BOONE — An unblemished beginning, coupled with a friendly bounce, propelled the Appalachian State baseball team to a 6-3 home win against in-state rival Western Carolina at Smith Stadium May 1.
Making his first career start, sophomore right-hander Jason Cornatzer needed only 44 pitches to retire the first 14 batters as he took a perfect game into the fifth inning.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers (20-22) established a 3-0 lead on Riley Smith’s three-run homer in the fourth inning. His flyball to left hit the top of the wall and ricocheted high into the air before clearing the fence with Joel McDaniel and Tyler Leek on base.
App State was clinging to a 3-2 edge in the seventh inning when reliever Kaleb Bowman inherited a one-out jam with runners at the corners. He recorded a strikeout and followed a walk by inducing a bases-loaded groundout to preserve the lead, and the Mountaineers responded with a three-run bottom of the seventh keyed by a two-run throwing error on Phillip Cole’s sacrifice bunt.
Andrew Papp took over with a three-run lead in the ninth, retired the side in order and picked up his fifth save as Appalachian reached the 20-win mark for the first time since 2014. The Mountaineers are tied for fifth place in the Sun Belt Conference and are second in the East Division with an 11-9 league record.
Smith contributed four RBIs during a 13-hit night for App State, and Cornatzer earned his second career win just three days after collecting his first one to begin a conference sweep of Texas-Arlington. Starting for the first time while making his 24th career appearance, he allowed one run on two hits in a career-best five innings and tied his career high of four strikeouts.
Cornatzer ran the count to three balls just twice during his perfect 42/3 innings, which included 31 strikes and 13 pitches out of the strike zone. Leek almost robbed Luke Robinson of the fifth-inning home run that accounted for Western Carolina’s first hit, and a two-out single preceded a foul-out to Smith near the backstop.
On a pitch count, Cornatzer gave way to Jack Hartman, who used a double-play ball with one out and two on in the sixth to escape that jam unscathed. A leadoff error in the top of the seventh turned into an unearned run on a one-out double, and a single to shallow left triggered a call for Bowman, who came through in the tightest spot of the night.
App State already had accumulated nine hits by the time Western Carolina (18-22) recorded its first one. Leek went 3-for-4 with one run scored, and Luke Drumheller reached base in four of his five plate appearances as one of four Mountaineers to finish with two hits. McDaniel, Alex Leshock and Kendall McGowan also had two-hit games.
Double plays immediately following singles to lead off the bottom of the first and fourth innings left App State with nothing to show for its hot-hitting start, but McDaniel began a two-out rally in the fourth with a single through the left side. He moved toward second on a hit-and-run play that helped create a hole to the right of the bag for Leek on his single, and they both headed home on Smith’s fourth homer of the season.
App State’s three-run seventh began with Drumheller getting hit by a pitch for the second time and advancing to second on McGowan’s hard single through the right side. Left-handed reliever Eric Wallington fielded Cole’s bunt and threw the ball over his third baseman’s head as Drumheller slid into the bag, allowing both Drumheller and McGowan to score.
An infield error and Leek’s bunt single loaded the bases for Smith, who drove in Cole with a sacrifice fly to center field.
Matthew Koehler’s 10th homer of the season cut Western Carolina’s lead to 6-3 in the eighth inning, and first baseman Robbie Young made a diving stop to initiate a 3-6-1 double play that ended the frame with the tying run on deck.