HPU walks past G-W in 11 innings
As Gardner-Webb relief pitchers kept struggling with their control, High Point University batters kept taking pitches.
They did it well enough to push across the tying and winning runs on the last two of four straight walks in the bottom of the 11th to post a 5-4 win over Gardner-Webb in a crazy ending to the home part of the Panthers’ schedule.
Cody Manzella coaxed the walk-off walk to score Spencer Angelis, who wound up at the bottom of a celebratory pile after crossing the plate. Both said it was the first time they had been involved with a walk-off walk in their careers.
“It was just as sweet as if I had scored on a hit,” said Angelis of winding up on the bottom of the pile. ”There’s nothing like it.”
The Panthers (26-26) won the series with the Runnin’ Bulldogs, improved to 12-9 in the Big South and remained in contention to gain the No. 3 seed in the upcoming conference tournament with three games at VMI remaining on the conference slate.
“Hopefully this will give us some momentum,” said Angelis, who was one of the Panthers’ hitting leaders, going 3 for 4 and driving in two runs with one of his two doubles. “We had a break for exams a couple of weeks ago and we’ve been struggling with our bats. This could be a big stepping point going into the conference tournament.”
The unusual ending was a fitting finish to a wild game in which G-W (25-24-1, 9-11) scored one run after the umpires waved off a called third strike; the Panthers bullpen couldn’t hold a two-run lead in the ninth; HPU had the potential winning run thrown out at the plate in the bottom of the ninth; Gardner-Webb had the potential go-ahead run thrown out at the plate in a violent collision in the top of the 10th; and the Runnin’ Bulldogs took their only lead in the top of the 11th.
“It was a crazy game and you second-guess yourself as a coach when you get in close games like that,” HPU coach Craig Cozart said. “Our team really needed that win. Runs have been hard to come by so fortunately we were able to get it done in 11 innings.”
Brett Gemmell led off the Panthers 11th with a double. Angelis and Ryan Retz walked to load the bases. G-W reliever Brad Haymes threw two balls to Devin Bujnovsky, then was replaced by Beau Hilton, who delivered two strikes before walking Bujnovsky. forcing Gemmell across with the tying run.
Manzella watched three offerings from Hilton miss the strike zone, took a strike and then took a pitch low, forcing across Angelis.
“On the 3-0 pitch, I was taking,” Manzella said. “It was a close pitch and they called it a strike. I was geared up to swing on the 3-1 but it was low.”
The late rally was necessary after the Panther relievers couldn’t make a sterling performance from starter Malcolm Clapsaddle stand up.
Clapsaddle allowed only one run and two hits before being pulled with one out in the ninth.
The run came on an RBI single in the third, after home-plate umpire Benny Pigg reversed a third-strike call. Clapsaddle retired 17 of the last 19 batters he faced and threw just 98 pitches. He left with the 3-1 lead thanks to Angelis’ double in the fifth.
Clapsaddle said it was his best outing since undergoing Tommy John surgery last year.
Cozart inserted Sean Townsley after Clapsaddle gave up a single and got an out in the ninth. Townsley gave up a double and was replaced by Joe Goodman, who gave up a tying two-run double.
“Here’s the thing about Clapsaddle, he’s been throwing for eight months since coming off surgery,” Cozart said. “He hasn’t had rest. It wasn’t as much about Clapsaddle as it was my confidence in the bullpen. I didn’t like the matchup against their No. 3 hitter with the wind blowing out and a runner on. If he hits one on the barrel, it’s a tie game. Things didn’t go as scripted but Clapsaddle was sensational.”
In the bottom of the ninth, Josh Spano was tagged out at the plate trying to score the winning run on a single to shallow right. In the top of the 10th, pinch runner Evan Hyett tried to score on single to right by Benji Johnson. Spano took the throw, blocked the plate and applied the tag as he thrust his forearms out, catching Hyett in the face, Hyett went down hard and remained on the ground as both benches came onto the field.
Gardner-Webb took the lead in the 11th when Brantley Smith laced a double off John Maloney that scored Jackson, who walked and went to second on a wild pitch. Jared Avidon set the Runnin’ Bulldogs down and wound up the winning pitcher.
HPU travels to UNC Charlotte on Tuesday, then closes the season Thursday through Saturday at VMI.