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Talented Indians belt Barton

By Mike London
Salisbury Post
Most college baseball teams with 24-12 records are dancing on dugouts and dumping Gatorade on coaches.
At Catawba, which got three-run homers from David Thomas and Jerry Sands to crush Barton 11-2 on Wednesday, thereís no joy, just a grim determination to turn it up a notch.
Itís been a nice season at Newman Park, but itís been inches away from being great.
With a team batting average of .331 and a team ERA of 3.75, the Indians own the numbers to be 30-6 and ranked in the top 10 nationally.
Catawba has won 12 games by more than five runs. Itís only lost twice by more than three.
The Indians rank second in both hitting and pitching in the SAC, but theyíre still in a dogfight for the conference title because theyíve lost four league games by a single run.
Coach Jim Gantt has fought off the urge to get frustrated and is optimistic a talented team that has scored double-digit runs 14 times while giving up double-digit runs only twice, can put together a memorable finish.
iWe had a stretch where we lost games because guys tried too hard and we couldnít get that big hit with men on base,î Gantt analyzed. iWeíve also lost some games on just one or two bad pitches. I donít want to jinx us, but I do feel like weíre getting better in a lot of areas.î
Catawba has also gotten healthier. Ganttís broken hand is almost healed.
Fortunately, super center fielder Thomasí inflamed wrist was caused by a deep bruise, not a break. Shortstop Chris Ahearn has recovered from hamstring woes and is flying around the bases. Senior Bubba Morris returned to the lineup from a hand injury yesterday and delivered the gameís biggest hit.
Catawba showed how good it can be when it took care of Barton (19-21). It proved a lot more when it split on the road with top-ranked Mount Olive on Tuesday. Catawba got a monster day from sophomore third baseman Craige Lyerly and outplayed the Trojans, but it lost a game in extra innings and settled for a split.
iWe left there thinking we should have won two, but it still gave us confidence to play like that against Mount Olive,î said Thomas, who went 4-for-4 Wednesday to raise his batting average to .458. iWe do feel like weíre better than our record. Sometimes weíve pitched it and havenít hit. Other times weíve hit and havenít pitched so well. Today we finally put two and two together, and this is the best time to do it.í
Freshman Weston Church started his first college game on the mound against Barton and earned his first victory.
Church dominated games at West Rowan last season. Now he may be ready to make an impact with the Indians.
iCollege ball is definitely different, but I still relied on the same stuff as in high school and counted on the defense to back me up,î Church said. iWeíve got a great defense here.î
Churchís pitching gave the Indians an opportunity to survive a slow start. They trailed 1-0 through four innings.
iWeston had a heck of a relief outing not long ago and got his confidence up,î Gantt said. iHe was excited about starting today and giving us a chance to win.î
The Catawba fifth started with a walk to patient Kevin McMillan. Matt Kepley bunted McMillan to second before Morris slapped an opposite-field triple on a 1-2 pitch to chase McMillan home. Ahearnís solid rip to center gave the Indians their first lead. Sands doubled in a run to make it 3-1.
After Lyerly singled and Kepley was hit by a pitch, Ahearn singled home a run in the fifth with two outs. That turned over the lineup, and leadoff man Thomas drilled a three-run homer to left-center to expand the lead to 7-1.
It was Thomasí 10th homer of the season and 36th of his career. He pushed his Catawba record for hits to 303 and lifted his school record for runs scored to 241.
iHeís been a great player for four years and I just hope he gets a chance to keep on playing,î Gantt said. iHeís the best in our league, and I love the way he goes about playing the game.î
Freshman Nathan Furr, who has pitched out of tough jams all season, got Catawba out of a tight spot in the seventh. The Bulldogs picked up one run in the inning, but Furr retired Zach Boyette, who came to Newman Park batting .481, for the third out with the bases full.
Ahearnís two-out double, Thomas single and an error gave Sands a chance to swing in the eighth, and he delivered a towering, three-run homer to center. It was the juniorís 12th blast of the spring and 49th of his career. He is five short of tying Jimbo Davisí school record.
Sands is batting .395, but he was struggling ó for him, at least ó a month ago. But March has been good to him.
iMore patience,î Sands explained. iI know Iím not gonna get a lot of good stuff to hit, but Iím seeing more now than I was earlier in the year, and I havenít missed the mistakes. Itís also helped that the guys in front of me are really swinging well, and (Ryan) Queryís been hot behind me.î
Catawba, which entertains SAC foe Lincoln Memorial Friday night and Saturday afternoon, has won eight of its last 11, but it could have won all 11. The losses were 3-2, 8-7 and 5-4. Two went extra innings.
iWeíve been sitting around talking about it,î Sands. iThereís a whole lot of games that we shouldíve won.î
Thereís still time to win a lot more.

Contact Mike London @704-797-4259 or mlondon@salisburypost.com.

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