Shaw column: Lomo was The Show for Catawba

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 27, 2012

CARY — Nick Lomascolo stood for the national anthem Sunday afternoon at Coleman Park, then stood for little else.
The Catawba lefthander turned in a performance that made you want to break into song. His feathery changeup teased. His upper-crust fastball tortured. Sure, Carson graduate Julio Zubillaga delivered the game-winning hit, but Lomascolo won this game for the Indians.
“This was the big stage,” said Catawba’s Greg Lawson, the senior who caught Lomascolo’s 122-pitch aria. “The biggest he’s ever pitched on. He gave us a pretty big performance.”

You’ve heard of money ballplayers. Lomascolo was an ATM. For 81/3 innings he shackled 11th-ranked Indianapolis and the eight .300 hitters who stacked its lineup. Bear in mind, this was a team that had won nine straight and fired a 21-run salute in a regional victory last weekend.
“I saw their stats online,” Lomascolo told a handful of post-game reporters. “But I didn’t pay too much attention. To me, it was just another game.”
Of course, it wasn’t. This was Catawba’s first venture into the college World Series, a dive into uncharted waters. And Catawba coach Jim Gantt, the serial winner with nearly 600 career victories on the back of his baseball card, had just the man for the job.
“Lomo’s got the right mentality,” Gantt said. “He knows how to pitch, he doesn’t get rattled and he acts like he’s been here before. His demeanor is what keeps him in the game. That’s why we started him in Game 1.”

Lomascolo, you recall, is the command-and-control artist out of Lake Norman High School who routinely befuddled NPC opponents a few years back. Now a junior for the Indians, he pitched with an air of confidence — like the kid who already knows what he’s getting for his birthday.
“He’s the best lefty we’ve seen all year — and we’ve had trouble with all of them,” Indianapolis catcher Nick Whitty acknowledged. “His fastball had pretty good run to it. And his changeup looked like his fastball. The way he mixed things up, it was tough to anticipate anything.”
Lomascolo weaved his magic early and late, retiring 12 of the first 13 batters he faced and nine of the last 10. When he showed signs of withering in the top of the fifth — Indy put two runners on with one away — Zubillaga rescued him, inducing an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
“Yeah, but when it comes right down to it, you’ve got to credit Lomo for throwing a ground ball,” Catawba’s J-Z modestly explained. “You can’t do it without him.”

Zubillaga did his part an inning later, after Indianapolis took a 1-0 lead on a long sacrifice fly. With the bases jacked and one down, he steered a 1-0 pitch from righthander Donovan Drake up the middle for a two-run single.
“I just wanted to put the ball in play and tie the game up,” Zubillaga said. “I’m sure they were looking for a double play. The two-run hit was more than I wanted.”
It was all they got against Drake, a second-team All-American with a four-pitch arsenal who brought gaudy numbers (a 9-2 record and 1.58 ERA) to the mound. He held Catawba hitless until Brett Underwood flared a soft-serve single into right field in the fifth. Catawba’s only other hit was Chris Dula’s crucial single to left in the sixth.
“(Drake) threw everything for strikes,” Whitty said afterward. “Everything came out well. It just didn’t end that way. Their pitcher was just too tough.”
Lomascolo pleads guilty to that charge. He presented a strong closing argument before faltering with one man aboard and one out in the Indianapolis ninth.

When reliever Craig Brooks cleaned up the mess, Lomo had his 10th victory and Catawba had a line in the school record book all to itself.
“If you lose Game 1, it’s all uphill,” Lomascolo said before having an ice pack wrapped to his left shoulder. “Winning this game was huge. We had to have it.”