Site: High Point, N.C. (Williard Stadium)
Score: High Point 3, Bryant 2
W: Chris Apecechea (1-0), L: Luke Garofalo (0-1)
Records: HPU 1-2, BRY 2-1
Next HPU Event: Friday, Feb. 26 — vs. UNCG (Truist Point, High Point, N.C.), 4 p.m.
HIGH POINT, N.C. – The High Point University baseball team earned its first win of the 2021 campaign with a 3-2 victory over Bryant University in the series finale with the Bulldogs Sunday afternoon (Feb. 21).
“I like our team’s willingness to compete today,” head coach Craig Cozart said after the win. “[The compete level] was the disappointing thing about yesterday but they changed that today. Every single pitch, every single play, and every single at bat was highly competitive today. It was another one-run ballgame. I was pleased to see us play a clean game defensively and have eight pitchers go out and every single one of them competed really well. They threw strikes and put us in a position to win the ballgame so that was great to see. I have to give a ton of credit to Coach Klosterman and Bryant. That was 27 competitive innings and a really hard-fought series with some quality baseball.”
Eight different Panthers took the mound in the game, with a new one entering just about every inning. Changing the arm up seemed to work as HPU held Bryant to just five hits in the ballgame. New faces were heavily featured on the hill for the Panthers, with Griffyn Shelton, Teddy Merritt, Reid Viar, Sean Duffy, and David Keith all making their HPU debuts.
“We only have two series – six games – before we start conference play so we need to see the makeup of our pitching staff,” Cozart continued on the decision to use so many arms in the victory. “We need to see what options we have and a lot of times it simplifies the process for guys when we ask them to go out and get three outs. Every single guy came in and got after it and competed very, very well. I’m excited about what I saw from the depth of our arms.”
The majority of High Point’s offense on Sunday came from the bottom of the lineup, with the eight and nine hitters Adam Stuart and Justin Wilkins combining for four of the Purple and White’s seven hits. Wilkins ended with two knocks on the day, including an RBI single in the fifth, for his first two career hits. Graduate student Joe Johnson had the only extra-base hit in the game for the Panthers, hitting a triple in the sixth inning. He’s now hit safely in all three games this season, and in his last 10 dating back to last season for a career-long hitting streak.
Dawson Place got the start on the bump for High Point and pitched very effectively in his two innings of work, allowing just one baserunner on a walk and striking out three. He made way for Shelton, who needed only seven pitches to retire the side in the third. HPU’s first chance offensively came in the third when Stuart and Wilkins recorded back-to-back singles with one out, but the threat was snuffed out with two quick outs after that to leave the game scoreless after three.
Nick Hernandez was next on the mound for the Panthers and gave up a two-out single before retiring the side with a strikeout. He was followed by the freshman Merritt, who struck out the first batter he faced as part of a 1-2-3 inning.
The tie was finally broken in the fifth inning on a late two-out rally from the aforementioned hitters in the eight and nine holes. Stuart singled to left-center with two outs and then took second on a wild pitch. That was enough to get him around to score when Wilkins picked up his second hit of the day with an RBI single to right field to give the Panthers the lead.
HPU didn’t have the lead for very long as Bryant answered in the next half-inning. Viar came on to pitch and got his first two batters on strikes but then gave up a two-out homer that was just barely helped over the wall down the right-field line by the wind to even things up.
High Point came out in the bottom of the sixth and took the lead back, scoring one for a 2-1 lead. Johnson sent one to the wall in right-center that put him on third with a triple and later came around to break the tie when Sam Zayicek singled to left. Zayicek took second on a wild pitch to get another runner in scoring position but a grounder to third ended the inning before the insurance run could make it home.
Duffy made his debut in the bottom of the seventh, giving up a leadoff single before retiring the next three and notching his first strikeout to make way for Keith. Keith got a quick out to start but then issued a walk after an eight-pitch at bat. The runner stole second and then came around to score and tie things up on a double to right, ending Keith’s day. Chris Apecechea relieved the freshman and need only five pitches to induce a flyout to right to get to the bottom of the inning.
The top of the order started the eighth for the Panthers and Brady Pearre drew a leadoff walk. Travis Holt then moved him to third with a single up the gap in right and then stole second to put two runners in scoring position. With first base open, Bryant decided to walk Johnson and bring in a lefty to face Cameron Irvine with the bases loaded. Cozart decided to play the matchup to his favor instead and sent the lefty Charlie Klingler out to pinch hit. Klinger grounded into a double play up the middle but it was enough for Pearre to reach home and give High Point the lead again, this time for good.
Apecechea came back out for the top of the ninth to finish the job and gave up a single to start the inning. The runner was thrown out on a sac bunt attempt, and the Apecechea retired the next two batters with a flyout to left and a strikeout to end the game and get the Panthers in the win column.
High Point is back at Truist Point next weekend for a three-game series with Triad rival UNCG. HPU will be acting as the “road” team on Friday (Feb. 26) and Sunday (Feb. 28) and will bat second as the “home” team on Saturday (Feb. 27).