BOONE, N.C. – App State’s baseball team opens its 2020 season on Friday with a three-game series at Gardner-Webb. First pitch for App State’s first game of the season is set for 4 p.m.
App State’s 2019 lineup finished with three.300 hitters – Luke Drumheller (.337), Tyler Leek (.323) and Kendall McGowan (.305). The Mountaineers also excelled in the field, finishing with a .963 fielding percentage. The .963 percentage ranks as App State’s 10th-best mark in program history.
The Mountaineers return all of their key contributors in the outfield from the 2019 season, including Leek and McGowan. App State also welcomes back outfielders Alex Leshock and Phillip Cole. Leshock made 36 starts in center field, while Cole made 34 starts in right field.
Leek, a junior from Hayesville, North Carolina, batted .323 and scored a team-high 32 runs in his first season with the Mountaineers. The outfielder also recorded four doubles, five home runs, five stolen bases and tied for first on the team with four triples. Leek’s role surged at the end of the season, starting the final 14 games and 23 of the 26 final games.
McGowan, App State’s starting left fielder and cleanup hitter in 2019, batted .305 with a .524 slugging percentage. The junior’s 35 RBIs, 57 hits, 31 runs scored, eight home runs and 16 multi-hit games all ranked second on the team. The Forest City, North Carolina native also tied for a team-high four triples and 11 steals. His six home runs against Sun Belt opponents tied for first in the league.
Leshock batted .239 with 33 hits, 21 runs scored, 10 RBIs and nine steals in 10 attempts. The center fielder’s defensive prowess was on full display, committing just one error and posting a team-best .990 fielding percentage this past season.
Cole, a sophomore from Burlington, North Carolina, slugged five home runs and drove in 24 runs as a freshman, finishing with a .271 batting average in league play.
The Mountaineers welcome back the right side of their infield from 2019, which features senior Robbie Young at first base and sophomore Luke Drumheller at second base. On the left side, App State returns 79 total starts between senior shortstop Luke Allison and junior third baseman Bailey Welch.
Young paced the Mountaineers with a team-high 53 games played, making 49 starts at first base. The senior recorded 16 RBIs, 36 hits and scored 24 runs in 2019. Young proved to be a timely hitter in his first season at App State, hitting .333 with runners in scoring position.
At second base, Drumheller completed his breakout freshman season by leading the Mountaineers in five categories – batting average (.337), RBIs (37), hits (67), doubles (15) and on-base percentage (.401). The Collegiate Baseball News Freshman All-American also tied an NCAA record with a five-double performance in a nonconference victory over Furman.
On the left side of the infield, Allison made 23 starts at third base, 10 starts at shortstop and two starts at second base. The senior went a perfect 11-for-11 in stolen-base attempts, which tied McGowan for the most swiped bags in 2019. Welch, another infielder that split time at multiple positions, started 26 games at third base, 15 games at shortstop and three games at second base. Welch knocked in 15 runs, smacked five doubles and scored 23 runs in 2019.
Andrew Greckel, a junior transfer who played at Chattahoochee Valley Community College in 2019, will split time in the infield and the outfield this season for the Mountaineers. The left-handed batter will add an additional left-handed option to App State’s lineup. Greckel batted .278 with 24 RBIs, 38 runs scored and a .409 on-base percentage during the 2019 season.
Sophomore Dalton Williams also made a team-high 27 starts as the designated hitter in 2019. Williams, a sophomore from Dallas, North Carolina, batted .250 with two home runs, 17 RBIs, four doubles and 15 runs scored as a freshman.
Behind the Plate
With the loss of 2019 senior Riley Smith at catcher, the Mountaineers will rely on sophomore Hayden Cross and newcomers Jack Lipson and JD Yakubinis. Smith played in 48 games and made 44 starts behind the plate for App State in 2019, slugging five home runs, five doubles and two triples during his senior season. Smith also sported a .994 fielding percentage with just two errors this past season.
Cross, who made 24 appearances and 12 starts as a freshman, batted .277 with nine RBIs in 47 at-bats in 2019. The left-handed hitter also batted .357 with runners in scoring position.
Lipson, a teammate of Greckel’s at Chattahoochee Valley Community College in 2019, batted .287 with 41 hits, seven doubles and 26 RBIs this past season. Lipson thwarted 15 steal attempts from behind the plate in 2019.
Yakubinis also joins the Mountaineers alongside another 2020 newcomer – freshman Noah Hall. Yakubinis helped lead Providence High School to a 25-4 record and a 12-0 mark in conference play as a senior.
Head coach Kermit Smith on the batting lineup:
“The newcomer that’s come on to the scene is Andrew Greckel. He can do a number of different things. You will see him play third base, in the outfield and even at DH a couple of games. He’s been really good and adds another left-handed bat to our lineup, which obviously adds a great dynamic. Anybody who’s been around our program the past few years knows that I like to balance out the lineup with lefties and righties, so he’ll do a great job there. Then you will see a huge assortment of really familiar names. Robbie Young might be in the same breath as Jack Hartman as the most improved player in our program. Kendall McGowan, Tyler Leek, Alex Leshock and Phillip Cole – those are guys you’ll see roaming the outfield. In the infield, we’ve become familiar with Bailey Welch doing a number of different things. He’s played second, third and short in his career here, and you’ll see him continue in that flex role this year doing a lot of different things. Luke Allison at different times last year did something similar, and he’s a really good player. Luke Drumheller, coming off his Freshman All-American season continued to work hard in the weight room. You’ll see him holding down that second base spot. With Hayden Cross and newcomer Jack Lipson, you’ll see those guys working extremely hard behind the plate. We’ve also had a lot of development with freshman JD Yakubinis. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him back there some this year, too. We’re excited with a lot of familiar names, which is always great with continuity when you’re building a program. App Nation is going to see a lot of new faces involved in pitching staff and some with position players this year, but from a lineup standpoint you’ll see a lot of familiar names.”
Smith on the defense:
“It’s the old cliché, ‘pitching and defense wins championships,’ and we start there in recruiting and we start there in development. In everything we do, we want to recruit a very good athlete that has great capabilities with their glove. Coach [Justin] Aspegren does a lot in terms of positioning. We’re constantly searching for the best place to put people in the field, and he does a great job on that. Coach [Britt] Johnson does a fantastic job with our infielders, continuing to develop them to catch and throw. Coach [Erik] Lunde does a fantastic job with our catchers. With our outfielders, we’ve always found a way to put a good athlete out there and with our positioning scheme put guys where they need to be.”
App State Baseball would like to thank AutoStar Nissan of Boone for serving as the presenting sponsor of the 2020 season. Season tickets can be purchased by clicking HERE for the App State Ticket Central site, by calling the Appalachian State athletics ticket office at (828) 262-2079 or by going to the ticket office, located at the Holmes Center, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays.