HPU Baseball Rolls to 9-1 Win Behind Johnson’s Strong Start

• Sophomore Joe Johnson dominated on the hill with 5.1 scoreless innings to earn his second win of the year in his second career start.
• HPU scored multiple runs in the first three innings to jump out to an insurmountable advantage.
• Senior Austen Zente extended his hitting streak to 14 games, igniting the charge with a leadoff homer in the first inning.

HIGH POINT, N.C. – The High Point University baseball team rebounded in emphatic fashion to even its series with Liberty on Saturday, defeating the Flames 9-1 at Williard Stadium. The Panthers moved back into sole possession of second place in the Big South with the triumph.

“Today was our version of baseball,” head coach Craig Coart said. “The top of order was huge with Zente and Holt combining for five RBI’s and we got on the board early with multiple runs. Joe Johnson was really competitive on the mound and got us deep into the game which puts us right back in position to win the series.

“Tomorrow gives us an opportunity to keep our streak of winning conference series alive and keeps us in contention for what we want to do ultimately as far as the regular season is concerned. From that standpoint, tomorrow is pretty significant.”

High Point (21-17, 12-5) wasted no time jumping ahead as senior Austen Zente launched his team-best 10th homer of the campaign to lead off the home half of the first. The dinger was part of a two-RBI day for Zente, who extended his hitting streak to 14 games, three shy of a career high.

HPU added an additionally tally on an RBI groundout from senior Carson Jackson later in the frame to make it 2-0. An inning later, HPU loaded the bases with nobody out and scored twice on a Zente hit by pitch and a sacrifice fly from freshman Travis Holt to move ahead 4-0.

The Panther onslaught continued in the third inning with three more runs. An error plated the first run before junior Conner Dunbar continued his strong series with a safety squeeze RBI single. Holt drove in his second run of the day with a bases loaded fielder’s choice to grow the lead to 7-0.

Meanwhile, sophomore Joe Johnson held the potent Liberty (23-14, 11-6) attack at bay in his second straight tremendous start. Johnson worked around a pair of runners in the first inning before settling in and rolling through 5.1 frames. In his second career start, Johnson did not allow a runner to reach third base and retired eight in a row at one point from the third to sixth inning.

Overall, Johnson tossed 5.1 scoreless frames while scattering three hits and three walks with a pair of strikeouts. In two starts, Johnson has yielded only one earned run in 12.1 frames for 0.79 ERA.

Senior Rion Murrah finished off the game with his third save of the year by pitching the final 3.2 innings. Murrah allowed an unearned run on only one hit, walking one and striking out three. Liberty’s only tally was an unearned run in the top of the eighth inning.

HPU tacked on two more in the last of the seventh, again taking advantage of a bases loaded opportunity. Junior JJ Woodard rapped a single through the left side to put HPU ahead 8-0 before Holt came through three batters later with his career high third RBI of the day on a bases loaded groundout.

The Panthers had seven different players record a hit in the game, led by three multi-hit games from redshirt-junior Daniel Millwee, senior Jordan Sergent, and Woodard. Sergent extended his hitting streak to eight games with a two-hit day while freshman Tanner Wells pushed his streak to seven contests with a hit, walk, and two runs scored.

The series wraps up with the rubber game on Sunday at 1 p.m. HPU is 2-1 in rubber games so far this season.