FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – Playing in their fifth elimination game of the 2019 Big South Championship Tournament, No. 6 High Point University baseball’s historic postseason run came to an end on Friday after falling to No. 3 Winthrop by a final of 6-2. The Panthers finish this week’s tourney with a 4-2 record in the postseason, setting a new program record for wins in the Big South bracket.
“As a coaching staff, we couldn’t be more proud of the way this team played this week,” said Head Coach Craig Cozart. “To play six games in a little over 72 hours is absolutely grueling and they competed like champions every pitch. It’s tough to have the season end just shy of our goal to win the Big South title, but what makes it even more difficult is to see this senior class move on. They are a first class group of young men, excellent students, tremendous teammates and talented ball players. They have moved this program forward and have a lot to be proud of.”
Coming off an emotional win over No. 2 Radford earlier in the day, the Purple & White were first to strike against the Eagles, jumping ahead by a run in the opening frame. Freshman Brady Pearre led things off with a five-pitch walk, followed up by a Travis Holt single and a Joe Johnson fielder’s choice. With runners on the corners senior catcher Daniel Millwee drove in the first run of the contest on a sac fly to right, putting the score at 1-0 going into the second.
Getting the start on the mound and in the lineup, pitcher Joe Johnson faced the minimum in the first inning, before the Eagles plated a pair of unearned runs in the second. The righty starter gave up just a single hit in the frame, along with a walk, but it would be a pair of defensive mistakes that ultimately allowed Winthrop’s two runs to score for a 2-1 advantage.
That difference remained in place until the fourth, where the Eagles plated another two to go up 4-1. Johnson finished his night on the mound with a single out remaining in the frame, ending his night with three hits and a pair of earned runs to his name.
Reliever KJ Wells took the hill for the following 3.1 innings, ending the fourth on a strikeout and collecting six Ks over his time spent on the mound. The freshman right-hander held the Eagles scoreless while coughing up just four hits overall, with his K-total tying the career-high he set against Elon at the end of April.
Hitting a solo shot in the Panthers’ win over the No. 2 Highlanders, senior Conner Dunbar repeated that performance against Winthrop, sending his fourth homer of the year to the opposite field in the top half of the seventh. His dinger brought the Panthers back within striking range at 4-2, and extended HPU’s home run streak to five straight games.
With the Eagles’ lead dwindled down to two, the Panthers created another opportunity to score in the eighth, but would leave a leadoff single from Johnson stranded. With HPU failing to score in the visitor’s half of the inning, Winthrop took advantage with a pair of insurance runs in the bottom term, going ahead 6-2 before the start of the ninth.
The Winthrop relief staff put away the final three outs of the game in order to take the win on Friday night, as a historic tournament run from High Point University came to an end a win short of reaching the Big South Championship final. The Panthers finish their 2019 campaign with a record of 27-27, while going 14-13 in Big South regular season play.
“The HPU Baseball program is in good shape,” said Coach Cozart. “We have a lot of talented players returning next year from this year’s club. So, we will get back to work and continue to pursue the goals we have laid out for ourselves.”
>> The Panthers had three pitchers toss consecutive complete games this tournament, the first time High Point has done that in Division I history
>> In addition to setting a school record in Big South tournament wins, the Panthers also played six postseason contests for the first time since joining Division I in 2000
>> Going 6-for-6 against Presbyterian on Thursday, Joe Johnson became the first HPU player since Randy Schwartz (5/19/05) to collect six knocks in a single game, tying a program record
>> Johnson and Holt both went 2-for-4 against Winthrop on Friday; Johnson finishes the postseason hitting .400 with six runs scored and four RBI
>> Ryan Russell reached on a leadoff single in the fourth; he drove in seven runs on eight hits, with a double and a home run during the Panthers’ time in the Big South tournament
>> Dunbar’s solo shot was his second homer on Friday and his fourth of the year; HPU recorded five dingers and 12 extra base hits over the course of the week in Fayetteville
>> High Point’s pitching staff finished with 438 strikeouts in 2019, just 12 short of the program record they set the previous year (450)