The High Point-Thomasville HiToms completed the 2021 season with a final record of 32-22 (25-19 in Coastal Plain League play), exiting the playoffs in the divisional round to the 36-8 Savannah Bananas, who won their second-ever Petitt Cup this season.

Despite the playoff exit, there was plenty to be excited about at Finch Field. The return of full crowds after the peak of the COVID-19 Pandemic jumpstarted the offense, with the HiToms producing 65 regular-season home runs, their most in a season since 2007. The HiToms had six players with over five home runs, taking Coastal Plain League pitchers for a ride.

FIRST HALF:

The Coastal Plain League season was started with a bang by third year HiTom Luke Spiva. One year removed from an All-CPL First Team selection, Spiva celebrated the return to a full CPL season with a first at-bat home run in Asheboro. Spiva took a healthy cut at the fifth pitch of the HiToms season, whacking it over the McCrary Park fence for a home run.

The Spiva home run, his only of the season, set the tone for the HiToms season opener, with six HiToms pitchers completing a shutout with 18 strikeouts. Will Lancaster was the first reliever out of the bullpen in game one, striking out five batters in two innings.

With early momentum, the HiToms started the season smooth, with a 5-1 record in the first six games. Over the first 12, the HiToms were 9-3, after a Hogan Windish led doubleheader sweep. On June 18th, the HiToms took on the Forest City Owls and were quite impressive in all facets of the game.

In game one, the HiToms finished a rain-suspended game. Will Lancaster pitched 4 2/3 innings across two different days, finishing with nine strikeouts and just two runs allowed. With the outing, the Charlotte transfer lowered his ERA to 1.54. Just a few weeks later, Lancaster would be elevated to the rotation due to his success in relief.

Luke Davis entered after Lancaster, pitching two scoreless innings, keeping the game within reach for the HiToms offense. 2020 Coastal Plain League Hitter of the Year Hogan Windish provided the spark for a late comeback. In the seventh, the UNCG Spartan cut into the 5-1 lead with a solo home run, his fourth of the year.

In the ninth, the HiToms did most of their work. Hogan Windish hit a single, then the HiToms started taking tons of pitches from the Owls’ Cy Smith. Smith could not find the zone, and the HiToms were able to draw four walks to bring in three runs. With the bases loaded, Cole Simpson hit a groundball to shortstop that was mishandled, and the HiToms walked the game off in a 6-5 win.

In game two, the HiToms were able to sail into the win column behind pitching and hitting alike. On the mound, Gabe Golob allowed just one run across four innings. The Wake Forest right-handed pitcher was solid all year, striking out six in his 6/18 outing. Collin Sells, Tristan Snyder, and KJ Wells finished the win for the HiToms, who were able to get out to a big lead with the help of Hogan Windish.

Windish was 4-4 in game two of the doubleheader, tallying six hits across both games. Windish began game two with his second home run of the day and added a three-run double to break the game open in the fourth inning.

Hogan Windish running the bases

In total, Windish was the best hitter in the CPL West in 2021, smashing 14 home runs and driving in a league-best 47 runs. Among CPL hitters with over 100 PA, Windish had the highest OPS (1.109) and second highest slugging percentage (.682). The HiToms heavily populated the home runs and slugging percentage leaderboards this year, with three of the top four slugging percentages and home run totals. With Windish leading the way, Von Seibert and Thomas Caufield hit eleven home runs, both slugging above .600.

The HiToms were 13-9 in the first half of the season, two games ahead of the Asheboro Copperheads for second place. There would be no catching the Savannah Bananas, who won both halves of the season, losing just eight regular season contests.

SECOND HALF:

In the second half of the season, the HiToms dealt with adversity. A 4-6 ten-game stretch in the middle of July felled the HiToms to fifth in the CPL West second half standings. However, needing just a second-place overall record, the HiToms rallied, using offensive contributions from all around the lineup. One of the main contributors in the second half was Mississippi State’s Matt Corder.

Matt Corder

Corder missed much of the first half with a dislocated shoulder but rebounded in a big way when he returned. While making an impact at  shortstop and in center field defensively, Corder laid waste to CPL pitching ahead of his first year at Mississippi State.

In his month of play, Corder played 18 games for HP-T, OPSing 1.266, one of the best marks in the CPL. In just 60 at bats, Corder hit seven home runs and four doubles. Corder was at least average in every stat category, helping the HiToms reach the playoffs.

In the middle of a playoff push, Corder, Von Seibert, and CJ Johnson provided six combined RBIs on 7/15 while the Martinsville Mustangs pitched around Hogan Windish. Corder’s left field home run at Finch Field was not out of left field for Matt. Corder would hit four more home runs over the next week to earn CPL Hitter of the Week honors. At his exit from the team, Corder was slugging .817 and batting .367, both leading the HiToms.

