ROCK HILL, S.C. – Jumping out to an early lead in this Sunday’s finale, High Point University baseball took a game three victory over hosts Winthrop by a final of 7-4. The visiting Panthers out-hit the Eagles by 13-5 on the day, with Daniel Millwee and Ryan Russell each collecting three knocks apiece.
“It’s huge. We’ll look back on this game at the end of the year and realize the value and the importance of it,” said Head Coach Craig Cozart. “Beyond the emotional side of it, is where it’s going to keep us from a competitive standpoint in the conference standings.”
After surrendering an early lead in their first two meetings in Rock Hill, the Purple & White jumped out to an early advantage in the final game, tallying three runs and four knocks to kick things off. With leadoff man Evan Bergman reaching on an Eagle error, the Panthers went on a run of four straight singles, with Millwee, Russell and JJ Woodard each collecting an RBI, for a 3-0 lead.
Winthrop pulled back a pair of runs in the bottom half of the inning, in what was an otherwise impressive start from right-hander Joe Johnson. Coming off a quality start against Charleston Southern last Sunday, Johnson held the Eagles to just two hits and a single run from the second through the fifth, facing just five over the minimum in his 5.0 innings of work.
With the score drawn back even going into the sixth, freshman AJ Holcomb delivered his second home run in as many days, to put the Panthers back ahead. Following a leadoff single from fellow first-year Brady Pearre, Holcomb sent an opposite field shot over the right field fence to give his team the go ahead and ultimately deciding runs of the contest.
“We played errorless baseball, had 13 hits, the middle of the order was really good once again, and AJ Holcomb had an opposite field two-run homer,” said Cozart. “So overall I think they responded very well.”
The Eagles brought themselves back within one in the bottom frame, as righty reliever Jonny Vizcaino struck out the side in the sixth. The senior struck out five Winthrop batters over his three innings out of the pen, holding the home team to just a pair of knocks during his time on the bump. Vizcaino’s K-total gives him a combined 16 strikeouts over his past three appearances, averaging a K/9 of 17.3 during that span.
“I mean it wasn’t easy [pitching-wise], honestly I think Winthrop is a quality offensive club,” said Cozart. “We can’t be stoic, we have to play with emotion and when we brought Jonny [Vizcaino] in during the middle innings, he pitched with a lot of emotion and I think that really fired our guys up. It was really important to get this win today in the grand scheme of conference play.”
Stacking up four hits in the seventh, the Panthers added a pair of insurance runs to go ahead by 7-4, receiving RBI knocks from both Russell and Joe Johnson. Collecting his second hit of the afternoon, Millwee led the frame off with an infield single, before getting himself into scoring position on a second base steal. Johnson traded places with the backstop on a double to right, before Russell brought the starting pitcher home on a single to the outfield.
Taking the hill in the ninth, sophomore Jacob Winger faced the minimum to close out his third save opportunity of 2019. Winger is yet to surrender a run in his past three trips to the mound, tossing 3.2 innings of perfect relief during that span.
>> With his three knocks, Millwee has reached first safely in his past 17 games played, while his pair of stolen bags against the Eagles sets a new career-high
>> Freshman Brady Pearre recorded the first multi-knock performance of his career, going 2-for-4 at the plate
>> Senior JJ Woodard notched a pair of hits himself, as he, Millwee, Russell and Pearre combined for 10 of their team’s 13 hits
>> Russell is currently on a five-game hitting streak after his Sunday outing, he went 5-for-14 (.357) over the weekend at Winthrop
>> Joe Johnson has earned a winning decision in each of his last two starts for the Purple & White
COMING UP NEXT
The Panthers stay on the road for the midweek, making the short drive over to Winston-Salem for the first leg of a home-and-home series against Wake Forest. HPU and the Demon Deacons have split their last two season series against one another, with the Purple & White falling just a single run shy of sweeping Wake in 2018.