Top-seeded Appalachian State University surrendered season highs for hits and earned runs in a 12-7 loss to No. 4-seeded Samford in the second round of the 2012 Southern Conference Baseball Championship on Thursday night/Friday morning at Fluor Field. With the setback, Appalachian (39-15) is relegated to
the tournament’s losers’ bracket and must win four-straight games to claim its first SoCon Tournament championship since 1984. The quest begins on Friday night when the Mountaineers face eighth-seeded Furman (27-30) in a rematch of Wednesday’s first-round contest, which Appalachian won, 7-5.
Samford (37-21) benefitted from a pair of controversial calls to keep the Mountaineers from jumping out to an early lead in the bottom of the first inning then exploded for seven runs over the next four frames en route to the victory. It looked like the Mountaineers would strike first when Hector Crespo (Miami, Fla./Florida Christian) and Tyler Zupcic (Charlotte, N.C./Providence) opened the bottom of the first inning with back-to-back singles that put runners on the corners with nobody out. ASU’s next batter, Will Callaway (Greenville, S.C./Eastside), hit a routine double-play ball and Samford conceded Crespo’s run to easily turn two. However, second-base umpire Joe Marion called Zupcic for interference on an inconsequential slide into second base, which, by rule, forced Crespo to return to third base with two outs and took the run off the board.
Two pitches later, Samford starter Charles Basford (9-2) threw a ball in the dirt that skipped past catcher Brad Moss and Crespo broke for home. Moss beat Crespo to the plate but it appeared that Crespo may have reached to touch home plate before the tag was applied. However, home-plate umpire Andy Glenn didn’t see it that way and the once promising inning ended without the Mountaineers putting any runs on the board. Still reeling from the first-inning controversy, Appalachian allowed Samford to grab a 3-0 lead in the top of the second on a trio of hard-hit balls, including back-to-back doubles from Christiaan Durdaller and Austin Allison that drove in all three runs.
The Bulldogs extended their advantage to 4-0 in the top of the third but ASU bounced back to draw even with four runs in the bottom of the fourth. Trey Holmes (Rockwell, N.C./East Rowan) capped the fourth-inning rally with a two-out, two-strike, two-run opposite field home run over Fluor Field’s 37-foot-high Green Monster replica in left field that made it 4-4. The tie score would be short lived, as Samford put up its own four-spot in the top of the fifth to take the lead for good. Appalachian clawed back to within three runs at 10-7 in the seventh inning but would get no closer.
Samford’s 16 hits and 12 earned runs were the most allowed by Appalachian this season. Brandon Miller, the nation’s leader with 20 home runs coming into the week, did a lion’s share of the damage with a pair of mammoth two-run homers over the Green Monster in left. Every member of the Bulldogs’ starting lineup had at least one hit, led by Allison with three. Crespo, Zupcic and Kassouf had two hits apiece to pace the Mountaineers. Seth Grant (Etowah, N.C./West Henderson) allowed eight runs over 4.2 innings to fall to 6-3 on the campaign.
NOTES: Appalachian has not won both of its first two games at the SoCon Tournament since 1991 ... with a win over Furman on Friday night, Appalachian would match a school record with its 40th win of the season and advance to the SoCon semifinals for the third-straight year ... should the Mountaineers get by FU on Friday evening, they will need to beat Samford twice on Saturday to advance to Sunday’s SoCon title game ... each of the Mountaineers’ last three SoCon Tournament losses have come at the hands of Samford ... the decision was Grant’s first since April 14 at Georgia Southern ... the right-handed senior had not figured in the decision in any of his previous five starts ... Tyler Tewell (Charlotte, N.C./Butler) extended his current team-best hitting streak to seven games ... Crespo and Callaway both reached base for the 15th-straight game ... true freshman Jeffrey Springs (Belmont, N.C./South Point) pitched 1.2 perfect innings for ASU to close out the ballgame, including a strikeout of Miller with two runners on to end the eighth ... the game began at 10:49 p.m. Thursday and the final out was made at 1:34 a.m. Friday.
Photo Courtesy: Trey Holmes, ASU Athletics