In the 7/15 win, CJ Johnson drove in four runs with the help of a bases-loaded triple. Throughout the year, Johnson was a steady presence in center field, slashing .270/.386/.532, all three numbers near the top of the leaderboards for CPL center fielders. The Guilford Tech center fielder was added to the roster as a temporary player at the beginning of the season, but quickly made his presence known, hitting .409 through the first two weeks of the year.

Johnson’s premier home run of the year occurred in an exhibition on July 11th. Facing the Boone Bigfoots, the HiToms slept-walked through eight innings, before putting it all together in the ninth. In a 3-3 tie, CJ Johnson came to the plate with the bases loaded and smashed a walk-off grand slam.

Entering the final three days of the season, the HiToms were not in control of their playoff destiny, needing late losses from the Lexington County Blowfish to stay alive in their playoff hunt. Luckily for the HiToms, the Blowfish blew their chances, losing in two of their final four games of the year, ending up just a half-game behind the HiToms.

The Blowfish played one fewer regular season game, after a rain cancellation in the first half. Thusly, the Blowfish could not tie HP-T. They needed to win versus Spartanburg on July 30 to keep their playoff spot. An early Spartanburgers lead evaporated with a Blowfish rally, leading to a 7-7 tie in the late innings. Meanwhile, the HiToms were doing their part to clinch a playoff spot ahead of the final date of the regular season. In a contest versus fading Asheboro, the HiToms put up 18 runs with three home runs in an 18-9 rout.

The Blowfish sank in a rally attempt in the ninth. After a Spartanburgers eighth inning RBI single, the Blowfish brought the winning run to the plate in the ninth. However, Lexington County speedster Vince Hanna was tagged out on the bases for the final out of the game, crushing the Blowfish’s chances, and bringing a playoff spot to the HiToms.

PLAYOFFS:

The HiToms entered the playoffs as heavy underdogs against the dominating Savannah Bananas. The Bananas started the season 11-0 and never fell out of first place, taking the southern teams in the CPL for a ride. The three game Divisional Series was new territory for both teams. Despite playing in the same division, neither faced each other in the 44-game schedule.

The 36-8 Bananas hosted games one and three of the series, treating the HiToms to packed stands and raucous crowds in the two games in Georgia. Game one was a wakeup call for Savannah, all thanks to HiToms pitcher Chace Harris. Harris was mainly a bullpen pitcher for HP-T, winning a Pitcher of the Week Award despite posting an ERA of 7.32 in an uneven season.

Chace Harris

Harris was familiar with success in Savannah. With the rival Macon Bacon, Harris was an All-CPL performer in 2019, victorious as the starting pitcher in a one-game playoff at Grayson Stadium.

It was a new team for Harris, but the same old scenario as Harris went to work on a hot Sunday night. Harris grounded out Jesse Sherrill, struck out Eduardo Malinowski, struck out Livan Reinoso, and did not look back. Harris cooked the Bananas lineup to the tune of a seven-inning shutout appearance. Harris struck out seven and ceded to the HiToms elite bullpen after one of the best starts of the season for HP-T.

Battling his command, Tristan Snyder hit a batter in the eighth, but worked out of trouble. KJ Wells closed the door on Savannah with a two-strikeout appearance in the ninth inning.

Wells was one of the brightest stars for the HiToms in the summer of 2021 as the closer. Wells only recorded two saves as a result of the HiToms lack of save situations, yet Wells was as good as they come in the CPL. Armed with an alarmingly quick 94 mph fastball, Wells’ deceptive delivery gave hitters fits in Wells’ tune up summer ahead of his UNCG debut.

In total, the stat line for Wells seems like a typo. 13 IP, 1.38 ERA, 30 K, 4 BB. Wells struck out over two batters per nine innings, the highest strikeout rate in the Coastal Plain League. Wells goes down as one of the very best relief arms to every see time at Finch Field with his 2021 campaign. Combined across 2020 and 2021, Wells has just allowed three earned runs and eight hits.

In games two and three of the series, the HiToms were spellbound by the best pitching staff in the CPL, mustering just two runs total, on a late Jake Lysaght home run in game two. Savannah starter Joe Miller struck out 11, his season high, in game two. In game three, the HiToms were three-hit by three different Bananas pitchers in a heavily rain-delayed game that wrapped up at 12:27 a.m.

THE 2021 HITOMS BY THE NUMBERS:

.568 – Highest regular-season winning percentage since 2018.

65 – Most home runs in a season since 2007.

303 – Most runs scored in a season since 2017.

47 – Hogan Windish: Most RBIs in a season by a HiTom since 2018 (Austin Pharr).

26 – Ellis Stokes: Most stolen bases by a HiTom since 2011 (Brock Hebert).

The season might be over, but we’re not done with 2021. Keep an eye out on HiToms’ social media for updates on our High School Fall League and the HiToms’ fall football jamboree.