MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Appalachian State baseball team’s season came to an end Thursday, May 27, against Louisiana-Lafayette in the Sun Belt Tournament.
Before they faced the Ragin’ Cajuns, the Mountaineers (22-31, 11-10) made history, notching their first ever Sun Belt Tournament win on May 25 in a 1-0 shutout against the Texas State Bobcats.
Quinton Martinez (starter), Ben Peterson (winning pitcher) and Eli Ellington (fifth save) all pitched three scoreless innings while limiting the Bobcats to a combined four hits as the Mountaineers won a 1-0 game for the first time since a memorable 2012 victory at No. 7 LSU.
Alex Leshock fouled off a 3-2 pitch in the sixth before completing a seven-pitch walk to put an App State leadoff batter on base for the first time, and he moved to third base on a double into the left-field corner by Bailey Welch. Luke Drumheller’s soft line drive barely cleared the glove of the leaping second baseman, allowing Leshock to race home.
With Martinez pitching for the first time since he threw a single inning on May 9 and Peterson, a freshman, facing Sun Belt hitters for the first time after not appearing in a conference game during the regular season, they got the ball to Ellington with a 1-0 lead. He earned a three-plus-inning save or relief win for the fourth time this season, working around a one-out double in the top of the ninth inning and retiring nine of the 10 batters he faced.
With a runner on second in the ninth, he forced a groundout to Welch at short before ending the game with his fourth strikeout. On three of those four Ks, Hayden Cross deftly blocked a two-strike ball in the dirt and threw to first baseman Robbie Young in time.
The dramatic, quick-moving nightcap began at 10:15 p.m. and ended at 12:54 a.m. Texas State had won the first 14 games it played against App State as Sun Belt counterparts before the Mountaineers won the 2019 series finale in their most-recent meeting.
App State’s three pitchers totaled 11 strikeouts against Texas State, with Martinez recording one in each of his three innings and pitching around a two-out single in each of his last two frames.
Reaching 96 mph with his fastball, Peterson struck out two batters and left a runner stranded at second in the fourth. A two-base throwing error put a runner on second to open the top of the fifth, and a flyout to center preceded a wild pitch, but Peterson followed that with a big strikeout and then got out of the jam thanks to a flyout to center.
A one-out walk and wild pitch in the sixth created another scoring chance for Texas State, but Peterson came up with another timely strikeout and induced a groundout to short.
Leshock, Welch and Drumheller all reached safely in the sixth against Texas State starter Zachary Leigh, who pitched effectively into the eighth inning just five days after throwing 81 pitches in a Thursday start. Leshock accounted for two of App State’s three walks, while Welch and Drumheller both went 2-for-4 as the Mountaineers totaled five hits.
Two days later, the Mountaineers’ season ended against the Cajuns in a 7-2 loss.
the Mountaineers were one out away from heading to the ninth inning with a 3-2 deficit and a chance to claim a spot in the Sun Belt semifinals.
Designated hitter Ben Fitzgerald delivered a grand slam to give the Ragin’ Cajuns needed separation, and Louisiana advanced to a Saturday matchup with Georgia Southern.
Despite a gritty, often-dominant effort from starting pitcher Tyler Tuthill and a timely two-out RBI single from Drumheller, App took the field for the final time with a senior class that included the first players to commit to play for head coach Kermit Smith’s staff in Boone.
Peyton Idol and Welch scored in the fifth inning on Drumheller’s second big run-producing hit in two tournament games, enabling the Mountaineers to pull within 3-2 right after the fourth inning ended with right fielder Phillip Cole catching a flyball near the bullpen mound and firing home a strike to Cross, who completed the double play by tagging out a runner who attempted to leap over the catcher.
That began a stretch in which Tuthill recorded 11 outs while retiring 10 straight batters from the Ragin’ Cajuns (32-22). He entered the eighth inning having struck out six of the last eight hitters he had faced.
Tuthill ended up with nine strikeouts in 7.2 innings in a matchup of two starting pitchers who had the second-lowest and third-lowest ERAs in Sun Belt play. Louisiana’s Connor Cooke lasted 4.2 innings before giving way to Brandon Tolley, who earned the win with two scoreless innings, and Spencer Arrighetti, the team’s normal Friday night starter.
Drake Osborne homered leading off the bottom of the first inning, and Louisiana added two runs during a third inning that included a tough-luck bloop single between two defenders, an RBI double and a sacrifice fly with one out rather than two.
Idol, who had App State’s first hit, reached base for the second time with a one-out walk in the fifth. He was on second when Leshock drew a walk, and they immediately advanced a base each when Cooke caught a throw back to the mound from his catcher and quickly tossed the ball toward the Louisiana dugout in hopes of receiving a new ball.
After Welch was robbed of a hit on a line drive toward second, Drumheller came through with an RBI single to right.
App’s best chance to tie the game or move ahead came in the eighth inning, when McGowan ended up on second thanks to a two-out throwing error into the dugout. An intentional walk to Young preceded a strikeout.
The first two Louisiana batters in the bottom of the eighth reached, and Tuthill made a strong play to prevent a sacrifice bunt from becoming an infield single. An intentional walk loaded the bases before Tuthill struck out the next batter on three pitches.
Fitzgerald homered, and Ellington struck out the only batter he faced to cap his own dominant end to the season.
With an 11-10 record in conference play, the Mountaineers ended the season with their first winning record in the Sun Belt Conference.