By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
BOONE, N.C. — It looked like Appalachian State’s 19-game, home winning streak in softball might be in jeopardy early on in the Lady Mountaineers’ home opener Friday against Syracuse.
But sparked by a three-run homer from catcher Sarah Warnock in the fourth inning, ASU overcame deficits of 3-1 and 4-2 to pound out a 10-4 victory over its Atlantic Coast Conference opponent and expand that home winning streak to 20 games at Sywassink/Lloyd Family Stadium.
Warnock’s blast started a decisive six-run outburst in the fourth against Syracuse freshman pitcher Christina Clermont (1-4), who relieved another freshman, starter Sydney O’Hara in the second inning.
“We came out and hit the ball and played like we’ve been practicing,” fourth-year Lady Mountaineer coach Shae Wesley said. “Our hitters had good at-bats. Three, or four runs isn’t a big lead when we’re here in Boone.”
Warnock also helped three Lady Mountaineer pitchers, starter Sydney Laws, Shivaun Landeros and Alissa Schoelkopf, negotiate a dangerous Orange lineup, her pitch calling helping to limit Syracuse to six hits — just one coming in the final three innings.
“Sarah does a great job handling our pitchers and calling pitches,” said Wesley, whose team snapped a two-game losing streak to go to 8-14.
Landeros improved her record to 5-7 with the win on a day where Wesley had predetermined that all three ASU pitchers would throw 2 1/3 innings.
O’Hara had given the Orange (7-14) a 3-1 lead in the second when she blasted a high fly ball over the center-field fence for a three-run homer. But Syracuse coach Leigh Ross said O’Hara experienced “a dead arm” after her first inning of pitching and replaced her with Clermont.
Clermont gave up just one run in her first two innings of work, but couldn’t survive poor defense and bad pitch location in the fourth.
The rally started when a liner off the bat of Whitney Johnson, near the left-field line, was dropped by Alyssa Dewes for what was scored a double. Johnson advanced to third on a wild pitch, while Dani Heichen earned a hard-fought walk with one out and quickly stole second.
With a base open, Clermont went after Warnock with disastrous results. Warnock smacked a drive to deep center that barely cleared the lower fence in the outfield. Had the hit been a foot farther to the right, it would have smashed off the higher fence for a probable double.
Cynthia Gomez followed with a shot to center for a single, continued to second on a wild pitch and scored when Cara Parker drilled a blast to deep left that Dewes misjudged and played into another double.
That hit chased Clermont and Appalachian added another run on a wild pitch and an RBI ground out to second by Lindsay Loudermilk to make it 8-4.
ASU added a pair of unearned runs in the sixth when Mary Dombrowski dropped a fly on a deep drive by Ashley Seering to set up the final Lady Mountaineer scoring outburst.
Syracuse, a team that won three consecutive Big East crowns earlier this decade and came within a game of the 2012 NCAA Super Regionals with a loss to defending national champion Arizona State, is expected to finish near the top of the ACC standings, but has struggled against a tough schedule early this season.
“We’re giving up too many runs right now,” said Ross, whose team has been slowed by a shoulder injury to ace senior pitcher Lindsay Taylor. “We are doubting ourselves and are just not trusting the philosophy of our program.”
Taylor suffered through bicep tendonitis for much of her junior year to leave the Orange shorthanded in the circle and her current injury has forced Ross to rely on untested freshmen O’Hara and Clermont, as well as little-used sophomore left-hander Lindsay Larkin.
Larkin pitched probably her best game of the season against ASU, limiting the Lady Mountaineers to one hit in 2 2/3 innings, but the Orange couldn’t mount a comeback against Schoelkopf, who allowed no hits and only one walk after entering in the fifth.
The loss ended a two-game winning streak for Syracuse, which played three games at North Carolina to open ACC play last weekend and had solo games against Elon and Campbell earlier in the week as part of a spring-break swing.
Friday’s game had originally been scheduled as a doubleheader on Thursday, but was moved to Friday because of Wednesday night’s snowstorm and cold weather in the low 30s on Thursday.
The opener was delayed for two additional hours on Friday as a work crew did extra duty to get the infield prepared.
Appalachian State will be back in action at home for its Southern Conference opening series Saturday and Sunday against Chattanooga as the Lady Mountaineers begin defense of their 2013 regular-season league crown. The Saturday doubleheader starts at 1 p.m., with a solo game scheduled for Sunday at the same time.
Syracuse will be on the road for a three-game series at Virginia in ACC play this weekend.