By David Rogers. March 23, 2014. BOONE, NC — When the ball looks like a basketball has been thrown in slow motion by the pitcher, Appalachian State’s designated hitter Ashley Best’s mouth starts watering. The freshman slugger from Thomasville, NC, blasted two home runs on Sunday, powering the Mountaineers to an exciting, 7-4 win over Western Carolina in front of 110 fans at Sywassink/Lloyd Family Stadium.
Blowing Rock News coverage of AppState Sports is made possible by a sponsorship from Appalachian Regional Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine Center
Photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
After splitting a Saturday doubleheader vs. the Catamounts, winning 6-2 before losing the nightcap, 5-0, Sunday’s victory improved AppState’s Southern Conference record to 3-2 and 11-15 overall.
Best came into the game hitting a mere .138 on the season, but broke out of her slump by going 2-3, with 3 RBIs and 2 runs scored. “(Ashley) has been really hot in practice, but it just hasn’t transitioned over into games,” admitted Mouintaineer head coach Shae Wesley, now in her fourth season at the helm of Appalachian State softball. “We knew it was coming. She is such a fantastic hitter and we’re glad she got to show that today in the game.”
“I was seeing (the ball) really well,” Best told reporters afterwards. “Coach has helped me a lot with taking my hands to the ball.”
Referencing her season-opening slump, Best noted, “Sometimes you are hitting and sometimes you are not. You just have to keep working. I have been working since the fall to get my swing where it needs to be.”
At least on Sunday, her swing got there. She told reporters it was second 2-HR game of her collegiate career after duplicating the feat in a non-conference game vs. Lenoir-Rhyne in the fall. She also had a 2-dinger game while playing for Thomasville, NC’s Ledford High School Cougars.
“Western (Carolina) is a really good ball team,” observed Best. “It is a big rivalry…(so) it is really exciting (to win the weekend series). The opportunity (for me) to play is really great, being a freshman.”
You just have to keep working.
Adding “Small Ball”
Beyond Best’s adrenaline-charging heroics, Wesley and her young charges — she is carrying only one senior on the roster — manufactured four more runs the old fashioned way: any which way they could.
After retiring the Catamounts in the top of the 1st inning, a pair of Mountaineer juniors, catcher Sarah Warnock and 2B Cynthia Gomez, laid down back-to-back bunts to open the game. Warnock beat out the throw from Western Carolina pitcher Jordan Garrett, then ASU second baseman Cynthia Gomez laid down a perfectly executed sacrifice to move Warnock to second. Freshman shortstop Cara Parker singled to left field and took second on the throw back to the infield trying to catch Warnock, putting runners on second and third with just one out. Junior centerfielder Ashley Seering laced another single to left, easily scoring Warnock to earn AppState’s first run of the day. Parker tried to make it home from second on the play, but was gunned down at the plate by a spot-on throw from WCU rightfielder Amelia Griffin.
Western Carolina responded with two runs on three hits and a throwing error in the the top half of the 2nd, taking a 2-1 lead, but Best knotted things up with a blast to straightaway center that rattled off the wall of the Sofield Family Indoor Practice Facility. The Mountaineers weren’t done. They scored two more runs in the 2nd on a single by LF Whitney Johnson, then back-to-back doubles by Gomez and Parker.
Mountaineer senior 1B Lindsay Loudermilk opened the bottom of the 3rd inning by getting hit by a pitch. Sophomore outfielder Kristen Terry entered the game as a pinch runner for Loudermilk and promptly stole second base, then third base, but her skullduggery proved unnecessary when Best launched her second home run of day to give ASU a 6-2 lead.
The Catamounts clawed back with two runs in the top of the 5th inning, prompting a pitching change by Wesley to bring in flamethrower Shivaun Landeros. The 5-8 sophomore from Sparks, NV, did her job, allowing just two hits and no runs over the final two and one-third innings. Her 3 strikeout outing was marred only by 3 walks, 2 wild pitches, and she hit a batter. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers added an insurance run in the bottom of the 6th, fashioned out of a single and a stolen base by diminutive junior rightfielder Dani Heichen, a single and a stolen base by Gomez, and a sacrifice fly by Parker.
We wanted to take advantage.
With five steals during the game — two by Heichen, two by Terry and one by Gomez — one would speculate that the Mountaineer coaches had spotted a vulnerability during the Saturday doubleheader.
“Western’s (Heather) Chastain is a great catcher,” Wesley suggested, diplomatically. “We have just been focused a lot on our baserunning. Today we had opportunities with the right people in the right place at the right time to utilize the speed that we can have on the bases. We wanted an aggressive approach at the plate and on the bases.”
Heichen admitted that from what the Mountaineers had seen on Sunday, they thought there might be opportunities to steal vs. Chastain. “We wanted to take advantage of it. We knew that we had to score more runs than them and that was how we had to do it. We (didn’t feel”) we could win on just hits. Playing ‘small ball’ really helped us today.”
