaliers when shortstop Chris Taylor lost ASU leadoff man Hector Crespo’s high pop in the sun, resulting in a double. After a sacrifice moved Crespo to third, Will Callaway doubled down the left-field line for a 1-0 lead three batters into the game.


It quickly got worse, as the Mountaineers batted around with five hits and five runs in the second. The big inning started when Trey Holmes (3 for 4) singled and Preston Troutman followed with a hit-and-run grounder in the hole at second. Cavaliers second baseman Keith Werman made a slick play, but starter Artie Lewicki (4-3) was late to cover first. As Troutman beat the throw, Holmes kept running toward third, where Lewicki misfired, allowing Holmes to score and Troutman to move up to second. Noah Holmes then singled in Troutman for a 3-0 lead.


Later in the inning, designated hitter Daniel Kassouf had a two-run single to right-center, and Tyler Tewell plated another with a sac fly, making it 6-0.


“They hit in the clutch early in the game,” Cavaliers coach Brian O’Connor said. “They were very, very aggressive and took the fight to us and got us back on our heels.”


Virginia spent the rest of the game trying to claw back against Seth Grant (7-3) and the Mountaineers.


“Early in the game, it’s nice to see our guys go out and swing the bats like that and be aggressive,” Grant said. “It gives you a lot more confidence. When you get that big of lead, your job is to go out there and throw strikes.”


The Cavaliers, who squandered chances by stranding three in the second and two more in the third, got three back in the fourth. Werman bunted in a run on a safety squeeze, and Taylor singled in another run. Stephen Bruno made it 6-3 with a grounder to short, where Callaway turned and fired to nail Taylor trying to take third.


Taylor had a sacrifice fly as Virginia inched closer in the sixth. Bruno’s leadoff single to open the seventh chased Grant after six innings, six hits, five runs (four earned) and four strikeouts – the fifth run came home on a balk by reliever Ryne Frankoff. But Frankoff, who nearly was redshirted by Pollard because of an early-season illness, stranded two in the seventh and two more in the eighth, an inning that opened with Crespo’s diving play at second to keep Werman off base.


“I’m proud of our guys that we were able to crawl back into it,” O’Connor said. “We just didn’t have enough to get a couple more clutch hits and do what it takes to beat a good ball club like they have.”


Pollard didn’t get a chance to see Frankoff wiggle out of the eighth-inning jam after being ejected for questioning third-base umpire John Bennett on a check-swing third strike to end the seventh. He also didn’t get to see closer Nathan Hyatt leave the game-tying run on second for his 16th save, one night after Hyatt’s ninth-inning implosion nearly cost App State a win over Oklahoma – Pollard was on the team bus listening to the game on the radio with the bus driver.


“I think a lot of people thought that we’d come up here and just be happy being here,” Grant said. “We came here and played our brand of baseball and stayed aggressive. If we stay aggressive offensively and defensively, we have a pretty good chance to win games.”


One more win, and Appalachian State will leave Charlottesville with another fond memory for its coach and another opportunity to win games, this time in a Super Regional against two-time defending national champion South Carolina.