While the 2021 season has been a disappointment for App State baseball with a 21-31 record, the one thing that stands out is its 11-10 record in the Sun Belt. Now the window is open for head coach Kermit Smith’s team to take the leap to conference dominance in 2022.
“Our trajectory in the Sun Belt has been very, very good, and we are making great strides to catch up in other areas that we need … so that when we finish the conference tournament, we will still be playing, we ‘re always here for the opportunity to go to a regional,” Smith said.
The Mountaineers finished fourth in the much stronger East Division, where the West’s first seed was 13-11 against the conference. Hoping to reach the playoffs in a regional, the Mountaineers fire two All-Sun Belt players, including junior pitcher Tyler Tuthill. The southpaw had a shaky start to the 2021 season, but turned off the lights in conference play, finishing with a 1.59 ERA against opponents Sun Belt while limiting hitters to a .160 batting average. Both of those numbers were the second-best in the conference.
“It’s nice to know that the first pitch of the season is going to be thrown by a guy from across the conference,” Smith said. “That experience, that ability and that talent to throw your first pitch of the season, that’s a good place to start.”
With Tuthill as App State’s top pitcher, senior redshirt pitcher Shane Roberts is coming off an eye injury that knocked him out of 2021.
This season, Roberts can find his form in a veteran pitching squad that includes fellow redshirt senior pitcher Jason Cortnazer. Alongside players who spent their college careers with the Mountaineers, Smith welcomes a slew of transfers, including pitchers.
Sophomore Gray LaSpaluto is a wild card for App State as a two-way player at the JUCO level, striking out 7.71 batters per game while batting .360 for Chattanooga State. Fellow sophomore Xander Hamilton is another experienced pitcher, transferring from Virginia Tech after being Cap 7 Pitcher of the Year in high school.
“He’s a really good arm. He’s a right-handed pitcher, not a traditional thing,” junior catcher Hayden Cross said. go into detail, but it’s really an arm.
Transfer graduate Trey Jernigan is another newcomer to the Mountaineers bullpen after spending four years at UNC-Asheville before catching the attention of college programs last summer in the Coastal Plain League with 16 strikeouts. in 15.1 innings.
“I think you have a lot of pieces there…you’re still in development,” Smith said. “When you start with that core group of guys that I talked about and go from there, we have new guys that we’re excited about. All the foregoing.”
On the batting side for the Mountaineers, first-team All-Sun Belt Luke Drumheller is the infield leader. The junior second baseman finished the 2021 season with a .289 batting average in 52 starts, while leading the team with 39 RBIs and 58 hits.
Alongside Drumheller, graduate utility player Andrew Greckel is coming off an injury that has sidelined him for the past two months, but his 2020 campaign sets the bar for this season. Greckel led the team with a .360 batting average while finishing fourth in the Sun Belt in slugging percentage. Entering 2022, Greckel seeks to recreate that same production.
“I just have to stick with the coaching approach that he gives us, and we practice every day in batting and cage practice. Stick to that and trust him and give my best swing on any court,” Greckel said.
The mix of veteran talent and plenty of newcomers gives Smith’s team the opportunity to thrive in 2022 and achieve the lofty Omaha goals he set for himself with this roster. The Mountaineers enter their sixth season under Smith on Feb. 18 in Campbell, beginning a three-game road series with the Fighting Camels.