HPU baseball gears for Big South tourney

·3 min read

May 25—HIGH POINT — High Point University's baseball team seeks to continue its recent strong play in the Big South Conference tournament that begins Wednesday at Truist Point.

HPU (23-21) went 7-2 in its last three conference series to earn the No. 4 seed at 14-10 and will face No. 5 Charleston Southern (21-28, 13-11) in the tournament's first game at 11 a.m. That will be followed by No. 3 UNC Asheville (20-27-1, 14-9-1) facing Gardner-Webb (22-34, 11-13) at 3.

The losers of those first two games play Wednesday night in an elimination contest. The HPU-CharlestonSouthern winner faces No. 1 Campbell (36-16, 20-3) at 11 a.m. Thursday. That game will be followed by the UNC Asheville/Gardner-Webb winner facing No. 2 seed USC Upstate (34-20-1, 17-6-1).

Double-elimination play culminates with the championship round on Saturday.

HPU is 11-5 since a 13-5 loss against N.C. State at Truist Point in which the Panthers briefly took the lead 5-4 with a four-run inning in which they forced the Wolfpack into making mistakes. Although N.C. State went on to win, 13-5, HPU head coach Joey Hammond said last week that it was the turning point of the season for his team.

"I think it was," Hammond said. "It was the same scenario we'd been in constantly and we'd always gone in the other direction. We were always trying to do too much trying to compensate for what we had on the mound and the runs we were going to give up. That was the game our hitters decided that who we have on the mound and how many runs we've given up is irrelevant to my at-bat — and if I win my at-bat and the next guy wins his and so forth, good things are going to happen....

"That was the turning point for us in understanding if we just play baseball regardless of the opponent, we may win and we may lose, but if we just play baseball, we have a shot."

During the late-season run, the Panthers posted a win each over Wake Forest and Duke, swept a conference series against North Carolina A&T and Presbyterian, and scratched out a crucial victory against Campbell, which seeks its third tournament championship in four seasons.

The Camels dominated the league through the combination of having the best pitching staff and posting a .298 batting average that was just behind the .300 of USC Upstate. Campbell"s pitching held the opposition to .234 hitting, registered 501 strikeouts and had a 4.56 team ERA.

Campbell infielder Zach Neto, who led the league with a .394 average and 19 doubles, was named the conference's player of the year for the second straight season on Tuesday. His teammate Thomas Harrington was named Pitcher of the Year after going 11-1 in leading the nation in wins and posting a league-leading 1.72 ERA with 12 strikeouts per game.

Justin Haire of Campbell was named coach of the year after leading the Camels to a fourth straight regular season championship. Noah Sullivan of Upstate was named Freshman of the Year.

Neto and Harrington were among eight Camels named All-Conference First Team. HPU starting pitcher Sam Garcia was the Panthers' only first-team selection. HPU reliever Sean Duffy made the second team and infielder Adam Staurt was honorable mention and All-Academic. Everett Vaughan of the Panthers made the All-Freshman team.