The defending SoCon champion UNCG Spartans opened their 2018 campaign over the weekend with a three game series against Appalachian State. The Spartans won the first two games and dropped the third to bring their overall record to 2-1.
It was an up-and-down series for UNCG, which dominated the first two games with a seemingly endless offensive output before falling to the Mountaineers on Sunday afternoon.
After weeks of near-constant dreariness, an unseasonably warm February sun revealed itself on Friday afternoon, just in time for the Blue and Gold’s opening day. The pleasant weather would be a good omen for UNCG, which defeated the Mountaineers 10-3.
While the end score was not close, the two teams competed all afternoon, with Appalachian State even holding a 3-2 lead through the seventh inning. That all changed once UNCG’s big bats got going; the Spartans cranked out four home runs on the day.
Designated hitter Jake Kusz belted a solo home run to tie the game at 3. Two batters later, right fielder Cesar Trejo hit a two-run home run to take a 5-3 lead. The Spartans added five more runs in the eighth to erase any hope of a Mountaineer comeback. Left fielder Dillon Stewart and catcher Ryan Clinch also homered. Trejo finished the day with a game-high 4 RBIs.
Andrew Wantz earned the victory in relief, and closer Easton Welch came to the mound in the ninth to wrap things up. Between the two, they faced the final ten Mountaineer batters, and did not see a single one advance from home.
The usual February rain returned on Saturday. The teams fought hard and made it to the fifth inning, but the game was ultimately suspended in a 3-3 tie, much to the relief of the miserably cold fans at UNCG Baseball Stadium.
The clouds cleared overnight and play resumed on Sunday. UNCG pitcher Jake Lewis began the day on the mound but did not last long, as he was subbed in for Wantz after a poor performance, surrendering three runs before recording a single out. Wantz came in with the bases loaded but managed to get the Spartans out of the jam. It was a clutch performance by the hard-throwing senior at a crucial juncture in the game and paved the way for a UNCG comeback.
That comeback came quickly. UNCG coolly responded to Appalachian State’s offensive assault with an even greater barrage of their own, scoring four runs in the bottom of the fifth. A walk with the bases loaded drove in the fourth run, giving UNCG a 7-6 lead.
After UNCG tacked on a couple more runs in the sixth, Trejo drove the final nail into Appalachian State’s coffin with a monstrous home run over the left field wall, the last runs scored in an 11-6 UNCG victory. UNCG finished with 16 hits. Every starter recorded a hit.
Easton Welch came in to earn the save for UNCG. It was one of the most memorable of his career, as Easton’s brother, Bailey, was the starting second baseman for Appalachian State. Bailey and Easton squared off in the top of the eighth.
“Easton, be nice to your little brother!” a woman in attendance, presumably a family member, hollered as Bailey stepped to the plate.
Easton did no such thing, as Bailey slapped a breaking fastball to third for the easy groundout.
After a 45 minute break, the teams retook the field for the second half of the doubleheader.
It turned out to be a frustrating game for UNCG, falling 6-4. By all means except the score, UNCG outplayed the Mountaineers. Appalachian State recorded just four hits compared to UNCG’s 13, but eight walks between starter Trey Kissack and reliever Jack Ponder gave the Mountaineers plenty of extra baserunners.
A pair of two-run home runs and a two-run double were all the Mountaineers needed to break open a commanding 6-1 lead heading into the seventh.
In the bottom on the seventh, Stewart smacked a two-run double to bring the Spartans within striking distance. Shortstop Tripp Shelton then drove in Stewart to make it 6-4.
Though UNCG’s Jack Maynard gave a fantastic performance in relief—striking out eight and giving up zero runs in 3.2 innings—the Spartan offense could get nothing going and the Mountaineers headed back to Boone with a win under their belts.
UNCG’s next home series is Mar 2-4 vs Marist. They will hit the road next weekend to take on Tennessee in Knoxville.