Leading off the bottom of the ninth inning, Kassouf launched the second pitch from UNCG’s Tyler Hollstegge into a steady rain and high over the wall in left center field for the walk-off blast. His 16th home run of the year matched the long-standing Appalachian State single-season record shared by Pete Camelo (1982) and Andre Crawford (1986).
Kassouf’s walk-off home run was made necessary when UNCG rallied from a late four-run deficit. Thanks primarily to a gutsy effort from starting pitcher Seth Grant, who battled through multiple jams to turn in six scoreless innings, Appalachian led 4-0 after six frames.
UNCG got on the board with an RBI triple by Zach Leach in the seventh and cut the Mountaineer lead to one run with a two-run homer by Cambric Moye in the eighth.
Appalachian turned the slim 4-3 advantage over to closer Nathan Hyatt in the ninth. Pitching for the sixth time in the last seven games, Hyatt was one strike away from nailing down his 12th save of the year but just missed on a full-count pitch to Thomas Troelstrup to load the bases. He followed that by walking UNCG’s leading hitter, Kris Richards, on four pitches to force in the tying run and suffer his first blown save of the year. Tyler Moore relieved Hyatt after the walk to Richards and struck out Moye to get out of the bases-loaded jam, setting up Kassouf’s heroics in the bottom of the ninth.
In addition to becoming the first Mountaineer in 26 years to hit 16 home runs in a season, Kassouf snapped an 0-for-9 skid and an eight-game homerless drought (his longest of the season) with the game-winning blast. Prior to the walk-off bomb, Kassouf was responsible for three of the 11 men that Appalachian had left on base during the course of the first eight innings. The 11 stranded baserunners nearly negated an explosive 13-hit effort by the Mountaineers.
UNCG had 14 hits but struggled throughout the ballgame in the clutch and left 12 men on base. In particular, the Spartans were held at bay in key situations by Grant. The right-handed senior allowed a season-high-tying nine hits but kept UNCG off the board by getting most of his five strikeouts in key situations and also benefitted from two double plays and having a runner thrown out at the plate to end an inning.
Tyler Zupcic led the Mountaineers’ 13-hit attack by going 3-for-4. Troelstrup and Moye also had three hits apiece to pace the Spartans. Moore got the win for the Mountaineers to move to 3-1 on the campaign while Hollstegge fell to 4-6 after surrendering a walk-off homer for the second time in a week.
With the thrilling victory, Appalachian (34-10, 18-5 SoCon) lowered the number of wins it needs to clinch its first Southern Conference championship in 25 years without any assistance to four. The Mountaineers also clinched their sixth SoCon series victory of the season and moved to 23-1 at home on the campaign.
Appalachian goes for its fifth three-game SoCon sweep of the season when the clubs meet for the series finale on Sunday at Smith Stadium. First pitch is set for 1 p.m. but will be immediately preceded by Senior Day recognitions, which will begin at 12:40 p.m.
NOTES: The walk-off win was Appalachian’s third of the season ... the series victory is the Mountaineers’ fourth over UNCG in the last six seasons ... prior to 2007, Appalachian had won just one of the first nine series against UNCG after the Spartans began SoCon play in 1998 ... Kassouf has reached base in 14-straight games ... Zupcic reaggravated a previous knee injury in the eighth inning and came out of the game ... his status for Sunday’s series finale is unknown.