HIGH POINT, N.C. – High Point University baseball secures a series sweep this Monday, with freshman Sam Zayicek delivering a walk-off winner in an 8-7 game three win over visiting Longwood. Despite edging out their opponents by a single run, the Panthers out-hit their opponents 15-6 on the day, coming within one of their season-high.
“…It was good to see our guys respond,” said Head Coach Craig Cozart. “We haven’t won too many baseball games like this all year. To do it on an a day when you have the opportunity to sweep in conference is big.”
After surrendering a run in the opening frame, the Purple & White answered right back in the bottom half of the first, with Evan Bergman recording the first home run of his career on a 2-0 count. With the wind blowing out to left field, it was an advantageous day for righties, as Daniel Millwee collected his seventh long ball of the year just two at bats after Bergman to turn the score to 2-1.
With all nine of the Panthers’ lineup coming to the plate in the first two innings, Bergman would get another RBI opportunity in his second at bat of the day, delivering a single to drive in his side’s fourth run of the afternoon. Zayicek started his team’s offense off in the second, sending a one-out double to center field, before senior Conner Dunbar traded places with him later in the inning. Bergman drove home Dunbar on the ensuing RBI opportunity, sending a single to right for his second of three hits on the afternoon.
The Lancers went on to cut the home team’s advantage to two in the fourth, the second of just two runs starting pitcher Andrew Gottfried surrendered on the afternoon. Providing his second straight quality start, Gottfried sprayed four Longwood hits over his six innings of work, striking out a season-high of seven, while walking one.
“It’s been a real struggle, but [Gottfried’s] a senior, he’s the heart and soul of this team, and I was really proud of his effort today, to go out and give us six quality innings in a real tough environment…” said Cozart.
Both sides continued to go scoreless until after the stretch, where HPU managed to increase its advantage to four. A bunt single that just stayed fair down the left field line gave Dunbar his second hit of the day, followed up with a two-run homer from fellow middle infielder Travis Holt. Holt’s tater was his third of the season, as the second baseman extended his on base streak to 21 straight games. Holt’s hit was his fifth extra-base knock of the past four games, as the sophomore has slugged .941 since the Panthers’ matchup at Wake Forest last Tuesday.
Holding a 6-2 lead, the Panthers seemed destined to coast toward a series sweep, but a two-hit, five-run eighth put the visitors back out in front for the second time on Monday. The Lancers’ run in the eighth was extrapolated by an error from the HPU defense, as three of Longwood’s five scores in the frame would go down as unearned.
The Panthers refused to go down without a fight however, securing three hits in the bottom half of the eighth to draw back even with their opponents. Seniors Nick Niarchos and Dunbar delivered back-to-back two out singles to put a runner in scoring position, leading to yet another RBI single from the freshman Bergman. The Lancers had the opportunity to get out of the inning unscathed during Bergman’s at bat, but some miscommunication on an infield fly allowed the first-year’s ball to drop, as Niarchos wheeled around third to come across home for the game-tying tally.
“The two-out hits are huge,” said Cozart. “They’re completely deflating for your opponents. When you can extend the inning and get yourself back to the top of the lineup like Niarchos and Dunbar did, then that’s huge. Dunbar is grinding it out, Niarchos has gotten an opportunity to play and he’s played tremendous defense…You love to see seniors have success.”
Standing as one of the worst fielding teams in Division I baseball, Longwood’s fourth error of the series provided their ultimate undoing, as a throwing mistake from the Lancer’s shortstop allowed leadoff man Millwee to get aboard in the first plate appearance of the final frame. A Joe Johnson sac bunt moved the runner into scoring position before senior JJ Woodard was intentionally walked. Ryan Russell provided his second hit of the day to load the bases for the home team. The junior transfer directed a ball through the left side, but a no-doubles defense from the Lancer outfield prevented any HPU runners from reaching home plate.
With Longwood shifting the bulk of their defense into the infield, it was up to Zayicek to play a ball over the top of the Lancers to secure the game three win. The freshman did not disappoint in the third pitch of his at bat, delivering a knock that deflected off the LWU pitcher’s glove and fell just over the top of second base for a walk-off 8-7 victory.
“They brought that shift in on me, so obviously there were four or five guys on the infield and the middle of the field was wide open,” said Zayicek. “I wasn’t trying to do too much with less than two outs. I was just trying to put the ball in play, trust myself, trust the process and everything the coaches taught me and just hit the ball up the middle and drive the runner in to win the game.”
>> Zayicek, Dunbar and Bergman each collected three knocks on Monday, with Zayicek tallying a pair of doubles
>> After inheriting a pair of runners in the eighth, Winger was attributed three unearned runs in the frame, before tossing a perfect ninth for his second win of the season
>> Millwee and Holt are both on a 21-game on base streak, with the former going 2-for-3 with a pair of walks this Monday. Holt finishes his series against Longwood with four hits, a homer and two doubles, while Millwee has been slashing .500/.542/.818 in his last five games
COMING UP NEXT
High Point has cancelled its midweek contest with visiting Virginia Tech, in preparation for its coming Big South series at Presbyterian. The Panthers will play a three-game series with the Blue Hose from Thursday through Saturday, taking eight of its last nine contests against the club.