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Catawba baseball faces tough task today

By Mike London
Salisbury Post
HICKORY ó A Catawba supporter barked, “It’s not over till it’s over,” in the sixth inning of Saturday afternoon’s 12-7 loss to Tusculum in the SAC tournament.
Technically, he was correct, but while the top-seeded Indians aren’t finished, they are on life support. Stormy weather wiped out last night’s scheduled finale, and Catawba has to win three times today.
To claim the tournament title, Catawba (36-15) has to beat Carson-Newman (38-15) at 10 a.m. in an elimination game at Hickory’s L.P. Frans Stadium. Then it has to take two from Tusculum (37-12),which sits comfortably in the driver’s seat with an unblemished record.Anything is possible, but the odds are long, with Catawba’s pitching fatigued or ailing. Weston Church, who hasn’t thrown since being spiked, is the likely starter against Carson-Newman.
Winning three times today against the other two SAC powers would be one of the all-time golden moments for Catawba. It would rival what Georgia did in this year’s SEC basketball tournament.
“We can win three straight,” center fielder David Thomas declared. “It’s just a matter of how bad we want it and how hard we want to play.”
The SAC teams aren’t in Hickory just for exercise. The tournament winner automatically qualifies for the six-team South Regional.
Catawba won the SAC regular season and is No. 2 in the region. If Tusculum wins the tournament, Catawba is just about a sure thing to join the red-hot Pioneers in the regional. But if Carson-Newman wins the tournament, things could get dicey for the Indians, even with their lofty ranking.
“It’s too bad the regular-season winner isn’t automatic, but that’s the way it’s set up, and we knew it coming in,” Catawba coach Jim Gantt said.
While Carson-Newman stayed alive on a rainy Saturday by outslugging Wingate 14-9, Catawba had a chance to jump all over Tusculum, which has won 22 of its last 25 games.
Craige Lyerly, who drove a monstrous homer off the lights at Lenoir-Rhyne on Friday, had a two-run single in the first inning. Then the Indians had a chance for a huge third frame when Thomas, Chad Baker and Jerry Sands hit consecutive singles. One more hit may have broken it open, but the Indians settled for a 4-0 lead.
Sean Cotten’s two-run homer in the fourth off Catawba starter Tim Holmes triggered a barrage of nine unanswered runs, and Gantt couldn’t find anyone in the bullpen who could halt the onslaught.
“They’re good, and when they get a little life, they’re like sharks smelling blood in the water,” Gantt said. “We couldn’t stop them. And if you can’t ever stop them, there’s no way you can come back.”
Tusculum totalled four homers and put runs on the board in six straight innings.
Thomas, who scored four runs from the leadoff spot, drilled a two-run homer to right field in the seventh to cut Catawba’s deficit to 9-6, but the Indians left the bases loaded when reliever Tio McLean struck out Chris Ahearn, who tried desperately to check his swing on a pitch riding away.
Then Tusculum put up two more runs in the eighth.
“They got the momentum in the fourth inning and kept it the rest of the way,” Thomas said. “We had our chance to get it back in the seventh, but then they came right in and got those two in the eighth and that kind of took it out of us.”n
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or mlondon@salisburypost.com.

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