The numbers didn’t foretell anything like this happening, but that’s the beauty of baseball ... or the humbling, frustrating part of baseball, depending on one’s perspective.
High Point senior right-hander Scot Hoffman came into the day with an unspectacular 4.69 earned-run average over 48 innings before nearly throwing a shutout Saturday against No. 25-ranked Coastal Carolina.
Hoffman was masterful while keeping the Chanticleers guessing all game before giving up a two-run home run to G.K. Young in the bottom of the ninth and letting the bullpen close out a 5-2 Panthers win at Springs Brooks Stadium.
Coastal Carolina (29-11, 11-2 Big South), which came into the day riding a nine-game winning streak and had a collective .334 batting average during a stretch of 16 wins in the previous 17 games, managed only four hits in the loss.
“The team that played the best today won the game,” Chants coach Gary Gilmore said plainly. “They won every aspect of the game. They outhit us, they outdefended us, they outpitched us. Consequently, they win.”
High Point (26-13, 9-4) came into the weekend in second place in the Big South, three games behind Coastal Carolina.
The Panthers outlasted a strong pitching performance from junior righty Alex Cunningham before breaking through with two runs in the seventh and three more in the eighth to take control with a 5-0 lead.
We battle, and I thought after I hit [the homer in the ninth] we had a big chance, but we just [have to] come back tomorrow and we’ll be ready tomorrow. No doubt we’ll be ready tomorrow.
CCU designated hitter G.K. Young
Cunningham (6-2) took the loss despite starting the game with six scoreless frames and racking up nine strikeouts.
Carson Jackson opened the seventh with a leadoff double to left and Drew Fopeano followed with a line drive to right field. Connor Owings got a bad read on the ball and tried to leap for it at the end, but instead Fopeano rolled into second with an RBI double.
“I just took a bad route. That’s on me. It can’t happen,” Owings said.
After a sacrifice bunt moved him over to third and pinch-hitter Conner Dunbar walked, pinch-hitter Tim Mansfield hit a grounder in the hole to the left side. Shortstop Michael Paez made a great play on the ball to get the out at second, but the Chants couldn’t complete the double play in time as High Point went up 2-0.
With Cunningham over 100 pitches for the day, the Panthers pounced again in the eighth when Hunter Lee led off with a solo homer to right and Chris Clare singled to prompt a pitching change.
After starting with a strikeout, lefty reliever Austin Kitchen gave up a two-run homer to Dominic Fazio to make it 5-0.
“I thought [Cunningham] pitched good. He got out of a couple of jams early, and at the end, heck, it’s kind of frustrating he made a couple of bad pitches and you have to tip your hat to them,” Gilmore said. “We fouled or missed every bad pitch [their] guy made today – every single one outside of maybe the one G.K. hit. But their guys, the huge mistakes that were made they capitalized on almost every one of them.”
Hoffman (4-3) didn’t give the Chants much to work with, but they had a couple chances late in the game.
Coastal Carolina had runners on first and third with one out in the bottom of the seventh, but Hoffman answered with strikeouts of Owings and Tyler Chadwick to escape the jam.
And in the ninth Anthony Marks led off with a walk and two batters later Young clobbered a two-run homer into the parking lot in right – his team-leading 10th of the season – but the Chants went quietly from there.
Owings made the final out on a foul pop that Mansfield made a great grab on down the left field line. That snapped the senior’s 18-game hitting streak – two games short of matching the longest streak on record in program history – but Owings said he wasn’t thinking about that.
“It didn’t even go through my mind. I was just trying to get on base,” Owings said. “We were down by three and you can’t hit a three-run homer with no one on. I was just trying to get on base.”
As for the struggles against Hoffman, who tallied a career-best nine strikeouts while allowing only two walks, the Chants credited the righty’s control and mix of pitches.
“He threw everything for strikes – change-up, curveball, fastball. He was throwing 3-2 breaking balls,” Young said. “You really couldn’t predict what he was going to throw to you. You really couldn’t sit on a certain pitch. He commanded every pitch he had, and we didn’t have our best stuff either at the plate. You’ve got to tip your cap to him.”
Said Gilmore: “I mean if he pitched like that every game he’d be the consensus pitcher of the year in Division I baseball. He was very good. He threw 75 percent of pitches for strikes, he threw three pitches for strikes, throwing 92 miles per hour. Shoot, you tip your hat to him. He was very good. We were not up to the task.”
Coastal Carolina’s nine-game winning streak was the second-best in NCAA Division I entering Saturday behind UNC Wilmington, which has now won 11 in a row.
All streaks end, though. The Chants have still won 16 out of their last 18 games and will look to bounce back Sunday in the second game of the three-game series, which was pushed back a day due to weather concerns.
“We battle, and I thought after I hit [the homer in the ninth] we had a big chance, but we just [have to] come back tomorrow and we’ll be ready tomorrow,” Young said. “No doubt we’ll be ready tomorrow.”
Said Gilmore: “If we are in a regional we’re in a big hole. It’s been a while since we’ve had to scratch and grind and really get focused and whatever, so we’ll see how we react tomorrow.”
NOTES: Billy Cooke also had his 30-game streak of reaching base safely snapped Saturday. ... Right-hander Bobby Holmes (3-1, 4.87 ERA) is scheduled to pitched Sunday, opposite High Point righty Andre Scrubb (6-3, 3.78).
Who | High Point at No. 25 Coastal Carolina
Where | Springs Brooks Stadium, Conway
When | 2 p.m.
Radio | WSEA-FM 100.3