Virginia (39-18-1) gave Appalachian State (41-16) a six-run cushion then clawed its way back but fell a run short as the Hoos fall out of the winners bracket with their 6-5 loss to the Mountaineers. With the win Appalachian moved to 11-2 in one-run games this season and have won eight-straight games decided by just one run. The Cavaliers now need to win three consecutive games to advance to their fourth consecutive NCAA Super Regional. Coach Chris Pollard and his Mountaineers will try and clinch a regional title Monday at 4:00 PM.
“I’m just really proud of our kids,” said Pollard “Virginia has one of the best teams in the country. To come here and stand toe-to-toe with them is a tremendous credit to the toughness and resiliency of our players. I thought Seth Grant did a great job coming here and grinding away. He went out there most of the day with just a fastball and pounded away to get it done. It’s a tremendous credit to his toughness to be able to give us six good innings off of one pitch. I thought it was a great job by our bullpen – Frankoff and Hyatt – to come when UVa had seized momentum back.”
Because Friday’s games were moved due to the rain the pressure increases as the Hoos will turn around and play the Oklahoma Sooners immediately following the loss. Head coach Brian O’Connor says his club put itself in that position because they couldn’t get the job done at the plate.
“Appalachian State played a tremendous ball game and they deserved to win,” said O’Connor. “They hit in the clutch early in the game, they were very aggressive and took the fight to us and got us back on our heels. I’m proud of our guys that we were able to crawl back into it but we just didn’t have enough to get a couple more clutch hits and do what it takes to beat a good ball club.”
Seth Grant (7-3) went six shaking innings for the Sooners giving up five runs (four earned) while striking out four. Despite some wildness Grant kept Virginia in check early and then gutted out his final three winnings to leave with his team in the lead. ASU’s Nathan Hyatt extended his school record with his 16th save of the season.
Starter Artie Lewicki (4-3) struggled in the loss going just 4.2 innings while allowing six earned runs and walking three with all of the runs coming in the first two innings, including a devastating five-run second.
Appalachian state jumped on Virginia starter Artie Lewicki as two of the first three hitters doubled to give the Mountaineers and early 1-0 advantage. Hector Crespo led things off with high infield fly that shortstop Chris Taylor lost in the sun. Brandon Burris moved Crespo over to third with a scarf ice bunt and Will Callaway got an RBI double to score Crespo.
Virginia tried to respond in the second loading the bases with only one out but failed to score as Keith Werman went down swinging and Chris Taylor lofted a harmless fly ball into right center for out number three.
While the Hoos could not deliver with runners on base, the Mountaineers had no problems manufacturing runs in their half of the frame. Trey Holmes opened the inning with a single and scored on Preston Troutman’s single to Jared King when Lewicki, covering first tried to gun down Holmes heading to third. Holmes knocked over Stephen Bruno and the ball sailed into foul ground allowing the runner to score. A stolen base, two more singles, a double, intentional walk and sacrifice fly led to four more ASU runs.
“I think just early I wasn’t able to keep the ball down,” said Lewicki. “I struggled to throw strikes early. Pitches just weren’t going well too early. I felt I settled down later though. I tried to keep our team in it the rest of the game.”
Lewicki settled down and allowed just two hits after the first two innings, giving way to Kyle Crockett in the fifth.
Down 6-0, the designated game three visitors would finally make some noise in the fourth.
Brandon Downes opened the fourth with a lead-off walk and advanced to second on Grant’s second balk of the game. Nate Irving single to move Downes to third and put runners at the corners for Keith Werman. In typical fashion, the little Virginia second baseman laid down a perfect bunt just off the right side of the mound forcing Grant to field the ball and forcing an errant throw that allowed Irving to move up 90 feet to third. Irving scored on Chris Taylor’s single and Cogswell RBI groundout plated Werman to end the three-run rally.
Virginia added a run in sixth when Nate Irving double off a 13-pitch at-bat. Irving drew the count full then fouled off seven consecutive pitches before connecting on the lead-off double.
Nate Irving had a 13-pitch at bat before doubling in the top of the sixth. He fouled off six pitches in a row before blasting his double into the right-center field gap. Irving advanced to third off Keith Werman’s second sacrifice bunt and scored when Taylor lifted a fly ball just short of the warning track to sacrifice home Irving cutting the Mountaineer lead to a pair.
Bruno led off the seventh with a single that chased Grant and with two outs advance to third on Colin Harrington’s single in the gap to right center. Ryne Frankoff who took over for Grant was called for a balk that plated Bruno drawing the Hoos within one.
Crockett kept the game close working his way out of a big jam in the bottom of the seventh. With runners on first and second and one out, Crockett got Troutman to line out to short and then set down Noah Holmes swinging on a check swing appeal to third.
The call brought Pollard out of the dugout as third base umpire John Bennett motioned repeatedly for Pollard to stay in the dugout. But the Mountaineer skipper would be heard and it cost him as Bennett sent the head coach to an early shower.
“Coach does not get ejected very often so the way we feel as a team is that when he does get ejected, it is because he is standing up for us and fighting for our team,” said Grant. “That does pump us up. I think that at that point in the game we were excited anyway. We were smelling it and we just wanted to get those last six outs.”
Virginia would get the tying run to third with one out in the top of the eighth with one out and to second in the night with two out but failed to score.
After going 2-for-3 earlier in the season against LSU, with the two wins in the regional ASU improves to 4-2 against ranked teams this season.
“We’ve beaten big teams before but this is great,” said Crespo. “These are two, back-to-back opponents from great conferences. We aren’t just happy winning. We know we can compete with anyone in this country.”