College Baseball: Catawba ace no longer with team
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Catawba’s baseball team opens play in the Southeast Regional today at 3 p.m. against Tusculum, one of the best in Division II and a SAC school that has become the Indians’ biggest baseball rival.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is Catawba will play at Mount Olive’s Scarborough Field with an unexpected obstacle to overcome. Ace Jordan “J.J.” Jankowski, who ordinarily would have started on the mound today, won’t be in uniform for the Indians.
“Jankowski’s not with us — he’s not with us any longer,” Catawba coach Jim Gantt said quietly. “It’s a team decision, and we’re gonna move on. You’re with us or you’re not with us. You’ve got to be all in.”
Gantt declined to comment on the details, but sources say Jankowski had been invited to attend a pre-draft workout with a major league team on Thursday and had requested that his start be pushed back to Friday’s second-round game.
When the matter was put to a team vote, the Indians elected to move forward without the 6-foot-1 right-hander, who has been a staff stud the past two seasons after transferring from Division I Miami of Ohio.
“It’s a tough situation,” Gantt said. “It’s not like Jankowski hasn’t been really important to us, but this is what his teammates are going to remember him for, and that’s sad. I do know our guys have banded together. They’re gonna go out and compete.”
Jankowski is no ordinary hurler.
He recently was named SAC co-pitcher of the year and leads Division II with 126 strikeouts.
His overwhelming strikeout rate was mostly the product of a devastating slider.
His record as a senior was 9-2.
No. 2 seed Tusculum (46-8) is expected to send Craig Goodman, its own SAC co-pitcher of the year, to the mound against Catawba, which is seeded fifth in a powerhouse six-team regional. Goodman has been one of the top pitchers in league history and has great career numbers (2.85 ERA, 22 wins, 187 strikeouts).
When Goodman (10-0) and Jankowski matched up in early April in a SAC contest, Goodman went all the way and the Pioneers won 4-3.
Catawba (39-14) lost two of three to Tusculum in a road series that decided the SAC championship, but in that game the Indians won, left-hander Nick Lomascolo (9-4, 78 strikeouts) went the distance on the hill and beat the Pioneers 6-4.
It’s Lomascolo, an unflappable, experienced junior, that Gantt will hand the ball to today.
“Tusculum’s got some lefty hitters, and Nick’s had success against that lineup,” Gantt said.
Catawba wasn’t a sure thing to make the tournament until late Sunday night when it got word that it would be the No. 5 seed.
“There’s some speculation out there that maybe we shouldn’t be here,” Gantt said. “But we deserved that bid. Our guys know we belong.”
As far as Catawba’s second-round matchup that Lomascolo would’ve normally pitched, Gantt hasn’t made a decision yet.
If we’re facing a right-handed lineup, probably John Tuttle,” Gantt said. “If it’s a bunch of lefty hitters, we could go with (southpaw) Nate King. Ross Whitley is in the mix.”
Ordinarily, Gantt would’ve been ebullient about former Catawba star Jerry Sands making his return to the major leagues, but it’s been a difficult 24 hours or so.
“On Tuesday, we lost one of our top recruits and we lost a player,” Gantt said. “That’s a tough day.”
Catawba fans can follow all the action on WSAT 1280.