App State baseball sets sight on season with talented transfers, veteran leaders

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Jacob Stone

The App State baseball team looks on from the dugout during their game against North Carolina A&T in 2021.

Cameron Burnett, Associate Sports Editor

While the 2021 season was underwhelming for App State baseball with a 21-31 record, the one thing that stood out was its 11-10 record in the Sun Belt. Now, the window is open for head coach Kermit Smith’s team to make the jump to conference dominance in 2022.

“Our trajectory in the Sun Belt has been very, very good, and we’re taking strides to catch up in other areas that we need to … so that when we’re finished in the conference tournament, we’re still playing, we’re still right there for having an opportunity to go on to a regional,” Smith said.

The Mountaineers finished fourth in the much stronger East division, where the top seed in the West was 13-11 against the conference. Hoping to reach the postseason in a Regional, the Mountaineers return two All-Sun Belt players, including junior pitcher Tyler Tuthill. The left-hander had a shaky start to the 2021 season but pitched lights out in conference play, finishing with a 1.59 ERA against Sun Belt opponents while limiting batters to a .160 batting average. Both of these numbers were second best in the conference.

“It’s nice to know the first pitch of the season is going to be thrown by an all-conference guy,” Smith said. “That experience and that ability and that talent to throw your first pitch in the season, that’s a good place to start.”

With Tuthill as the top pitcher for App State, redshirt senior pitcher Shane Roberts is coming off an eye injury that took him out of the 2021. 

This season, Roberts can return to form in a veteran pitching group that features fellow redshirt senior pitcher Jason Cortnazer. Alongside the players who have spent their college career with the Mountaineers, Smith welcomes a multitude of transfers, especially pitchers.

Sophomore Grey 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 traditional stuff,” junior catcher Hayden Cross said. “His fastball’s got movement, his slider is a really good pitch. I don’t want to go deep into it, but he’s a really arm.”

Graduate transfer Trey Jernigan is another newcomer for the Mountaineers bullpen after spending four years at UNC-Asheville before drawing attention of college programs last summer in the Coastal Plain League with 16 strikeouts in 15.1 innings. 

“I think you’ve got a lot of pieces there… you’re always developing,” Smith said. “When you start with those core group of guys that I talked about and taking it from there, we’ve got some new guys coming in that we’re excited about. All of the above.”

On the hitting side of things for the Mountaineers, All-Sun Belt first team Luke Drumheller is the leader of the infield. The junior second baseman finished the 2021 season with a team-high .289 batting average in 52 starts while also leading the team with 39 RBI’s and 58 hits.

Next to Drumheller, graduate utility player Andrew Greckel is coming off an injury that sidelined him for the final 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 is looking to recreate that same production.

“I just have to stick to coach’s approach that he gives us, and we practice every day in batting practice and in the cage. Just stick with that and trust it and put my best swing on any pitch,” Greckel said.

The mix of veteran talent and abundant newcomers give Smith’s team the opportunity to flourish in 2022 and reach the lofty goals of Omaha that he’s set with this roster. The Mountaineers begin their sixth season under Smith Feb. 18 at Campbell, beginning a three-game road stand with the Fighting Camels.