Site: High Point, N.C. (Williard Stadium)
Score: High Point 4, James Madison 2
W: Joe Johnson (2-1), L: Chase DeLauter (0-3), S: Mason Kearney (2)
Records: HPU 7-8, JMU 8-6
Next HPU Event: Tuesday, March 10 — vs. UNCG (Williard Stadium, High Point, N.C.), 4 p.m.
HIGH POINT, N.C. – For the first time in program history, the High Point University baseball team came away with a weekend series victory over James Madison University, securing the series with a 4-2 win on Sunday afternoon (March 8). Brady Pearre finished the game 3-4 for a total of six hits against the Dukes on the weekend and Mason Kearney recorded his second save of the season, setting the last 10 JMU batters down in order.
“I’m proud of the guys for figuring out a way to win the series,” head coach Craig Cozart said following the win. “James Madison is a quality club. Coach Ikenberry and I go way back and he’s got a quality staff. They do a great job over there so we’re excited to get a win in the series. It started on the mound. Joe was really good today, Mason was special out of the bullpen, and our defense was outstanding. We have to be able to win games that are low scoring and it’s fitting that’s the way the series ended today.”
It was a pitcher’s duel through the first two innings, with the teams combining for just three base runners between the two of them and none of the runners advancing to second. High Point starter Joe Johnson racked up two strikeouts in the first and issued a walk in the second as the only JMU runner he allowed on base in the first two innings. Catcher Brian Rall promptly gunned the runner down trying to steal second in the next at bat to end the inning.
James Madison was able to bring one around to open the scoring in the third, putting a two-out double into the gap in right to score a runner from first. The Dukes then picked up an infield single to put runners on the corners but Johnson was able to induce a grounder to Evan Bergman at first to end the inning, one of a season-high 13 putouts at first for the sophomore.
High Point immediately got the run back and took the lead, taking advantage of a pair of JMU errors in the bottom of the third. Pearre reached on a bunt single down the third-base line and advanced to second when Adam Stuart had an infield single of his own, hitting one deep enough to the gap at short to beat the throw.
Both runners advanced into scoring position on a double steal and Pearre came around to score on a throwing error from the shortstop. Stuart scored in the next at bat, breaking for home on a grounder to third that the third baseman bobbled to allow Bergman to reach and sent Travis Holt to second.
The offenses for both teams took a bit of a break after the third, with the next nine batters retired in order, two of the six for JMU sitting down on strikeouts from Johnson. The Panthers gave their senior starter some more run support in the fifth, tacking on two more runs. Rall was hit by a pitch to start the inning and advanced to second when Pearre singled to right for his second hit of in the game.
HPU put on the double steal again and it was successful once more, with Rall sliding under the tag at third. Stuart brought in Rall with a groundout to second for the RBI that also advanced Pearre to third, and Holt brought the lead-off hitter home with a sac fly to center, giving the Purple and White a 4-1 lead heading into the sixth.
Pearre had a big weekend against the Dukes, hitting a double down the line in left in the seventh to give him three in the game and six on the weekend. He hit .500 against JMU’s pitching staff and drove in three runs, all stemming from his two home runs against the Dukes in Friday’s victory.
“He’s our sparkplug at the top,” Cozart said of his lead-off hitter. “You don’t necessarily want to put something on a guy but when he goes, we really get going from an offensive standpoint and that’s what you need out of your lead-off hitter. When you have a guy at the top of the order that can hit home runs, lay down bunts, and steal bases it gives you so many opportunities from an offensive standpoint. He’s hot right now and we’d like to keep him that way for the rest of the year.”
Johnson did not come back out for the sixth inning, as Cozart elected to turn to the bullpen and Dawson Place to preserve the lead. Johnson’s day ended with one run on three hits with four strikeouts and just the one walk on 75 pitches in five innings of work.
Cozart made a second pitching change in the sixth inning, bringing Kearney with two outs after Place gave up a run on a walk and a double. Kearny was able to end the inning on three pitches, getting the JMU batter to ground out to Stuart at second.
That was just a taste of what Kearny was about to do in the final three innings, as the freshman sat down the final nine batters for a 10-out save, his second save of the season. Kearny has yet to allow a run all season and has only given up one hit and one walk with four strikeouts in seven innings of work over four appearances for a WHIP of 0.29.
“Mason was huge today,” Cozart continued about his freshman. “We’re still trying to figure out the pieces as we head into conference play but we need some freshmen that are able to make quality contributions and Mason has been really, really, good for us all year and we’re going to continue to enhance his role. To be perfect for three and a third today to secure the series was outstanding.”
High Point’s homestand continues this week when UNCG visits Williard Stadium on Tuesday (March 10) for an inter-Triad battle. Then it’s the start of conference play as USC Upstate will make it two straight Spartans in the third-base dugout when they come to town to kick-off Big South action next weekend (March 13-15).