BOONE, NC -- When Billy Jones was hired as Appalachian State head baseball coach in June of 2012, he assumed the difficult task of succeeding the successful and popular Chris Pollard.
After leading the Mountaineers to six consecutive seasons of 30 or more wins and their first NCAA Regional appearance since 1986, Pollard left Boone to rebuild a struggling Duke program.
When Coach Pollard was hired in 2005, Appalachian baseball had only two winning seasons in the fifteen years prior to his arrival, including a dismal three-year stretch from 2002-2004 in which the Mountaineers posted an overall record of 40-113.
By the time he departed, the culture of baseball in Boone had changed completely, culminating with a 41-18 campaign in 2012 that set a program record for wins in a single season. Postseason victories over traditional powers Oklahoma and Virginia earned the Mountaineers some national recognition, opening the door to a more high-profile opportunity for Pollard in the ACC.
With a change of culture came the burden of expectations, which fell on the shoulders of Coach Jones. In spite of losing the team's top two starting pitchers Ryan Arrowood and Seth Grant, record-setting power hitter Daniel Kassouf, right fielder Tyler Tewell, closer Nathan Hyatt and catcher Jeremy Dowdy to the professional ranks, the Mountaineer faithful expect winning baseball in 2013.
Before his arrival in the High Country, Jones had 18 years of coaching experience and a reputation as one of the finest recruiters in the nation, which he earned during his tenure as recruiting coordinator at NC State (2002-2004) and Oklahoma State (2005-2012).
However, the 2013 campaign is his first as a head coach at the Division I level. Before taking the field with his new club for the first time, Jones was dealt a significant blow with the news that all-conference senior center fielder Ty Zupcic would miss the season with a knee injury suffered in the 2012 NCAA Regional.
Along with bringing a reliable bat to the line-up and great range to the outfield, Zupcic was a three-year starter who provided experience and veteran leadership to a young ASU team.
Despite the roster turnover and inexperience in key areas, the Mountaineers stormed out of the gates with a season-opening 6-3 road victory over #8 North Carolina State, handing defending ACC Player of the Year Carlos Rodon his first collegiate loss.
After raising eyebrows across the college baseball world with an impressive debut, Appalachian backed that performance up at Smith Stadium by defeating Canisius, winning a weekend series with Butler and earning a come from behind victory over High Point. The Mountaineers now sit at 5-1 overall and boast a top 50 ranking in the RPI as they prepare for a weekend trip to Davidson.
Appalachian's early season success has allowed a talented group to maintain confidence heading into conference play. While no victory comes easy in the Southern Conference, Billy Jones and his staff have legitimized the lofty expectations in the first weeks of this young season.