College World Series: Catawba faces Delta State today in Round 2

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 28, 2012

By Mike London
SALISBURY — Jim Gantt watched from the end zone as an undefeated Catawba football team that a lot of people thought would win the national championship lost to Delta State at rainy, muddy, miserable Shuford Stadium in the 2000 playoffs.
Nearly a dozen years later, Catawba and Delta State, a Mississippi school, meet again on a big stage — only this team it’s baseball and Gantt is guiding the Indians against the Statesmen in the Division II World Series in Cary.
Appropriately enough, there are more weather issues. Catawba announced on Monday that today’s game has been moved up from 7 p.m. to 4 because of worries about Tropical Storm Beryl.
Catawba (44-15) is ranked fourth nationally and won 2-1 against No. 11 Indianapolis in its opening game. Delta State (47-13) is ranked second and weathered a 90-minute rain delay to beat St. Mary’s 4-1 in its World Series opener. Delta State had to use two of its top three starters to knock off the Texans, who came into the World Series ranked No. 1 in the country.
Assuming Catawba and Delta State are able to play as scheduled, a battle of southpaws is anticipated.
Colton Mitchell (8-1, 3.05 ERA, 85 strikeouts) is the pitcher Gantt expects to see on the hill for Delta State, although he won’t know until official lineups are posted.
Catawba senior Nate King (5-2, 2.01) spent most of this season in the bullpen before dominating late in the year, including a masterful outing against Mount Olive in the Southeast Regional.
He’s made only six starts, but Gantt will give him the ball today against a team that doesn’t hit a lot of homers but still scores a ton of runs. Delta has whacked a modest 26 homers but scores 7.7 runs per game.
Two of Delta’s key sticks are lefties, and the hope is that King can neutralize leadoff man Jordan Chovanec (.353) and slugging first baseman Michael Vinson (.355).
“King has a very good fastball that’s 89 to 91 miles and hour, and his changeup can be great,” Gantt said. “He competes. He’s never afraid.”
King is in his first year at Catawba after transferring from N.C. State. He hails from the state of Washington.
“Believe it or not, he came to us based on a recommendation he got from an umpire,” Gantt said. “That’s another reason not to get on umpires.”
Catawba played well defensively in its opener — the only error was an early bobble in center field — and got superb pitching from Nick Lomascolo and closer Craig Brooks.
Catawba produced only one key hit, but Julio Zubillaga’s two-run single amounted to a one-swing knockout.
What the Indians didn’t do well against Indianapolis was get down bunts. In at least three instances, they failed to execute the short game.
“I thought not being able to get down a sacrifice bunt might decide who won and who lost,” Gantt said. “But a lot of that was their pitcher. It was hard to bunt him, much less hit him.”
Catawba practiced at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, focusing on situational hitting — and bunting.
The only physical concern is catcher Greg Lawson, who was hit on the hand on one of Sunday’s bunt attempts, but it’s unlikely that will keep him off the field.
Right-handers John J. Tuttle and Ross Whitley will be available in relief today, and one of them will no doubt start Catawba’s third game in the double-elimination event.
“I think we’re handling things pretty well,” Gantt said. “The guys were excited and happy about winning that first one, but they realize it was just one game. And the games are only going to get tougher.”