BUIES CREEK — Family and friends came to Campbell to see former South Johnston standout Joseph Johnson pitch for High Point on Saturday night.
Behind yet another standout performance from Johnson, a sophomore right-hander, and a consistent offensive attack, the Panther baseball team knocked off the Camels, 7-3, in a Big South Conference contest at Jim Perry Stadium. The deciding game of the series is set for Sunday at 2 p.m.
“Our guys showed a lot of toughness tonight,” High Point coach Craig Cozart said. “Austen Zente’s home run got us the separation we needed and Joe Johnson and Grey Lyttle were special on the mound. It was another clean ballgame and with all the events this weekend, including graduation, I’m excited that our guys came out and played great today.”
The Panthers (24-19, 13-7) continue to ride their best Big South start in program history, surpassing the previous top mark of 12-8 set on three different occasions. In doing so, HPU issued Campbell (25-19, 16-4) just its fourth conference loss of the year and can be the second team to swipe a series from the Camels.
Johnson (3-0), pitching 15 minutes from his hometown of Benson, was lights out on the hill in earning his second straight win. He allowed only two hits in seven innings of work and made just one mistake — a two-run homer in the last of the fourth inning — en route to his second quality start in the last four weeks.
Johnson responded by retiring the final 11 batters he faced while matching a career high with seven innings pitched. Johnson didn’t walk anybody and struck out a career-best six as he lowered his earned run average to 3.86. Since moving to the rotation on April 14, he has allowed only three earned runs in 19 and one-third frames for a 1.40 ERA.
“Joe has been invaluable to us,” Cozart said. “He has stepped literally out of nowhere and has given us three quality starts in conference play. That speaks for itself.”
The offense supported Johnson’s cause with a heavy dose of traffic on the bases. HPU cashed in on a chance in the third inning with a pair of runs to snare a 2-0 lead. Redshirt-junior Daniel Millwee reached on an error with the bags packed to bring home the first run before senior Carson Jackson lifted a sac fly to center to make it 2-0.
An inning later, junior Conner Dunbar coaxed a walk with two outs and was able to saunter home on a two-run blast to left field from senior Austen Zente, his team-leading 11th of the campaign. Zente, who was also hit by a pitch twice, drove in two and scored two runs on the night.
Leading 4-2 into the eighth, High Point put the game to bed with a three-run rally. Senior Jordan Sergent singled to start the inning, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on a single up the middle from junior J.J. Woodard, who moved to second on an error. Senior Blake Schunk followed with an RBI single to left to give HPU a 6-2 advantage. Three batters later, yet another senior, Hunter Lee, provided a clutch hit with an opposite field RBI single to plate the Panthers’ seventh run.
The senior class (Zente, Sergent, Schunk, Lee, and Carson Jackson) was the catalyst on offense for High Point, combining to collect five of HPU’s 11 hits, score four of the seven runs and contribute five of the six RBI. In addition, freshman Travis Holt notched his fourth three-hit game of the year and Woodard added a pair of knocks.
(High Point media services provided the basis for this report)