HPU enters Big South tourney on emotional upswing
High Point University goes into the Big South baseball tournament today in better position than any of its previous teams.
The Panthers enter play at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., as the No. 3 seed, their best slotting ever as a Big South member, after posting a 15-9 conference record, also their best ever. The 15 victories also match the school’s record for most Big South wins, previously achieved with a 15-12 mark in 2010.
In the league’s first year using divisions and taking the two division winners and the next six teams based on conference records into the tournament, HPU is seeded behind division champs Campbell and Coastal Carolina, both ranked in the Collegiate Baseball Top 30 poll, and will play Gardner-Webb today.
“This is the first of our teams going into the conference tournament that has some expectations from the outside to do well, not just internally,” fifth-year HPU coach Craig Cozart said by telephone after the Panthers went through a Monday morning practice in Lynchburg. “It gives us more of an emotional lift than a mental one going into the weekend.”
The Panthers edged Radford by a game for the third seed by sweeping a three-game series against VMI last weekend. Counting a final home series against G-W, HPU won five of its last six conference games, helping boost it to a 29-27 regular-season mark that is just its second regular-season record over .500 in the Division I era.
“I was impressed with the way we battled,” Cozart said. “The first game was spread over two days and we had to come from behind in two of the three games. We showed a lot of maturity and we got a lot of leadership from our seniors, who were the first class that we recruited.”
Gardner-Webb went 12-11 in the league and is 28-25-1 overall. The Panthers beat the Runnin’ Bulldogs 3-1 on May 10, lost 4-3 when the potential tying run was thrown out at the plate in the ninth inning on May 11 and came from behind with two runs in the bottom of the 11th to win 5-4 on a walk May 12th.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs wound up conference play by scoring 25 runs in a three-game sweep of Presbyterian.
“Our series against them was very intense,” Cozart said. “They scored a lot of runs against Presbyterian, so they have to feel good.”
HPU also was on track offensively against VMI, scoring six runs in each game while getting rid of some of its hitting struggles in recent weeks. The offensive revival included Ryan Retz hitting .686 for the three games.
“The second game against VMI, we got (15) hits and we got 13 in the third game,” Cozart said. “Our confidence at the plate is better. You can tell a difference in our body language.”
HPU’s starting pitcher today will be Malcolm Clapsaddle, who gave up two runs and two hits in 8 1/3 innings against G-W in the May 12th game. Clapsaddle (1-4) got a no-decision that day but lowered his ERA to 3.44
“We held him out last weekend so he would have plenty of rest going into the tournament,” Cozart said. “It really didn’t matter that he had a chance to face Gardner-Webb again, even though he pitched well against them the last time out.”
FOUR EARN BIG SOUTH HONORS ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
Four of the Panthers baseball players were honored at the conference’s awards banquet on Monday evening.
Spencer Angelis, a sophomore catcher/first baseman who batted .326 with 13 doubles, 26 RBIS and 27 runs scored, was named first-team all-conference.
Ryan Retz and Jacob Newberry made the second team. Retz, who pitched and played first base and right field, leads High Point in batting average (.350), hits (75), doubles (18), home runs (5), RBI (38) total bases (108) and slugging percentage (.505). The senior is sixth in the Big South in batting average, fourth in hits, tied for second in doubles, tied for ninth in home runs, tied for sixth in RBI, eighth in runs scored and tied for second in total bases.
Newberry, who started 13 games as High Point’s Friday night starter, is 4-2 with a 2.44 ERA. He recorded 74 strikeouts in 84 2/3 innings.
Will Resnik was named to the All-Academic team.