App State baseball falls to Charlotte in Kannapolis stadium grand opening

App+State+and+Charlotte+faced+off+in+the+first+game+ever+played+at+the+new+%2452+million+minor+league+stadium+in+Kannapolis.+%22It+was+an+honor+to+get+to+play+the+first+game+here.+It%E2%80%99s+an+extremely+beautiful+ballpark%2C%22+Mountaineers+head+coach+Kermit+Smith+said.

Courtesy App State Athletics/Jay Crain

App State and Charlotte faced off in the first game ever played at the new $52 million minor league stadium in Kannapolis. “It was an honor to get to play the first game here. It’s an extremely beautiful ballpark,” Mountaineers head coach Kermit Smith said.

Jayson James , Reporter

For 572 days, Atrium Health Ballpark was ready to open, but no games were played. The $52 million ballpark was completed last May in time to host games for the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers, the Minor League Baseball team in Kannapolis, but due to COVID-19, the minor league season was shut down and the stadium wasn’t in use. 

Last Tuesday’s game between App State and Charlotte was originally scheduled for play in Charlotte but was moved to Kannapolis, where the Mountaineers eventually fell 15-5. The decision to change the game to a bigger venue created opportunities for more people to purchase tickets to attend the game. Fittingly enough, the game sold out less than an hour after tickets went on sale. 

“It was an honor to get to play the first game here. It’s an extremely beautiful ballpark, it almost felt like normal today with having so many fans in the stands,” head coach Kermit Smith said.  

Charlotte jumped out to an early lead in the second inning, plating three and adding nine more in the bottom of the third. The Mountaineers quickly found themselves down 12-0 and weren’t able to create any offense until the top of the fifth inning. App State scored on RBI doubles from sophomore designated hitter Peyton Idol and junior right fielder Phillip Cole. Charlotte plated three more runs in the final four innings. 

The Mountaineers (10-9) came into the game winners of their last 4 after defeating NC A&T and sweeping a three-game set with Arkansas State to open Sun Belt play. Charlotte improved to 11-8 on the season after defeating the Mountaineers for the first time since 2006. 

Smith declared the game against Charlotte “staff day,” meaning he rested his normal starters for the weekend series against Georgia Southern and split the bullpen  for most of the pitching. 

Charlotte used a nine-run third inning to help propel the team to victory. App State junior second baseman Luke Drumheller reached base four times in a 1-for-2 night that included two walks and a hit by pitch. Idol also led the Mountaineers with a pair on a two-run double in the fifth inning. Junior right fielder Phillip Cole collected one hit in four plate appearances and drove in two runs.

The night started positively for the visiting Mountaineers as Idol and Drumheller both worked back-to-back walks to open the game, but Charlotte’s pitcher Hale Sims got the 49ers out of an early jam. 

Charlotte jumped on App State freshman starting pitcher Ben Peterson in the second inning, scoring five runs on three hits. Peterson worked a 1-2-3 first inning, striking out two, before Charlotte threatened in the bottom of the second. Charlotte left fielder Hunter Baker slapped a two-run triple down the left field line just out of left fielder Kendall McGowan’s reach. The 49ers capped off the bottom of the second inning with a double, plating another run to make it 3-0.

App State scored five runs in the fifth inning thanks to RBI doubles from Idol and Cole.  McGowan recorded an RBI groundout that scored Drumheller before junior utility player Andrew Terrell and catcher Hayden Cross drew bases-loaded walks.

App State was never able to recover offensively after the second and third innings as the 49ers combined for 15 runs on 18 hits. 

The Mountaineers plated five runs and strung together five hits while also allowing three errors.