Catawba’s Smith gets record
By Mike London
Tim Smith’s last trip to the mound at Newman Park produced a school record for wins.
David Thomas gave everyone something to talk about for the next 10 years with two bombs, one of which cleared the right-field wall, clanged off the Shuford Stadium bleachers and finally came to rest in one of the end zones on Kirkland Field.In Catawba’s 10-4 victory against Erskine, four-year starter Chad Baker quietly did what he always does ó a double off the wall, followed by a double in the gap. Bubba Morris made all sorts of defensive plays at first base. Matt Kepley produced another RBI single. Matt Seabolt was effective out of the bullpen.
Catawba (39-16) honored a six-man senior class ó Smith, Thomas, Baker, Morris, Kepley and Seabolt ó and jumped all over Erskine (44-10) shortly after the ovations for the players and their parents ended.Alphabetically, Thomas was last to be introduced, but he’s first in the record book in runs, hits and diving catches. He displayed a new talent against Erskine when a pulled quad limited him to DH duties.
“The first time I’ve ever been a DH,” said Thomas, who led off the Catawba first with his monstrous blast to right. “We wanted to score a bunch of runs, give Tim a lot of confidence so he could go out there and pitch his game. Considering we hadn’t played lately, we really hit the ball and made the plays in the field.”
Thomas’ first homer ó the switch-hitter said it was the longest he’s ever hit left-handed ó was followed by solid hits by Baker, Jerry Sands and Kepley for a 3-0 lead against pitcher Mike Moore, who arrived at Newman Park with a shiny 10-1 record.Smith dominated Lenoir-Rhyne for his 29th career victory on March 21 to move within one win of Matt Fairweather’s school record but then was limited by an injury for nearly a month.
“When I was out, I wasn’t worried about the record, I was just worried if I could ever come back and pitch for Catawba again,” Smith said.
Smith returned to a starting role in style with seven sharp innings in the SAC tournament against Carson-Newman for his record-tying 30th victory on April 20. His teammates were determined to see him get No. 31 at home with a large contingent of his family and friends looking on.
After Thomas’ second homer ó a wicked bullet to left-center ó highlighted a four-run bottom of the second, Smith strolled to the mound with a comfortable 7-0 cushion.Center fielder Zeb Link barreled into the wall 360 feet away from home to make a terrific catch for Smith in the fourth. With Catawba leading 9-0, Morris started a 3-6-1 double play to end the fifth. After that difficult DP, everyone knew Smith would get the record.
“This was one of the most exciting games I’ve ever pitched,” Smith said. “That was the most offensive and defensive momentum behind me that I’ve ever felt in my life, and this gameball is headed to the mantel.”
Smith pitched 51/3 innings and allowed just one infield hit ó a bang-bang call on a slow bouncer ó before coach Jim Gantt came out to the mound to shake his hand. Catcher Ryan Query, who had four hits, offered Smith a pat on the back that was actually more of a hug.
“Velocity-wise, Tim wasn’t 100 percent today, but everything he threw was down,” Query said. “He threw great changeups on 2-0 and 2-1 when guys were sitting on fastballs and got them way off-balance.”
Erskine scored four runs in the eighth, but this one was over early.
“Tim had a record on the line,” Morris said. “We were going to do everything possible to get it for him.”
NOTES: Catawba expects to receive a South Regional bid on Sunday. It plays Erskine again today at noon.
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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