High Point University Baseball Powers Past Dukes in Series Opener

Site: High Point, N.C. (Williard Stadium)
Score: High Point 11, James Madison 7
W: Harrison Smith (3-1), L: Nick Stewart (0-2), S: Garrett Letchworth (1)
Records: HPU 6-7, JMU 7-5
Next HPU Event: Saturday, March 7 — vs. James Madison (Williard Stadium, High Point, N.C.), 2 p.m.

HIGH POINT, N.C. – The High Point University baseball team flexed its muscles Friday night (March 6) in an 11-7 victory over James Madison University. Brady Pearre sent two balls over the fence in left while Trevor Omahen added another long ball to give the Panthers three home runs in a game for the first time this season.

“I’m proud of our guys,” head coach Craig Cozart said after the game. “The conditions were extremely difficult to play in tonight but with 20 mph winds blowing straight out you have to keep on scoring and that’s how you win ballgames like this. JMU put up two quick runs in the first but we answered back and ended up scoring in four consecutive innings to start. When you have that kind of an answer offensively off a guy that’s one of the best pitchers in the nation, you have to feel good about it.”

James Madison puts runs on the board in the first inning to take a 2-0 lead early and make it four out of the last five games that High Point has surrendered a run in the first inning. JMU almost pushed its lead to 3-0, but Pearre gunned down a runner trying to score from second on a single at the plate to end the inning. The Panthers weren’t behind for long, knotting things up in the bottom half of the inning.

Pearre led things off with a single to left and advanced to second when Travis Holt grounded out to second. Pearre came around to score on the next at bat when Joe Johnson put one over the centerfielder’s head at the base off the wall for a one-out double. Johnson later scored to level the score later when Sam Zayicek came up to the plate with two-outs.

Zayicek hit one up the middle that the Dukes’ shortstop was able to get his glove on right behind second base. His throw would’ve beaten Zayicek to first but was off target and went out of play, giving Zayicek a single and second base on the throwing error, while Johnson came around to score after running on contact.

Starter Harrison Smith walked the lead-off Duke in the top of the second but got the next batter to foul out on a bunt attempt to Justin Wilkins behind the plate. JMU’s runner was taking off on the hit and run and was doubled up when Wilkins fired the popup back to first to get the runner a good five paces from getting back to the bag. Smith recorded his first strikeout of the game to retire the side and send the offense back up, who gave him a lead to work with in the bottom half of the inning.

Adam Stuart hit one to the left side of the infield and beat the throw to first from the shortstop in the hole to lead-off the inning for the Purple and White. He advanced to second and then third on a pair of groundouts and came around to score when Pearre launched a two-out homer off the light pole behind the fence in left to make it 4-2.

Smith got into a groove with the lead, sitting down the next six batters he faced to make it a streak of eight-straight outs for the senior. The Panthers extended their lead in the third when Stuart laid down a sacrifice bunt to first base to plate Cole Singsank.

Singsank started the inning on a single to third and made it to third base when Evan Bergman hit one to short that took a bounce right in front of the shortstop and bounced off his glove to put runners on the corners with one out. Stuart then put down a perfect bunt right to the first baseman, with his only play to get the out at first and concede the run.

The Panthers scored again in the fourth, putting up two more to make it a 7-2 game. Pearre reached for the third time in as many plate appearances, drawing a walk and then taking second on a wild pitch. He came in to score his third run of the game in the next at bat when Holt ripped one past the diving JMU third basemen for a double, extending his hitting streak to a season-high seven games. The Dukes went to the bullpen and Holt came around to score from second on a wild pitch that got away from the catcher against the first batter that the JMU reliever faced.

James Madison got one back in the fifth, taking advantage of a Panther error and scoring on a fielder’s choice on a double play that HPU just couldn’t turn fast enough. The Panthers looked like they went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the fifth but Cozart challenged a ruling on the third out and the call was overturned, saying the first baseman’s foot came off the bag on Stuart’s swinging bunt down the third-base line. Stuart made it all the way to third and the bases were loaded but the Purple and White couldn’t bring any runners around to score.

High Point tacked on two more in the sixth, with two more wild pitches from the James Madison pitching staff helping move the runners around. Holt singled up the middle to start the inning and took second on a wild pitch, scoring when Johnson roped a double down the line in right. Johnson took third on another wild pitch and came home when Zayicek grounded out to second.

Smith came back out to pitch the seventh but only faced one batter, giving up a home run to left to the lead-off batter before his day was done. He left the game after six-plus innings of work, giving up three earned runs on five hits with four walks and three strikeouts. Garrett Letchworth came on in relief of Smith and gave up one hit but racked up two strikeouts in the inning to sit the Dukes back down.

“I’m proud of Harrison,” Cozart said of his Friday starter. “He sat them down and found a way to get us through six innings and put us in a pretty good situation with our bullpen for the rest of the weekend.”

HPU got the run back after the stretch in the bottom of the seventh when Trevor Omahen repaid the JMU homer with one of his own to left field, his first as a Panther. High Point’s power display wasn’t over in the inning, as Pearre launched one to left-center for his second home run of the game and the team’s second of the inning to score the final run of the game for the Purple and White, making it 11-4. High Point’s three home runs in the game are the most this season and a feat accomplished four times by the Panthers in 2019, most recently on April 15 against Longwood.

The Dukes scored one more in the eighth and two more in the ninth to make it a four-run game but Letchworth didn’t let it get any closer than that, shutting the door with another popup bunt to the catcher to record his first save of the season. Friday’s win is just the second time that HPU has beaten James Madison in team history, with the first coming in the series finale a year ago.

High Point will look to make it three-straight wins against JMU and take its first weekend series against the Dukes tomorrow (March 7) when the two sides meet again at Williard Stadium at 2 p.m.