BOONE, N.C. — Luke Watts fielded the come backer to the mound, ran toward first base and flipped the ball to Conner Leonard for the final out.
The classmates embraced as the rest of Appalachian State’s team charged away from the home dugout to join them.
Appalachian State ended a long Senior Day in style, capping head coach Kermit Smith’s second season with an 11-7 victory against 16th-ranked league champion Coastal Carolina.
It was the last game appearance at Jim and Bettie Smith Stadium for Leonard, Watts, Tristan Helms, Reed Howell, Travis Holden, Robert Langdon and Drake Zupcic. The exchange between Watts, whose nine saves this year rank fifth in App State’s single-season history, and Leonard, who made 175 starts at first base in 195 career games, provided a fitting conclusion.
The Mountaineers (18-36, 9-21 Sun Belt) and Chanticleers (38-17, 23-7) played 21 innings Saturday, as Coastal Carolina finished off a 10-4 victory in Game 1 of the series and won 10-5 in Game 2 before falling to App State in the finale.
Appalachian trailed 3-0 in Game 3 before recording its highest-scoring inning of the season with a six-run fourth that included seven walks and two hit batters. Leading 7-5 in the seventh inning, the Mountaineers extended their advantage thanks to Joel McDaniel’s solo homer, CJ Brown’s sacrifice fly to score Drew Beck and Alex Leshock’s two-run double. Bailey Welch followed Langdon home and beat the throw to the plate to score all the way from first.
After starting pitcher Will Sprinkle exited the game with a fifth-inning lead and Andrew Papp (1-0) threw scoreless sixth and seventh innings en route to his first App State win, Watts retired all five batters he faced in lowering his senior-year ERA to 2.29 in 30 appearances. He led the league with 27 games finished.
Leonard went 3-for-8 with four RBIs in his last two games, while Langdon started the final two games at second base, had an RBI single in Game 2 of the series and helped turn an inning-ending double play to preserve a 7-5 lead after Coastal Carolina loaded the bases in the seventh inning.
Helms and Howell came out of the bullpen to record ninth-inning strikeouts in the series opener, which followed a graduation ceremony for the seven seniors, and Holden pitched the eighth inning of Game 2. That game ended with a crowd-pleasing at-bat for Zupcic, a 2017 starter who entered the lineup for the first time in two months. An arm injury limited him to 13 at-bats, most of them as a pinch-hitter, before he was shut down a month into the season.
With its first home victory against a top-20 opponent in recent history, App State was able to send its seniors out with a memorable win.