On Appalachian State University baseball’s Senior Day, fifth-year senior Tyler Zupcic (Charlotte, N.C./Providence) hit a two-run walkoff double in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the Mountaineers to a dramatic 6-5 win over Furman in Saturday afternoon’s regular-season finale at Beaver Field at Jim and Bettie Smith Stadium.
With the win, Appalachian State (20-32, 12-14 SoCon) clinched fifth place in the final Southern Conference standings and an opening-round bye in next week’s Southern Conference Tournament. The Mountaineers open SoCon Tournament play on Wednesday at 10 a.m. versus No. 4-seeded Georgia Southern at Riley Park in Charleston, S.C.
With the loss, Furman (23-31, 11-15 SoCon) must participate in Tuesday’s single-elimination opening round of the SoCon Tournament. With a win, the Paladins would advance to the double-elimination portion of the tournament and face either top-seeded Western Carolina or No. 2-seeded Davidson on Wednesday.
Already one of the top players in Appalachian State history, Zupcic further cemented his place in Mountaineer lore with his performance in his final game at Smith Stadium. In addition to the two-run walkoff double, Zupcic also hit a two-run home run in the third inning and finished 2-for-5 with four RBI.
Zupcic’s two run blast to left field in the third gave Appalachian a 4-1 lead. However, Furman rallied for three runs in the fifth and one in the sixth to take a 5-4 advantage.
The score remained 5-4 until the bottom of the ninth. True freshman Tyler Stroup (Thomasville, N.C./East Davidson) got the rally started with a one-out single up the middle off Furman reliever Alex Abrams, who owned a 6-1 record and two saves coming into the ballgame. The next batter, Preston Troutman (Rockwell, N.C./East Rowan) lifted a high popup into shallow right field that bounced off the glove of Furman second baseman Jordan Simpson. Stroup moved to second on the Paladins’ second error of the game and the Mountaineers had runners on first and second with one out.
Abrams walked Michael Pierson (Coral Springs, Fla./Pine Crest) and his .335 batting average on five pitches to bring Zupcic to the plate with the bases loaded. Zupcic fell behind 0-2 in the count but laced the third pitch from Abrams well over the head of Furman left fielder Carter Grote. The ball one-hopped the fence and Stroup and Troutman easily came home with the tying and winning runs, setting off a wild celebration both on the field and in the stands.
In addition to Zupcic’s two-hit, four-RBI effort, Dillon Dobson (Hamptonville, N.C./Starmount) went 3-for-4 and Troutman went 2-for-5 with two runs scored to pace Appalachian State’s 11-hit attack. Alex Leach (Charlotte, N.C./Ardrey Kell) and Ozzy Gonzalez (Miami, Fla./South Miami) drove in the Mountaineers’ only other runs in the second inning.
Despite Zupcic’s heroics and the Mountaineers’ 11-hit outburst, the comeback would not have been possible if not for the performance turned by Taylor Thurber (Mooresville, N.C./Lake Norman) out of the Appalachian bullpen. Thurber allowed just one hit and struck out four over 2.1 scoreless innings to close the game and earn his first win of the season.
Thurber relieved App State starter Jeffrey Springs (Belmont, N.C./South Point), who pitched very well despite allowing five runs in 6.2 innings. Of the seven hits that Springs allowed, two were infield hits, one was a soft grounder through the right side of the infield on a hit-and-run and another was a bloop single to center field that landed just beyond the outstretched gloves of Appalachian’s shortstop, second baseman and center fielder. His biggest mistake of the afternoon was a three-run triple off the right-field wall by Hunter Burton one pitch after the southpaw appeared to twist an ankle in the top of the fifth inning.
Burton finished 3-for-4 with three RBI to pace Furman, which recorded eight hits as a team.
NOTES: After coming into the final week of the season with just one win in games that it trailed at any point after the third inning, Appalachian State rallied from post-third-inning deficits three times this week ... the Mountaineers trailed 5-4 after six innings in Tuesday’s 9-5, 10-inning win at East Tennessee State, trailed 4-2 after four innings in Friday’s 11-7 win over Furman and trailed 5-4 going into the bottom of the ninth inning of Saturday’s walkoff triumph ... Saturday’s walkoff win was Appalachian State’s second in as many years when it trailed going into the bottom of the ninth inning in its regular-season finale ... in last year’s regular-season finale, Appalachian rallied from an 8-1 deficit going into the bottom of the seventh inning with two runs in the seventh, three in the eighth and three more in the ninth to defeat Western Carolina, 9-8 ... as part of Senior Day festivities prior to the game, five Mountaineers that graduated this spring — Chad Farmer (Evans, Ga./Greenbrier), William Head (Asheville, N.C./Asheville), Zach Joyce (Lexington, N.C./North Davidson), Josh Zumbrook (Wilkesboro, N.C./West Wilkes) and Zupcic — were conferred their degrees by Appalachian State provost Dr. Lori Gonzalez during an on-field ceremony ... the five graduates missed last weekend’s commencement exercises while they were on the road for Appalachian’s series at Samford ... also as part of the pregame ceremonies, Jamie Ledford, who has served as the manager of concessions at Smith Stadium for the past four years while earning her degree at Appalachian State, became engaged to her longtime boyfriend, Kyle Boyd ... Ledford threw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch only to find out that Boyd was behind the plate disguised as an Appalachian State catcher in full uniform and gear ... after he caught Ledford’s pitch, he revealed his identity between home plate and the pitcher’s mound, dropped to one knee and proposed ... in addition to wrapping up the crucial opening-round bye in next week’s SoCon Tournament, Saturday’s win also unofficially clinched the Commissioner’s Cup (which recognizes the Southern Conference’s top all-around men’s sports program) for Appalachian State ... the winner will officially be announced at the league’s annual Honors Dinner on May 28 in Hilton Head, S.C. ... the Commissioner’s Cup would be Appalachian State’s ninth-straight and 34th overall.