HPU Baseball Panthers Clinch Third Straight Big South Series

HIGH POINT, N.C. – High Point University baseball earns the eighth win of its past nine Big South matchups this Sunday, clinching its series against UNC Asheville on a 9-4 game two victory.

After falling behind by six runs in the opening inning of game one, the Bulldogs were the first to open scoring on Sunday, hanging four runs on the Panthers in the third. High Point answered back immediately however leveling things at four apiece in the bottom half, with four hits and four runs.

“I thought it was sensational when we gave up the four-spot in the third and answered right back in the bottom of the third offensively,” said Head Coach Craig Cozart. “That was huge. We go into the middle third with essentially a 0-0 ball game and put it into the hands of our bullpen. Jonny Vizcaino and Grey Lyttle did a sensational job. Putting up zeros the rest of the way gave us a chance to finish it in the seventh and the eighth, so that was big.”

With a single out on the board, senior Conner Dunbar drew the first of his three walks on the day, before freshman Brady Pearre delivered the first home run of his career in the following at bat. The left fielder worked into a 3-1 count before clearing the left field wall, cutting UNCA’s lead in half on his two-run shot. Travis Holt and Daniel Millwee delivered back-to-back knocks, while Ryan Russell drew a walk in his seven-pitch AB to load the bases for Joe Johnson.

Johnson grabbed the first of his three hits with a two-RBI single but was thrown out at second, as the Panthers remained tied with the Bulldogs at four apiece into the fourth inning.

“…Joe [Johnson] had a tough one [on the mound] today, but I want to give him credit,” said Coach Cozart. “I got on him pretty good out there on the mound, but he was really good offensively. Somebody who isn’t as good of a competitor as he is could have let a bad outing on the mound carry over to the plate, but he had three hits and two RBI… so he did a great job of still making an impact and helping us win. And Brady Pearre, at the top of the lineup was again really good.”

Coming on in relief, senior right-hander Jonny Vizcaino held the Bulldogs to a single hit over his 2.1 frames of work, as both sides went scoreless until the seventh inning.

The Purple & White added the go ahead and eventual game-winner before the contest reached the stretch thanks to some head’s up base running from Dunbar. The shortstop led things off with a nine-pitch walk before getting into scoring position on his seventh stolen bag of the season. Back-to-back wild pitches from the UNCA pitcher drove Dunbar home to make things 5-4, putting righty Grey Lyttle in position for his fourth winning decision of the year.

“When you look at the structure of our staff and the way it was designed when we recruited it, it was designed for [Lyttle] to be at the back end of the bullpen with [Jacob] Winger, and that’s when we’re at our best as a pitching staff. When we’re able to use them that way,” said Cozart. “Things have kind of settled down on the rotation side of things and that’s putting us in a position to put guys out there in their best roles…”

Lyttle came on at the start of the sixth, facing just two over the minimum during his four-inning appearance. The junior tied a career-high with seven Ks, striking out the side in the eighth, and keeping the Bulldogs hitless through the final stages of the contest.

With Lyttle handling things on the mound, the Panther offense exploded for another four runs in the bottom half of inning number eight, collecting five hits in the frame. Johnson tallied his third hit of the afternoon with a leadoff double, coming home on a two-out double from freshman Sam Zayicek.

Zayicek started a rally of four straight Panther hits, with Dunbar, Pearre and Holt each grabbing RBI knocks before the start of the ninth. After the Bulldogs reached on a fielding error, Lyttle put away the final three batters of the afternoon, clinching the Panthers’ third straight Big South series victory and their fourth straight victory overall, at 9-4.

>> Pearre went 2-for-5 with a game-high five RBI, he’s hitting .500 against UNC Asheville this weekend and .474 over his past four appearances
>> Finishing with a hit and a walk, Millwee extended his on base streak to 26 straight games, he’s reached in all but one game this year
>> Dunbar drew three walks on the day, and has collected six bases on balls in his last seven games played
>> The Panther offense tallied five extra-base knocks against UNCA on Sunday, they’re slugging .509 since April 9th

The Panthers will go for the sweep against the Bulldogs this Monday at 3 PM, looking for their second Big South sweep of the season. The side now sits at 12-8 in conference-play, while only Campbell and Radford have more Big South victories in 2019.

“It’s going to start with [Andrew] Gottfried on the mound,” said Cozart, commenting on this weekend’s potential sweep. “We need him to go out there and get us into the middle innings and in a position to win. We still have good pieces left in our bullpen. We burned Grey Lyttle today, but we’ve got Winger ready to go, [Matt] Hodges ready to go and some other guys that can get us outs here and there. It’ll start with what we do on the mound, and I like where we’re at offensively. It was a little frustrating for us in the middle innings today, but we’re starting to score runs in bunches, and this is the time of year that you want to see that. To win a tournament, you have to pitch great, play clean defense and have a bunch of guys hot offensively. So hopefully that’s the direction that we’re headed.”