FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – No. 6 High Point University baseball emerged victorious in the first round of this year’s Big South Tournament, collecting its first shutout of the season in a 2-0 win over ninth-seeded UNC Asheville. The pitching combo of Harrison Smith and Grey Lyttle held the Bulldogs to just five hits on the day, with senior JJ Woodard delivering the game-winning RBI in the seventh.
“What a time to get your first shutout [of the year], and it was absolutely necessary today,” said Head Coach Craig Cozart. “But Harrison Smith, on short rest, to battle like he did…You have to credit Asheville, they were tough at the plate and they constantly had guys on base. But to get a big punchout of First Team All-Conference third baseman [Brandon] Lankford with the bases loaded in the third inning was absolutely huge. It was very hot today, so Harrison Smith had to battle. It was a very gutty performance, and then Grey Lyttle came in and did what we’re used to him doing with five punchouts, no walks and taking us home. It was our first shutout of the year, and we definitely needed it today.”
In what was largely a pitcher’s duel, Smith and Lyttle combined for nine strikeouts on the day, with the latter taking home his sixth winning decision of the 2019 season. Allowing a single base runner through the first two innings, Smith worked his way out of a bases loaded jam in the third to keep UNCA off the board recording his fourth strikeout of the contest to get out of the frame. The junior surrendered three hits and three walks during his 5.2 innings of work, striking out four batters before coming out of the game, two outs into the sixth.
“We were really just trying to pound the top of the strike zone with fastballs,” said Smith. “Mix in hard sliders away and some changeups to lefties. I feel like we just kind of kept them off balance with that and really mixed pitches well…”
Freshman Brady Pearre was the first Panther to get in the hit column on Tuesday, singling up the middle on a full count in the bottom of the fourth. With senior Daniel Millwee recording his first knock of the afternoon two at bats later, both potential HPU runs were stranded, before the bats would get hot once again in the seventh.
Leading off the frame, Millwee recorded his second hit of the game on a double to left center, but back-to-back outs from the UNCA pitching staff created a two-out RBI opportunity for pinch hitter JJ Woodard. The senior worked into a 2-2 count before dropping a single over the UNCA second baseman, driving in the go ahead run of the afternoon in his lone at bat of the night.
“Coach [Cozart] came up to me in the dugout and told me to be ready,” said Woodard postgame. “I had a bunch of guys coming up to me telling me they had faith in me, telling me they knew I was going to get it done. I walked to the plate and Coach Laws told me ‘Millwee’s got it figured out look to him for tip-offs’, so I looked to him. I knew the guy wasn’t going to throw me a fastball in that situation so I just tried to sit on a curveball. He dropped one in for a strike, I fouled one off and then I knew he was going to go to it again, so I just tried to sit back as well as I could and hit it over second base.”
With both Lyttle and UNCA’s Jordan Carr handling their business on the mound, the tournament opener seemed destined for a 1-0 finish before Pearre and Travis Holt added an insurance run in the eighth.
Singling down the right field line, Pearre collected his second hit against the Bulldogs pitching staff, before moving into scoring position on his fifth stolen base of the season. Holt followed up the freshman’s at bat with an infield single, but would give Pearre enough room to score after an arid throw from the Asheville third baseman allowed the second run of the evening to come home for a 2-0 Panther advantage.
Coming on for the final out of the sixth, junior Grey Lyttle continued what Smith started, by tossing 3.1 innings of shutout relief and clinching the HPU victory. Lyttle struck out five of the 12 batters he faced during his time on the bump, keeping the Bulldogs to just two hits to finish off the shutout win for the Purple & White.
“Grey is nails at the back of the bull pen,” said Harrison Smith. “Every time he comes in, we know he’s going to attack hitters and give it everything that he’s got. He’s a real tough guy and he always gets it done. We have full confidence in Grey out there, and I’m proud of him going out there, attacking and picking up the win today.”
>> The Panthers’ shutout win is their first of the season, while HPU’s five hits surrendered were just two more than the season-low they set against Radford the previous weekend (5/17)
>> HPU stranded just three runners over the course of the contest, with Pearre and Millwee tying for a team-high two knocks apiece
COMING UP NEXT
The Panthers will continue their postseason run against No. 3 Winthrop this Wednesday, with first pitch delivery currently scheduled for 9 AM. HPU is 2-2 against the Eagles in the Big South postseason all-time, taking one of three in the pair’s series earlier this year in Rock Hill, S.C.
“We have to figure out what we’re going to do on the mound [for Wednesday],” said Cozart. “and get some mojo back from an offensive standpoint. It’s been an inconsistent struggle since exams, but sometimes a win like this can get you going in all aspects, so we’ll get after it tomorrow morning.”