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College Baseball: Catawba splits two games on Sunday

By Mike London

Salisbury Post

With the Super Bowl in progress and a wind-chill factor only a polar bear could love invading Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium, Catawba players outnumbered fans by the time Sunday’s baseball doubleheader was finally completed.

Catawba labored on the field for five hours, 35 minutes and batted .500. There was a 6-1 loss to Tusculum (3-0) in a windy opener and an ugly 20-9 victory over Newberry (0-3) in a refrigerated nightcap in which every step invited hamstring pulls or frostbite.

“It was about as cold as you can play in,” bundled-up Catawba coach Jim Gantt said.

Gantt doesn’t expect things to get better anytime soon. Catawba (2-1) is scheduled to play Pfeiffer (3-1) on Tuesday, and temperatures aren’t expected to elude the 30s.

Catawba sophomore Blake Ketner, a Northwest Cabarrus product who is very familiar with the mound at Fieldcrest, pitched no-hit ball for three innings against 25th-ranked Tusculum but wasn’t fortunate in the fourth. The Pioneers strung together four straight soft singles, took advantage of a couple of Catawba mistakes and scored four runs to take charge.

“I’ve seen things like that happen to Blake before,” said Catawba catcher Ryan Query, who teamed with Ketner for several years on Kannapolis’ American Legion team. “It was just tough luck on Blake’s part. Dribblers and bloops.”

Catawba, ranked 28th, couldn’t manage even dribblers and bloops against Tusculum lefty C.J. Hillyer, a Louisburg transfer who worked seven sharp innings. Query’s opposite-field double scored Matt Kepley in the sixth for Catawba’s only run.

“Tusculum is a real good team,” Gantt said. “They got ’em on, got ’em over and got ’em in . When they got a chance, they usually made the most of it.”

n Lefty Alex Fairweather plunked three batters in five innings but racked up a win when Catawba’s offense exploded against Newberry.

Freshman Brett Hatley’s two-run double highlighted a six-run first inning that allowed Catawba to jump on top.

Slugger Jerry Sands was walked four times by Newberry, but Query delivered two run-scoring hits behind him out of the clean-up spot, No. 5 hitter Chad Baker produced three RBIs, and No. 6 batter Zach Evans knocked in six runs.

With Catawba leading 7-3 in the bottom of the fourth, Sands came to the plate with David Thomas and Kepley on base. Sands chased strike one well out of the zone. Then he shocked everyone by squaring to bunt, but he took a ball when the pitch wasn’t close enough to offer at.

The next pitch he drove well out of the ballpark to right-center to make it 10-3.

Newberry crept as close as 11-7 before Catawba put together a six-run seventh inning that featured a two-run single by Evans.

Evans whacked a three-run homer to left in the eighth to close the scoring. Then he took the mound and struck out two batters in the ninth to send frozen fans home.

Catawba committed six errors in the two games. That was probably Gantt’s biggest worry.

“We’re battling through some growing pains right now,” he said. “We can do a better job.”

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NOTES: Pete Kuld has joined Catawba’s coaching staff, working mostly with catchers. Catawba wore new gray uniforms in the nightcap. … Gantt called a huge heater in Catawba’s dugout “a lifesaver.” … Kepley, the new right fielder, scored four runs in the second game. … Kevin McMillan threw out a basestealer at third to end the Newberry fourth. … Query said catching Ketner reminded him of their Legion days. “Just like summer ball,” he quipped, “only it wasn’t 40 degrees last summer.” … Bubba Morris and Craige Lyerly had RBIs in the nightcap.

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Contact Mike London at mlondon@salisburypost.com.

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