Site: High Point, N.C. (Williard Stadium)
Score: High Point 3, Lafayette 1
Records: HPU: 3-0, LC: 0-3
W: Joe Johnson (1-0), L: Brett Kreyer (0-1), S: Mason Kearney (1)
Next HPU Event: Tuesday, Feb. 18 — at North Carolina Central (Durham, N.C.), 6 p.m.
HIGH POINT, N.C. – For the first time since becoming a Division I program in 2000, the High Point University baseball team started the season with an opening-weekend series sweep, completing the three-game stretch with a 3-1 victory over Lafayette College on Sunday afternoon (Feb. 16).
Senior Joe Johnson got the start on the mound and struck out a career-high seven batters and took care of business for himself offensively, hitting a go-ahead home run in the fifth to give HPU the lead for good.
Sam Zayicek had a big game and weekend series at the plate as well for the Purple and White, going 3-4 with a run scored in today’s game to give him an average of .636 for the weekend and a slugging percentage of 1.091. He had seven hits in 11 at bats against the Leopards and rattled off a pair of doubles and hit a home run in the season opener, picking up a total of five RBIs in the first three games of the season. He even picked up an outfield assist in the fifth inning of today’s game.
“I’m really proud of the guys. For the first time in our Division I history we’ve started the season 3-0, that’s never happened before,” head coach Craig Cozart said after the victory. “It wasn’t easy, I give Lafayette a lot of credit. They came out in the cold and played very well this weekend. Offensively we showed the ability to hit the ball into the gap, hit the ball out of the ballpark and our bullpen was special. We’re showing some really, really, good signs and we just hope to keep building on that.”
Lafayette had the first chance of the game, putting runners on first and second with no outs in the top of the second. The Leopards tried to bunt the runners up but the bunt attempt came rolling right back out to Johnson, who made the quick flip over to third to get the lead runner. He then stranded the two LC runners on base with a strikeout and a groundout to short to end the inning.
He got some support from his offense in the bottom half of the second, as the Panthers drew first blood on a sacrifice fly, HPU’s fifth of the series. Zayicek doubled down the line in left to start the inning off for the Purple and White and advanced to third on a weak groundout to short. Trent Harris was the next High Point batter and hit one to left, deep enough to bring Zayicek home. HPU threatened to score again in the inning, putting runners on the corners with two outs but a strikeout sent the game to the third with just a 1-0 lead for the Panthers.
The Leopards tied things up two innings later with one swing of the bat in the top of the fourth. Dylan Minghini swung on the first pitch with two outs and sent one over the wall in left-center for his second homer of the series and Lafayette’s fourth as a team. LC put another runner on with a single but a popup to first ended the inning with only one run to tie things up.
High Point tried to regain the lead in the bottom half of the fourth, getting Zayicek to third with two outs. He singled to start the inning and then took second on an error on a pickoff attempt from Lafayette’s pitcher. He made it to third on a flyout to center but once again an ill-timed strikeout stranded a Panther at third
Johnson came out firing in the top of the fifth and got the first two batters out on strikes. Lafayette’s leadoff hitter was up next and reached on an error and advanced to second on a wild pitch from Johnson that got past the catcher. The Leopards singled through the gap at short and sent their runner home from second, but a perfect throw from Zayicek in the outfield was on time to record the final out of the inning at the plate.
Two quick outs to start the bottom of the fifth for High Point brought Johnson up to the plate, looking to give himself the lead to work with on the mound. He did just that, connecting on a shot down the right-field line that just barely stayed fair while carrying over the fence to give the lead back to the Panthers, 2-1.
Johnson didn’t get a chance to pitch with the lead again, as Cozart decided to go to the bullpen and Chris Apecechea. Johnson’s final line on the day was an impressive one, striking out a career-high seven batters while allowing just one run on six hits in five innings of work.
Apecechea came in and did his best to one-up the senior starter, going 1-2-3 in both the sixth and seventh innings, picking up a pair of punchouts in each inning. He let the only baserunner of his outing reach on a walk in the eighth, but promptly got the next runner to ground into an inning-ending double play. Apecechea left after the eighth, leaving with four strikeouts and one walk in three innings of action.
The Panthers tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth to give the pitching staff a little room to breathe before the ninth. Evan Bergman singled to left to start the inning and then took second on Lafayette’s second error on a pickoff attempt in the game and third such error of the series.
After a strikeout gave HPU its first out of the inning, Bergman broke for third and looked like he would be caught stealing after a quick throw from the catcher. Bergman made a heads-up slide into the bag, ducking under and around the tag from the third baseman to get in safely for his first stolen base of the season.
His steal paid off as Harris singled through the 5-6 hole to bring Bergman home and give Harris his second RBI of the game. Harris stole second and took third on a wild pitch but High Point left a runner 90 feet from scoring with a strikeout for the third time in the game.
With a two-run lead in the game, Cozart brought freshman Mason Kearney onto the mound, looking to pick up the save in his first collegiate outing. The task was not easy for Kearny, facing the middle of the Leopards’ lineup. He started off strong, getting the first batter with a four-pitch strikeout and then getting the cleanup man to fly out to right.
That brought up LC’s home run hitter from earlier and Minghini picked up his third hit of the game with a single to left-center. Kearny walked the next batter to bring the go-ahead run to the plate but closed the door with his second strikeout of the inning to win the game and complete the sweep.
High Point’s win completes the first-ever opening weekend sweep in the Panthers’ Division I history of baseball, and makes the start to the 2020 season the best HPU has had since joining D1 in 2000. The Purple and White look to keep rolling with a pair of midweek games in the Research Triangle, first visiting North Carolina Central on Tuesday (Feb. 18) at 6 p.m. for High Point’s first road and night game of the season. The Panthers then head back that way on Wednesday (Feb. 19), taking on No. 19-ranked North Carolina at 3 p.m.