College Baseball: Gantt, Bostian have Catawba rolling
By David Shaw
SALISBURY — There’s a compelling story unfolding at Newman Park this spring, one that is worth a listen.
It begins with Catawba baseball coach Jim Gantt, the 15th-year mentor with 515 career wins printed on the back of his baseball card.
“It has to begin with him,” longtime Tusculum coach Doug Jones insisted prior to Saturday’s rain-delayed doubleheader. “He does a great job recruiting and he’s probably the best guy in the league in terms of player development. His program has been the model of consistency.”
Indeed, the 2011 Indians are an easy story to tell. They’re the UPS of the South Atlantic Conference — no tatoos, no wild hair-do’s, no raunchy locker room music. Just a plainly wrapped package that always delivers on time.
“It’s gonna sound cliche,” Gantt said. “But these players are doing what they’re capable of. They prepare themselves and then go out and get it done.”
So far they’ve done it extremely well. Catawba has run away with the conference regular-season title, the 18th in school history. When junior outfielder Ryan Bostian lined an eighth-inning, run-scoring single to secure a 9-8 win in yesterday’s opener, the 15th-ranked Indians (35-8, 22-4) owned a six-game lead and a season-best, nine-game winning streak.
Win No. 36 came later in the day when Bostian was one of four Indians with two hits in a 6-4 victory.
“That’s the way we are,” said Bostian, a South Rowan graduate. “It doesn’t matter if we’re down or up. We always seem to find a way to win.”
It’s a good thing the word “panic” doesn’t appear in Catawba’s vocabulary. It has made a habit of staging late-inning rallies that leave opponents deflated — and another game back in the standings. Battling from behind feels as normal to them as cream cheese on a bagel.
“We’ve been down quite a bit throughout the year,” senior catcher Josh Hohn said. “And we always make it back. It’s like there’s no pressure, no worry, because we’ve done it before and we can do it again. We know we can.”
Hohn is a perfect example. The twice-injured backstop missed the fall season but has gutted his way to a .309 batting average and handled Catawba’s top-shelf pitching staff like a seasoned vet. “He’s done things that don’t go down in the stats,” Gantt said. “All the wild pitches and passed balls he’s saved. He does the intangibles.”
Others have shared Hohn’s sacrifice. Freshman Chris Dula — a former outfielder for Mooresville’s American Legion team who was recruited as a pitcher — has hurled a total of four innings. Instead, he’s spent his time toiling as a converted third-baseman with a line-drive bat.
“When Craig Lyerly went with the Tampa Rays, we needed someone to fill that spot,” said Gantt. “In the fall we didn’t have anyone to take that position. But then Chris Dula stepped in and has really come around. We didn’t expect that from a freshman. He’s probably going to be (SAC) Freshman of the Year.”
The Dula experiment has paid off handsomely. His average has hovered near .390 and the three-run homer he stroked in the third inning of Game 1 yesterday was his seventh of the season.
“Playing third (base) was difficult at first,” Catawba’s RBI-leader (52) said. “But I’m used to it now. I do it for the team because I love to win. We all do. And we all know that anybody can do it.”
That includes DH Garrett Furr, lights-out reliever Wil Huneycutt and ace starting pitcher Nick Lomascolo. Furr is hitting .333 with a team-high nine homers. Huneycutt, nicknamed “The Wizard,” has picked up three victories, seven saves and posted a 1.70 ERA out of the bullpen. It’s no wonder Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” is played over the PA system when his number is called.
Lomascolo, meanwhile, has enjoyed a kid-at-Disneyland sophomore season. His Friday-night win over Tusculum gave him an 8-1 record with a 2.45 ERA.
“There’s been a sense of urgency every game,” he said. “Last season, there were times we didn’t take games seriously. We were more laid back. It’s not like anybody threw a switch this year, but things are very different.”
They are — and they aren’t. Catawba will be the clear-cut favorite to win the conference tournament beginning Wednesday in Forest City. A fourth consecutive berth in the NCAA Regionals is also a good, odds-on bet. But the Indians remain confident-yet-cautious, well aware that better teams have been felled. As always, it’s rarely about the start for this team. It’s always about the finish.
“We know that,” Gantt said. “But this has been a good, solid team all year. The wheels might fall off tomorrow, but that’s the way its been.”
NOTES: In Game 2, Dula, Blake Houston, another former South star, and Greg Lawson joined Bostian with two hits. … A.L. Brown grad John J. Tuttle picked up the win, improving to 6-1.