Veteran Presence Shows Up in Texas State Win
BOONE, N.C. — No. 19 Texas State’s 7-4 win over Appalachian State Friday night was precisely the type of game that’s easy to let slip away if a team hasn’t yet learned how to win.
The weather wasn’t all that hospitable, as it was cold to start the game, with temperatures dropping as the sun went down and a stiff wind making it even colder. On the field, App State got out to a quick start with a two-run home run in the first inning off the bat of first baseman Austin St. Laurent.
The Mountaineers also found a way to answer every time it looked like the Bobcats were ready to run away with the game. A run in the third for Texas State was answered with one in the bottom half by App State. Then, when Texas State took the lead 4-3 with two runs in the fourth and one in the sixth, App State dutifully tied it 4-4 in the bottom half of the sixth.
But that’s the thing about this Texas State club. With a 21-6 record and 6-1 mark in Sun Belt play, it’s a veteran bunch that knows how to win, and it found a way.
“This team, they never panic,” said Texas State coach Steven Trout. “They never feel like they’re out of a game, even when you get down 2-0 in the first on Friday night, even when we come back and score (but) they score again. Just one of those nights where you’ve got to keep grinding.”
That veteran presence showed up in the way in which the Bobcats pulled this one out offensively, with fourth-year sophomore August Ramirez pinch-hitting and singling home the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth. Now hitting .414 on the season, Trout lamented after the game not being able to get Ramirez into the lineup a bit more often, and that shows you the kind of depth Texas State is working with.
“What’s crazy is the numbers tell you that lefties are hitting .040 off that guy, which doesn’t make a lot of sense when you see his stuff,” Trout said of App State reliever Cameron Carter. “So we just went against the numbers (with Ramirez) and just kind of went with a gut feel, and Augie’s one of those guys who can hit, and he probably should deserve more opportunities.”
But even beyond that one swing, veterans showed up time and again for Texas State. After going six up and six down over the first two innings, it was fourth-year junior catcher Peyton Lewis who got Texas State on the board with a solo home run to lead off the third.
In the sixth, after a two-run home run for freshman first baseman Daylan Pena pulled the Bobcats even in the fourth inning, it was a smart bit of baserunning for fifth-year senior right fielder John Wuthrich that gave them their first lead.
While standing on second, he read a ground ball to third base perfectly and was able to break toward the bag as App State third baseman Andrew Terrell released the throw. Not only did Wuthrich make it with room to spare, but the return throw got away, allowing him to score.
And to top things off, after the Ramirez RBI single, fifth-year junior Ben McClain connected for a two-run home run in the ninth to add some late insurance.
It wasn’t much different on the mound, as veterans led the way. Fourth-year junior righthander Zeke Wood gave up six hits and four runs in 6.2 innings pitched, but after going down 2-0 just three batters into the game, he really beared down and ended up giving Texas State good length.
“That’s kind of been our Friday night story,” Trout said. “He throws the ball well, we usually end up getting a win and find a way to escape with a win. He threw the ball great, and his numbers were great. Don’t look at his wins and losses. That’s definitely not going to tell the story with his season.”
Wood’s work kept App State from playing too much add-on as the game went along, but crucially, it also minimized the number of outs that Texas State was going to have to get before it felt compelled to turn the ball over to fifth-year senior righthander Tristan Stivors.
More specifically, with Wood exiting with two outs in the seventh, the Bobcats needed just one out from fourth-year junior righthander Triston Dixon before it was ready to hand Stivors the ball to begin the eighth.
Six outs later, with just a two-out single for App State in the eighth along the way, Stivors had closed it out, as he has so often in 2022. The numbers for the righthander, who worked on Friday with a fastball up to 93 mph and his typical dastardly slider, are impressive. He has seven saves on the season, although he got the win rather than a save on Friday, the two scoreless innings lowered his ERA to 0.72 and he has a 33-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 innings.
Last season in a similar role, Stivors struck out 39 batters in 28.2 innings, but he had a 5.34 ERA, a lot of that damage coming when he gave up at least one run in five of his final six outings. This season, he’s been on a different level.
“He’s just really cleaned up his mechanics, and I think now he’s just rolling with confidence,” Trout said. “He’s always had the stuff, it’s always been about command. He’s just really simplified things.”
Certainly this Texas State team is drawing a sharp contrast with last year’s club, which never really seemed to hit its stride despite being a veteran team in its own right.
Friday’s win is just one game, sure, but it’s hard not to see that the biggest difference between last year’s team and this year’s team is its ability to win games like this one, when it was given every chance to lose and it simply refused to.