College baseball: 3 Mustangs starting at ASU
By Mike London
BOONE — Appalachian State first baseman Trey Holmes still has a gold glove and a sly sense of humor.
Asked to comment about his former East Rowan teammate Preston Troutman starting in left field for the Mountaineers, Holmes responded: “I think it’s great Preston is in left field. Now I don’t have to try to catch his throws from shortstop.”
Holmes is kidding — well, mostly kidding — and he’s genuinely excited that Troutman has helped Appalachian State’s baseball program leap to its strongest start since the 1960s.
“We’ve done things we’ve never done,” said ASU coach Chris Pollard, whose nationally ranked team is 18-4, including two wins at LSU. “We’ve always finished strong, but most years we’ve had to dig out of a hole.”
A third of the Mountaineers’ starting lineup graduated from East Rowan.
Besides Troutman, a sophomore in his second season in left, there are two Holmes brothers. Trey, a senior, is in his second season at first base after starring two years at Pitt Community College.
Trey’s little brother, Noah — one of those 6-foot, 200-pound little brothers — is a soph in his first year as the starting third baseman.
“To have three guys from one high school playing at this level, especially a pair of brothers, is unique for me,” ASU coach Chris Pollard said. “But it was never a package deal. We recruited all three on their own merits because they brought different things that we needed. They’re very close and they live together, but they’re three different players with different strengths and different personalities.”
The Holmes boys and Troutman were exciting players for the Rowan County American Legion team. They were instrumental in Rowan’s 2009 state and regional championships in a magical season capped by a third-place finish in the Legion World Series in North Dakota. Trey had 96 hits that summer, the most ever by a Rowan player in one season.
Trey also helped Pitt CC place fourth in the 2010 junior college World Series in Colorado.
That Noah, Trey and Troutman, a trio of lefty hitters, usually bat seventh, eighth and ninth in Pollard’s lineup, gives you an idea of just how strong the Mountaineers are this season.
Troutman arrived in Boone as a shortstop/pitcher. His raw tools were speed and serious arm strength.
Troutman sat for almost a month in 2011, but with ASU off to a tepid start, Pollard tried him in left field.
“We were looking for a spark and just thrust Preston out there without a lot of preparation time,” Pollard said. “We wanted his bat and athleticism on the field, and it worked. He got hot and his energy changed our team.”
While he was learning the outfield on the job, the 5-foot-9 Troutman played so well he made the All-Southern Conference freshman team. He’s never left the lineup.
While Trey was an offensive juggernaut at Newman Park, his calling card now is his glove.
“When we recruited him we saw he was an unusually athletic first baseman, and he was so good around the bag defensively,” Pollard said. “Whether he hit or not, we knew he’d really help us.”
Noah was recruited by numerous high-profile schools, but his choice was to be reunited with his big brother.
“It means I’ve got my hands full looking after him,” Trey joked. “But it gives our parents some security.”
Noah’s freshman year in Boone was frustrating. He got opportunities early, but he was relegated to the bench when he struggled. This year, however, Noah seized the job firmly.
“Everyone knows how incredible Noah’s work ethic is,” Trey said. “When he was sitting, he wasn’t sulking, he was learning, and he was determined to improve.”
Noah has a similar take.
“I was upset last year,” he said. “But I kept my head right and kept working. I just needed to get better.”
Pollard said Noah has been phenomenal defensively and the team’s most pleasant surprise.
“Routine plays or great plays, Noah’s made them all,” Pollard said. “It’s unheard of for a college third baseman to have a .960 fielding percentage, but he’s done it.”
None of the three former Mustangs has gotten hot yet offensively, but they’ve contributed to a lot of wins.
“They’re three of our best defensive players,” Pollard said.
Appalachian State made a splash nationally when it won two of three at perennial power LSU in late February.
The Mountaineers were silenced by Kevin Gausman, a sure high draft pick in the opener, but they won the middle game 1-0 when former North Davidson hero Daniel Kassouf homered on a hanging slider.
“We were a little wide-eyed when we got to LSU, but this is a veteran group,” Pollard explained. “We didn’t hit, but we didn’t play scared. We pitched it and we played defense.”
Sunday’s rubber game at LSU was the defining moment in ASU’s super start.
“It would’ve been normal to be satisfied with just sneaking out one win and thinking we’d accomplished our mission,” Pollard said. “But we jumped out and dominated that third game.”
The Mountaineers won 11-1, sending shock waves through the national polls.
“Winning two of three at LSU — everyone dreams about doing something like that,” Noah said. “And to be playing down there with my brother and Preston, it was just an awesome feeling.”
The Mountaineers had a 12-game winning streak end with a 6-4 loss at South Carolina, the defending national champs, on March 14, but ASU wasn’t overwhelmed. It led until the seventh inning.
“At the two best venues in college baseball — LSU and South Carolina — we have competed extremely well,” Pollard said.
Trey, who has played in the World Series at two levels of baseball, isn’t predicting a trip to Omaha, but with the Mountaineers already 7-1 in the Southern Conference, he likes what he sees.
“We’ve got outstanding pitching and we do the little things,” he said. “We’re capable of keeping it going.”