HPU Baseball’s Spirited Comeback Stifled in Walk-Off Defeat

• High Point rallied from a seven-run hole to take a one-run lead in the ninth before suffering its second walk-off loss of the year.
• Senior Austen Zente belted HPU’s first grand slam in over two years as part of a five-run seventh inning.
• Junior JJ Woodard reached base all five times, going 2-for-2 with three of walks, a run scored, and an RBI.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The High Point University baseball team stormed back from a seven-run deficit to take the lead at Wake Forest on Tuesday night, only to fall in walk-off fashion, 9-8, at David F. Couch Ballpark. The defeat snapped High Point’s four-game winning streak.

“It took us six innings to go offensively, but then Austen Zente had the big opposite field grand slam that really got us rolling,” head coach Craig Cozart said. “We scored eight unanswered, but unfortunately just couldn’t hold onto the lead at the end. We didn’t do a very good job on the mound – too many walks today. When you play in a ballpark as small as this you’re going to get hurt. That ultimately ended up being our undoing.”

High Point (28-21) trailed 7-0 after six innings as the Demon Deacons (23-29) used three home runs and a pair of unearned tallies to roar to the advantage. HPU built a rally in the seventh, though, to get right back in the thick of things. Freshman Tanner Wells singled to lead off the inning and came around to score the first run on a wild pitch to get the Panthers on the board.

HPU ultimately loaded the bases thanks to a pair of walks as the inning fell to senior Austen Zente with two away. The Panthers’ lead-off man rose to the occasion, blasting an opposite-field grand slam to get HPU to within two at 7-5. The round-tripper was Zente’s team-leading 13th long ball of the year and the first grand slam for High Point in over two years (Zach Vandergrift, May 6, 2016 vs. Radford).

Junior Cooper Jeffers emerged from the bullpen to keep the momentum in the Panther dugout, retiring six straight in the seventh and eighth innings.

Facing Wake Forest closer Ryan Supple (5-2) in the ninth, the Panthers strung together a series of tremendous plate appearances to surge ahead. Senior Spencer Brown started the rally with a one-out single to right before Zente was hit by a pitch. Freshman Travis Holt then laced an RBI single to left to close the deficit to 7-6. Senior Hunter Lee walked to load the bases and in the process, broke the school record for career free passes with 113.

After a strikeout for the second out, senior Carson Jackson and junior JJ Woodard worked back-to-back four-pitch walks to force in runs and put the Panthers in front for the first time, 8-7. A strikeout ended the inning.

Jeffers (2-1) returned for the bottom of the ninth and allowed the first two batters to reach on a walk and a single. Following a sacrifice bunt, Jeffers attempted to intentionally walk Johnny Aiello, but threw a wild pitch on the first attempt to square the game at eight. Aiello was eventually walked to set up a potential double play, but Bobby Seymour then hit a soft grounder to Woodard at first who had no play as the winning run crossed the plate.

Offensively, Woodard reached all five times, going 2-for-2 with three walks, a run scored and an RBI. Holt was 2-for-5 with a run scored and an RBI while Brown notched his third multi-hit game of the year, going 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored.

High Point returns home for its final three game of the regular season this weekend, hosting Presbyterian. First pitch on Thursday and Friday is scheduled for 6 p.m. with a 1 p.m. start on senior day Saturday.