HPU Baseball Panthers Cruise In 12-2 Series Clincher Against Longwood

HIGH POINT, N.C. – High Point University clinches its third Big South series of the year this Sunday, taking game two of its stint against Longwood by a final of 12-2. All nine Panthers in the lineup reached first against the Lancers’ pitching staff, while starting pitcher Joe Johnson collected his third straight winning decision.

“Honestly our approach [at the plate] was to still be aggressive early on fast balls, but we did a good job of laying off the off-speed stuff, and that allowed us to get into some deep counts,” said Head Coach Craig Cozart. “It was a great day offensively. We had a sustained offensive attack up and down the lineup and a lot of RBIs at the bottom of the order as well. It was nice to see. This is what you have to do, when you’re in position to win a series, to put up big numbers like that. That allowed us to hold back some of our pitching to get ready to go for the sweep tomorrow.”

The home side jumped on their opponents early, putting up crooked numbers in the second and third innings. Center fielder Ryan Russell led off the bottom of the second with a triple to center, scoring on freshman Sam Zayicek’s single in the following at bat. Zayicek’s knock was his second of the weekend, as the outfielder got himself into scoring position on a balk before stealing third.

With senior Nick Niarchos reaching on a hit by pitch, the Panthers had runners on the corners for starting second baseman Travis Holt. The sophomore secured a double to left center to drive in both of his teammates, eventually going to third on a Longwood error in the next at bat. HPU worked the double steal to perfection to close out the frame. With Daniel Millwee feinting the run to second, Holt managed to cross home before the former was tagged out, giving High Point a 4-0 lead heading into the third.

Batting in the cleanup spot, Joe Johnson led off the following frame with a double to left field, getting himself to third on a fly out from JJ Woodard. The starting pitcher came home after a groundout RBI from Ryan Russell, before Zayicek earned his second knock of the day on a double to right.

The freshman scored his team’s sixth run of the contest on yet another Longwood error that placed Niarchos on base. The third baseman moved over to second on a stolen bag, with freshman Evan Bergman increasing the difference to 7-0 on a single to right field.

Making his eighth start of the 2019 campaign, Johnson held the Lancers scoreless through the opening five innings, facing one over the minimum during that span. Longwood would score a single run apiece in the sixth and seventh, as Johnson finished his day with six hits surrendered and a pair of walks in his second quality start of the season.

“[Joe Johnson’s] done a real good job of mixing his pitches,” said Coach Cozart. “He’s thrown three different pitches for strikes, and really hasn’t created anything offensively for opponents. He’s minimized his bases on balls and has allowed the defense to make plays behind him. He didn’t strike out a lot of guys today, but he induced a lot of ground balls, and the guys are playing behind him.”

The Panthers pulled off the delayed double steal for a second time, during the bottom of the sixth, adding another two scores to their total in the following inning. Starting off the frame with back-to-back hits from Woodard and Russell, the pair would both come across later in the inning after Niarchos chopped a double down the left field line.

HPU wrapped up its day offensively in the bottom of the eighth, with Millwee getting to first on a fielder’s choice in the beginning stages of the frame. With Johnson collecting his team’s 13th knock of the afternoon, Millwee advanced from second to home plate on back-to-back wild pitches, with a sac fly from Russell scoring Johnson on the second out of the term.

Southpaw Matt Hodges delivered two shutout innings to close out the home side’s 12-2 win. The lefty gave up two hits and a walk during his time on the bump, before striking out the side in the ninth to put away the Lancers once and for all.

>> Millwee and Holt have both reached first in each of their past 20 contests, with the latter delivering a pair of doubles against the Lancers
>> Johnson is on a three-game winning streak over his past three starts, tossing 18.0 innings in that span while securing an ERA of 3.50
>> With a triple and a double on the day, Russell scored a pair of runs while driving in two on Sunday
>> In addition to his quality start, Johnson reached first safely in four of his five plate appearances, tallying two hits and a pair of walks at the plate
>> Zayicek has provided six hits and four doubles in his past five contests, slashing .333/.369/.556 during that stretch

The Panthers wrap up their series with Longwood with their second Monday contest of 2019. The scheduled first pitch for that finale is still TBA, as HPU looks for the series sweep against the Lancers.