Catawba hopes to keep on winning
By Mike London
Two years ago, Ryan Bostian was mostly a pinch-runner for NAIA school Montreat.
Starting Tuesday, he’ll be counted on as the catalyst for Catawba’s baseball team.
That doesn’t mean the talent level is dropping at Newman Park. All it means is that Bostian gets better every day.
“He’s a guy we’re depending on,” Catawba coach Jim Gantt said. “Does everything well.”
At 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, no one is going to confuse Bostian with Jerry Sands or Wade Moore, but he can run, throw, field and hit, and he’s on the preseason All-SAC team.
He’s earned that accolade. The unheralded 2008 South Rowan graduate was MVP of last spring’s SAC Tournament, racking up three RBIs against Tusculum, three hits against Lincoln Memorial and four hits and six RBIs in the final against Mars Hill.
Catawba has subtracted two powerful, speedy draft picks — Moore and Craige Lyerly — from a 40-13 team that finished tied for second in the SAC regular season before winning the league tournament.
Bostian, who plays right field, inherits Moore’s leadoff job. He batted .337 with a .407 on-base percentage as a sophomore. He didn’t run very often, but he could steal quite a few bases in his new role.
Sluggers Garrett Furr and John Neese return to fill the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in Gantt’s batting order and will be asked to supply power, even with the new metal bats that will no longer be jet-propelled.
Furr, the SAC Freshman of the Year and a preseason All-SAC choice, mashed at a .377 clip with 11 homers and 49 RBIs.
Neese checked in with a .435 on-base percentage and produced 13 homers and 44 RBIs. He also was plunked by pitches 16 times, twice as many HBPs as any of his teammates.
Furr and Neese’s bats will to be in the lineup at DH, left field or first base.
An offensive key will be Austin Moyer, a transfer from Division I USC Upstate, where he split time between the mound and first base. Gantt is counting on Moyer to bat third, a vital slot where Lyerly produced 54 RBIs in 2010.
“He’s the lefty bat we needed,” Gantt said.
Brett Holmgren, from Massachusetts, is the team’s best defensive first baseman, and his glove could be valuable when Moyer pitches.
“Only thing wrong with Holmgren,” joked Gantt, an avid Yankees fan, “is that he likes the Boston Red Sox.”
Up the middle, Gantt is going with his best gloves.
Lean Brett Underwood, last year’s second baseman, is shifting to shortstop. Catawba had the SAC’s best pitching in 2010, but the defense was only average. Underwood will be the key to improvement. He batted a quiet .267 in 2010, but he’s very consistent.
“He’s ‘Steady Eddie’ in the field,” Gantt said. “He’s knowledgeable, he’s solid, and he gives us a lot of leadership.”
Freshman Julio Zubillaga, a Carson product, enters the season as the starting second baseman. Zubillaga’s glove has always been special, and his bat keeps getting stronger.
Freshman Cameron Beard is important. Projected as the top backup at second base and shortstop and a potential third baseman, he’ll get chances.
Chris Dula, an eye-popping talent from South Iredell, will get a shot right away as the starting third baseman and the No. 2 hitter in the lineup.
The two-way freshman has speed and power, plus a wicked fastball that could make him a future draft pick.
Sure-handed, strong-armed Michael Whited and lefty-swinging Brian Hudson are promising infielders.
The loss of Moore and Zeb Link left two outfield holes.
The combination of Furr and Neese should handle left field, and Gantt has Ethan Satterfield, who has been battling some shoulder soreness, and Blake Houston competing in center field, a position where Moore was often awesome defensively last season.
Satterfield only went to the plate eight times as a freshman last year, but he had two walks and four hits, including two homers. The McMichael graduate was MVP of the 2009 2A state tournament.
Houston is a freshman. A three-sport phenom at South Rowan, he’s concentrating on baseball full-time for the first time. He provides speed and a left-handed stick and is a dazzling defender.
Keaton Hawks, a freshman from East Davidson, is another athletic outfielder to keep an eye on.
The catcher and No. 6 hitter will be veteran Josh Hohn, who had nine homers and 34 RBIs last season. Greg Lawson and Aaron Meadows return as capable backups.
Gantt is excited about Catawba’s pitching. Nathan Furr, Nick Lomascolo and reliever Wil Huneycutt are preseason All-SAC choices.
“Pitching should be our strength, Gantt said.
The bad news is Catawba isn’t expected to have Furr, a hard-throwing righty, until March. He was the 2010 SAC Pitcher of the Year with a 6-0 record, but he’s recovering from a torn biceps tendon.
“Nathan needs some time to recover and we’re going to give him that time,” Gantt said. “When he couldn’t throw for months, he worked on his legs, and they’re stronger now. That’s really going to benefit him down the road.”
A healthy Furr is a potential draft pick.
Southpaw Nick Lomascolo (7-3) will be a force. His 3.45 ERA as a freshman, while pitching in a hitter-friendly home park, was remarkable. Then he tacked on a solid summer in the challenging Coastal Plain League.
“For a freshman to pitch in the CPL is unusual, but Nick was successful,” Gantt said. “And he’s matured a lot.”
Proven veterans who can handle a variety of mound roles include Huneycutt (5-1, 2.31 ERA), Ross Whitley (3-1) and bulldog Clay Watson (3-0). Wesley Mister returns as a matchup lefty.
Moyer boosts the mound crew, and so does Jordan “J.J.” Jankowski.
The Pittsburgh area’s prep player of the year in 2008, Jankowski set Pennsylvania state records with 36 career homers and four homers in a single game.
He was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 34th round but signed with Miami of Ohio. He was good for the Redhawks and also experienced summer success with High Point in the Coastal Plain League. His winding road now has led him to Salisbury.
“J.J. was a catcher in high school, but he wants to pitch for money, and he’ll pitch here,” Gantt said. “He throws hard, has a great slider.”
Joe Kase, a transfer from South Florida Community College, should be a factor, and John Tuttle, an A.L. Brown product, could start mid-week games as a freshman.
Additional hurling options include Ryan McClintock and West Rowan product D.J. Webb. Then there’s the electric Dula. Gantt expects him to close games right away.
“He’s got sizzle,” Gantt said. “Swing-and-miss stuff.”
While Catawba has been tabbed as the preseason favorite in the SAC, the league will be tough again. Anderson debuts this year, swelling the league membership to 10.
Gantt, who has won at least 30 games 12 straight seasons and has taken five clubs to the Southeast Regional, will be assisted by Michael Lowman, Seth Graham and Todd Miller.
The Indians open tomorrow in Wilson against Barton.
“We’re playing so many young guys this year we may not get off to a fast start,” Gantt said. “But we can’t panic. We’ve just got to keep getting better.”