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Kayt Houston
Kayt Houston had her eight home run of the season.
photo courtesy of Appalachian State Athletics

App State Softball Defeats Cleveland State in Raleigh

After numerous delays and time changes, the App State Mountaineers finally took the field at the Wolfpack Classic and struck for four runs in the first inning to jump in front early against the Cleveland State Vikings. Then, Sejal Neas took over in the circle and mowed down the Viking bats, leading the Mountaineers to a 4-2 win on Friday.

The Vikings (2-4) struck first with an RBI single, but six straight baserunners in the bottom of the inning allowed the Mountaineers (5-4) to plate a four-spot in the inning to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Two-RBI singles by both Peyton Darnell and Olivia Cook helped spark the Black and Gold to the crooked number in the first.

With a lead after her first inning of work, Sejal Neas pitched marvelously en route to her second win of the season. Overall, Neas left six runners on base while also retiring 14 of the final 15 batters she faced to close the game. She was resilient all game in the circle as she escaped multiple jams, including stranding two in scoring position in the second inning to keep the Vikings off the board.

The Mountaineer offense loaded the bases in two separate innings and had at least one runner on in every inning, putting pressure on the Vikings all game. Six different players recorded at least one hit in the weekend-opener with Kayt Houston’s two-hit day leading the way.

In Neas’ fourth start of the season, it was Cleveland State who got the scoring started on Friday as they strung together a pair of hits to open play. Neas bounced back strongly after allowing the run, tallying her first of five strikeouts on the game to end the inning.

Neas’ strikeout to limit the damage proved vital as the Mountaineer offense immediately paid off her work with four first-inning runs. First, it was Houston who roped a single into left field to start the game and Grace Barrett reached first on a fielder’s choice to put two runners on with no one out. Darnell then stepped to the plate and cleared the bases with a hard-hit single into the center that scored Houston. Barrett came around to score on the play as well, using aggressive baserunning to capitalize on a Viking error to give App State the lead.

Walks to both Killian Roberts and Taylor Thorp loaded the bases in the first inning for Olivia Cook, who delivered a single into right that plated two. Cook’s opposite-field approach helped drive in her sixth and seventh runs this year.

The Vikings eventually got out of the inning, but six baserunners, three hits and four runs from the Mountaineers gave App State its first lead of the game after one.

Now with the lead, Neas came back out in the second and kept the Vikings at bay, stranding two runners in the inning. The Vikings’ first two runners reached base and were moved to second and third with just one out, but Neas’ ability to miss barrels led to two straight weak fly balls that ended the threat and maintained the three-run lead after two.

Fired up after Neas’s solid inning of work, Abby Cunningham drew a walk to lead off the second inning after a seven-pitch battle. Grace Barrett then singled to center and Darnell reached base for the second time of the game to load the bases for the second consecutive inning. But just as Neas did in her half of the inning, Viking starting pitcher Holzopfel stranded the bases loaded to keep the Mountaineer lead at three.

The first two Vikings reached base in the third inning, putting another runner in scoring position against Neas. Neas got the next hitter to ground the ball back to her and she calmly fired to third to get the lead runner for the first out. Despite the nice play on defense, Gilkerson singled into right field to bring in Cleveland State’s second run. Gilkerson’s single would be the second-to-last runner that reached against Neas in the game.

Neas retired the Vikings in order in the fourth inning, racking up another strikeout in the process, which allowed the Mountaineer bats to come back to the plate. Looking to add on, Houston smoked a double to the left-field fence to lead off the inning, putting a runner in scoring position with no one out. It was Houston’s eighth double of the young season.

Holzopfel did well to escape the Mountaineer rally in the fifth, but the Vikings couldn’t crack Neas in the fifth as she worked around a one-out walk to retire the side in the fifth.

After a one-out walk in the fifth, Neas settled in and retired each of the last eight hitters she saw. An eight-pitch sixth inning and a clean seventh inning capped off her fourth complete game and second win of the season.

The Mountaineers’ hot start and another solid outing from the defense helped lead App State to its fifth win in the last six games. Neas needed just 99 pitches to complete the game.

App State continues play at the Wolfpack Classic with a doubleheader on Saturday. App State will take on Iona for the first time ever in game 1 while a rematch with Cleveland State caps off the day. First pitch against Iona is slated for 1 p.m.