Tough Early Schedule Paying Dividends
AppState arguably had one of the most intimidating schedules to open the 2014 season. Because of the winter weather in the mountains, it was all on the road, including a western road swing that took the Mountaineers to Tempe, AZ in early February, before subsequent, “lowland” tournaments in Spartanburg, SC; Memphis, TN; and Charleston, SC. Right off the bat, ASU faced bigger, more established programs from schools that included San Diego State, Western Michigan, Penn State, Fresno State, Oregon, and Oregon State. They didn’t get their first win until Feb. 16, a 4-1 victory over Presbyterian, in Spartanburg.
Wesley readily admits that playing a challenging early season schedule is by design. “Our goal is to play the toughest pre-season schedule possible so that we are ready for conference play. We saw what we needed to work on and the team has worked really, really hard in practice to come back and be ready for (SoCon play).”
About the tough early schedule, Best told Blowing Rock News, “It definitely helped us a lot. Seeing the movement from different kinds of pitchers, the movement out of different pitchers’ hands…I think we have a bright (road) ahead of us.”
Heichen agreed, “We played really tough competition at the beginning of the season and it really helped (prepare us) for the rest of the season.” Smiling, she added, “We lost a lot at the beginning, so we have been, like, not wanting to lose anymore! We are in a bit of a streak right now. We need to keep winning. We are playing some great teams, so let’s show them how we play.”
Appalachian State travels to Raleigh, NC to face North Carolina Central in a non-conference game at 6:00 pm on Wednesday, then heads south to Birmingham, AL to resume conference play against the Samford Bulldogs in a three-game weekend series March 29 (DH) and 30. Next home game is Wed., April 2nd, 5:00 pm, as they host NC Central in a doubleheader before facing league leading Georgia Southern for a 3-game series April 5th and 6th, at Sywassink/Lloyd Family Stadium on the Appalachian State campus.
Western Carolina 4 (13-18,3-3)
|Amelia Griffin rf||3||0||1||0||0||1||2||1||0|
|Karley Harkey ss||4||0||1||0||0||1||1||0||2|
|Kara Salvo 3b||4||1||3||1||0||1||0||1||0|
|Taylor Sigmon 1b||3||0||1||0||1||0||4||0||1|
|Heather Chastain c||4||0||1||1||0||1||6||0||2|
|Courtney Price lf||4||1||1||0||0||1||2||0||2|
|Amber Kimrey cf||3||1||2||0||1||0||1||0||0|
|Makenzi McAteer 2b||2||0||0||1||0||1||1||0||0|
|Whitney Haywood 2b||2||0||0||0||0||1||1||1||3|
|Lexi Ross dp||1||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Brooke Coggins ph/dp||1||1||1||0||1||0||0||0||0|
|Jordan Garrett p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Courtney Buchanan p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
Appalachian State 7 (11-16,3-2)
|Sarah Warnock c||4||1||1||0||0||0||6||4||1|
|Cynthia Gomez 2b||3||1||2||1||0||0||2||2||0|
|Cara Parker ss||3||0||2||2||0||0||2||2||0|
|Ashley Seering cf||3||0||1||1||0||0||2||0||1|
|Lindsay Loudermilk 1b||2||0||1||0||1||0||8||0||2|
|Kristen Terry pr||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Alicia Van Winkle 3b||3||0||0||0||0||1||1||0||2|
|Ashley Best dp||3||2||2||3||0||1||0||0||0|
|Whitney Johnson lf||3||1||1||0||0||1||0||0||1|
|Dani Heichen rf||3||1||2||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Sydney Laws p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Shivaun Landeros p||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
Score by Innings R H E ----------------------------------------- Western Carolina.... 020 020 0 - 4 12 0 Appalachian State... 132 001 X - 7 12 1 -----------------------------------------
|E – Warnock(6). DP – APP 1. LOB – WCU 10; APP 7. 2B – Salvo(4); Kimrey(4); Coggins(2); Gomez(5); Parker(6). HR – Best 2(4). HBP – Griffin; Seering; Loudermilk. SH – Gomez(3). SF – Parker(2). SB – Gomez(6); Terry 2(9); Heichen 2(14). CS – LE Ross(2).|
|Courtney Buchanan L,5-3||5.0||8||5||5||0||3||0||0||2||0||22||25||9||3||98|
|Sydney Laws W,3-5||4.2||10||4||2||0||4||1||0||0||0||23||23||4||5||81|
|Shivaun Landeros S,2||2.1||2||0||0||3||3||2||0||1||0||8||12||0||3||46|
|Win – Laws (3-5). Loss – Buchanan (5-3). Save – Landeros (2). WP – Laws(9); Landeros 2(12). HBP – by Buchanan (Loudermilk); by Landeros (Griffin); by Buchanan (Seering). Pitches/strikes: Garrett 30/16; Buchanan 98/64; Laws 81/53; Landeros 46/23.Umpires – HP: Jeff Blanken 1B: Larry McCaden 3B: Jason Martin
Start: 4 p.m. Time: 2:09 Attendance: 110
Weather: 40 degrees, sunny
Garrett faced 1 batter in the 2nd.