HARRISONBURG, Va. – High Point University baseball’s Head Coach Craig Cozart reached a career milestone this Sunday, earning his 300th career win in a game three victory over hosts James Madison. The Panthers split a finale doubleheader with the Dukes, following up an 11-0 loss with an 8-6 winning decision in the afternoon, on the way to tallying a season-high 16 hits. As the winningest coach in HPU D1 baseball history, Cozart has collected 296 wins with the club, in addition to the four he registered as an interim head coach with his alma mater UCF.
“Today, getting the 300th win was particularly important because we’d been in such a bad way as a team,” said Coach Cozart. “So for us to kind of snap out of it and get ourselves ready for conference play is very important. It means a lot because I’ve had the privilege of coaching a bunch of awesome young men and working with a bunch of awesome coaches. What Coach [Jason] Laws, Coach [Rick] Marlin and Coach [Chris] Fenisey do on a daily basis is awesome. We have a great relationship and we love coming to work everyday and spending time together, so that’s a pretty unique situation.”
The Panthers got off to a quick start in the final game of the series, with freshman Evan Bergman and junior transfer Ryan Russell each collecting a single in the opening frame. The former would come home on Joe Johnson’s single through the left side, as the Panthers took a 1-0 lead into the second inning for the first time in this weekend series.
The JMU staff responded with their own offensive performance in the bottom of inning number two, hanging five runs in a five-hit frame, only to see their lead cut to one in the ensuing inning.
Bergman led off the third with his second knock of the contest to give the Purple & White an early runner, before Russell reached first on a walk for Johnson’s second RBI opportunity of the afternoon. Starting both on the mound and in the lineup, the junior sent a triple to left center to score the two Panther newcomers, while an infield single from Travis Holt brought the score to 5-4.
“Evan Bergman, gets inserted into the leadoff spot and goes 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI, and just really set the tone,” said Cozart. “Ryan Russell gets moved up in the lineup and goes 4-for-4 in the four-hole, and Travis Holt continues to swing the bat well. Those were big situations for us, and I have to give Joe Johnson credit as well. …it was the shortest outing of the year for him [on the mound], but he had three big RBI, and he didn’t let it effect what he was doing offensively. Those guys really made things happen today.”
With Johnson finishing his third start of the year after six outs, regular closer Grey Lyttle came onto the mound in the third, displaying one of the most impressive pitching performances in the righty’s career at HPU. A Hanover, Va. native, Lyttle tossed a full seven innings to close out Sunday’s contest, giving up a single earned run and tying a career-high with six strikeouts. Giving up a pair of hits in the fourth, the junior faced four over the minimum for the remainder of the contest, to keep the James Madison offense stagnant.
“The bullpen has honestly been our strength so far this year, from a pitching standpoint, but when you’re in game three and you’re 0-2 on the weekend, you have to go to your best guy if he’s available, and he took us home,” said Cozart. “[Grey Lyttle] was very impressive, he’s a real competitor.”
Trailing by a run, the Panthers tied things up in the fifth with Russell crossing home to bring things even at five apiece. Leading off the inning with his second single of game three, Russell advanced on a knock from JJ Woodard, before coming home on a delayed double steal to close the top half.
The sixth would be the ultimate decider for the Purple & White offensively, as freshmen Trent Harris, Sam Zayicek and Brian Rall started the frame with three consecutive hits. Rall scored Harris and Zayicek on his first collegiate extra-base knock before coming home himself on Russell’s third hit of the affair.
With Lyttle and company shutting down the Dukes from a defensive standpoint, the home team’s eighth inning-score would prove to make little difference, in what would result in an 8-6 decision in favor of the visiting Panthers. HPU’s finale victory brings their Sunday record to 2-2 in 2019, as the side rematches with North Carolina A&T this Wednesday, before starting conference play against Campbell at home this weekend.
>> Russell’s four-hit performance was a career-high, as the junior went 5-for-7 (.714) in Sunday’s doubleheader overall
>> Bergman tied a career-high with his three hits in the series finale. He’s hit in each of his last six appearances, averaging .400 since February 19th
>> Fellow freshman Trent Harris has a hitting streak of his own, collecting knocks in each of his past four games. He tied Russell for a team-high five knocks against the Dukes this weekend, while his .467 OBP is a Panther best this year
>> In addition to tying a career-high in strikeouts, Lyttle’s 7.0 IP and 79 pitches are both personal-bests
>> Four wins away from his 300th win with the Panthers alone, Head Coach Craig Cozart can become the first to reach the program milestone, at the Division I level, as early as next Sunday
COMING UP NEXT
High Point University comes back to Williard Stadium to complete its home-and-home series with NC A&T on Wednesday. The Panthers defeated the Aggies by a final of 8-1, in Greensboro back in February, collecting three home runs in that previous meeting.