HPU Baseball Panthers’ Late Rally Comes Up Short

Site: High Point, N.C. (Williard Stadium)
Score: Bryant 7, High Point 6
W: Kevin Gould (1-0), L: Mason Kearney (0-1), S:Jackson Harrigan (1)
Records: BRY 2-0, HPU 0-2
Next HPU Event: Sunday, Feb. 21 — vs. Bryant (Williard Stadium, High Point, N.C.), 1 p.m.

HIGH POINT, N.C. — The High Point University baseball team scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to pull within one, but couldn’t complete the comeback in a 7-6 loss to Bryant University on Saturday afternoon (Feb. 20).

The Panthers led by one until the eighth inning and entered the ninth tied but gave up three runs in the top half of the inning. Two runs came around to score in the bottom of the ninth on a two-out error but the tying run was stranded at first.

Cameron Irvine had a strong showing in his HPU debut, going 3-4 with an RBI double in the third inning that was the go-ahead run at the time.

“Today’s game was not good in any aspect,” head coach Craig Cozart said after the loss. “We didn’t play well defensively, we walked people in the back-end of the game out of the bullpen, and we produced soft outs in RBI situations. They got out early and took a three-run lead but we settled things down with Trent Harris and CJ Neese on the mound and had plenty of opportunities to take control of the game offensively and didn’t. Striking out looking in RBI situations is a soft way to go down and we did that a lot today.”

Harris got the start for the Panthers on the mound and matched his career-high with six strikeouts in 4.2 innings of work. He only gave up one walk and four hits, and just one earned run on 74 pitches. Neese came in to relieve Harris to make his debut in the Purple and White and threw 3.1 innings with four strikeouts, two hits, and one run.

Unlike yesterday it didn’t take long for either side to get on base, with each team picking up a hit in the first inning. Bryant also added runs in the first, putting its leadoff man on and bringing him around to score. A misplay on the throw at the plate allowed the Bulldog batter to take third after his double, later coming around to score on a wild pitch. Harris was able to settle down after the shaky start, recording his first two strikeouts of the game to end the inning.

Joe Johnson got the bats started for High Point, laying a bunt down the third-base line for his second hit in as many games. The graduate student now has a nine-game hitting streak dating back to last season, tied for the longest of his career. Harris sent the side down in order in the second and the Panthers picked up two hits in the bottom half of the inning but couldn’t get either past second. Irvine singled down the line in right with two outs and then Adam Stuart put one through the infield on the left side but was thrown out a second on a grounder to short to end the inning.

The Bulldogs added to their lead in the top of the third, taking advantage of another Panther error. The leadoff batter reached on an error to start the inning that put him at second and then came around to score on the next at bat on a double down the left-field line.

High Point responded in a big way in the fourth inning, batting around the order and putting up a four-spot to take the lead. Johnson reached on a fielder’s choice and then took second and headed towards third when Travis Holt singled to right. There was a miscommunication in the relay for Bryant and the ball made it all the way to the wall behind third, allowing Johnson to safely take third and moving Holt up to second with one out.

Sam Zayicek was up next and bounced one to the pitcher, who decided to throw home in an attempt to get Johnson at the plate. The attempt was in vain as Johnson slid under the throw to get the Purple and White on the board and put runners on the corners. Justin Ebert brought home Holt on the next at bat with a groundout to second that moved Zayicek ahead to second.

Evan Bergman brought Zayicek home with a single up the middle and then scored himself when Irvine doubled off the wall in left-center, just feet away from clearing the fence. Stuart walked to put runners on first and second with two outs and that was it for the Bryan pitcher. The reliever was able to get the job done to close out the third and limit the damage, inducing a groundout to third to end the inning with High Point up 4-3.

Each team only put one runner on in the fourth inning and Harris picked up one final strikeout in the fifth before making way for Neese with two outs. Bryant threatened to score again in the sixth when its leadoff batter made it to third with one out. He drew a walk to start the inning and then stole second, advancing to third when the throw bounced off of his foot and careened into left field. The Panthers did a good job of stranding him there with a grounder to short to end the inning and maintain the lead.

HPU looked like it would add to the lead in the bottom of the seventh when Johnson hit a leadoff double to left and then advanced to third on a wild pitch. That was as far as he got as the next three batters struck out, two of them looking, to end the inning with an insurance run 90 feet away.

Leaving the runner at third proved to be costly as the Bulldogs tied it up in the next half-inning. Two singles started the inning and then loaded the bases on a fielder’s choice that did not result in an out. The tying run came home on a sac fly in the next at bat but that’s all Bryant got as a strikeout and a weak grounder to first sent the game to the bottom of the eighth knotted at four.

The Panthers turned to the bullpen again for the ninth inning and Bryant jumped on the fresh arm, getting two singles in a row after a strikeout started the inning. Two walks followed the singles and the go-ahead run came around to touch home, causing another trip to the bullpen for the Purple and White. Another strikeout of the first batter faced out of the pen got HPU one out away from batting in the bottom-half but a hit batter and another walk brought in two more, which proved to be the difference.

Pearre singled to center with one out in the bottom of the ninth in an attempt to start the rally and took second on a wild pitch. He took third after a wild pitch on ball four to Johnson, which moved him into scoring position and brought the tying run to the plate. A strikeout sent the Panthers down to their last out but they were able to get the two runs in when a high popup to third bounced off the Bryant player’s glove and fell to the dirt. Pearre and Johnson were moving on contact and easily came around to score to make it a one-run game, 7-6. Ultimately the rally came up short as another strikeout looking ended the game and gave Bryant the series victory.

High Point will look to take one game in the series in the third and final game with the Bulldogs tomorrow (Feb. 21) at Williard Stadium at 1 p.m. Then the Panthers have a weekend series with Triad rival UNCG back at Truist Point from Feb. 26-28.