Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 30, 2013
SALISBURY — If Catawba baseball coach Jim Gantt had been carrying a towel, he might have thrown it in.
His team surprised him, though. The Indians swept Tusculum in Saturday’s SAC doubleheader at Newman Park, coming from behind to win 10-9, and then rolling 6-1 behind John J. Tuttle.
Catawba (27-11, 15-6 SAC) lost 3-2 to third-place Tusculum on Friday, with ace Nick Lomascolo pitching, so no one in the bleachers was optimistic when the Indians fell behind 6-0 after 1 1/2 innings in Saturday’s opener. Catawba starter Ross Whitley has been money this year, but he walked four in the first.
“You can’t defend the walk,” Gantt said. “It didn’t look good — I thought we were dead in the water.”
Cam Cockman’s two-run double in the second sparked a serious comeback.
“We knew we had a tough task today, especially after we got down early,” said outfielder Keaton Hawks, who scored six runs in the doubleheader. “But we battled hard. We got big hits and made big plays and we chipped away.”
Blake Houston’s three hits helped the Indians chip, but they still trailed 8-7 in the sixth. That’s when cleanup man Paul Kronenfeld’s clutch double scored Houston and Chris Dula and gave the Indians their first lead at 9-8.
It was 9-9 in the eighth when Hawks tripled and scored the deciding run on a wild pitch.
Hawks started in 2012 and batted .289, but Catawba added so much outfield talent that he wasn’t projected to be a regular when this season started. But all he has done is hit. He’s now at .341, with 40 RBIs and 21 extra-base hits.
“Keaton didn’t panic or press,” Gantt said. “He wanted to play, and he’s just kept doing it, so he’s stayed in the lineup.”
The unsung heroes of the opener were members of the bullpen. Graham Lawing and Tyler Britton combined to eat six innings. Austin Moyer (1-0) was the winner. Ryan McClintock earned his sixth save by pitching a scoreless ninth.
“That was a great team we were playing today, but even when we were down 6-0, we never got down in the dugout or in the bullpen,” Tuttle said. “Coming back in that first game gave us a lot of energy.”
Tuttle (7-4) experienced major struggles recently, but he appears back on track.
“I wasn’t staying closed and was flying open on my delivery,” Tuttle said. “That was making me leave the ball up, and I don’t get a lot of movement when the ball is up.”
The former A.L. Brown star looked like the old Tuttle. He needed only 85 pitches to complete the seven-inning game and tossed 55 strikes. He lost his shutout when Matt Henriksen’s fourth-inning double down the left-field line that Indian fans were sure was foul was ruled fair.
“I was efficient today, and that’s how I like to pitch,” Tuttle said. “I was getting groundballs, and we played very well today defensively.”
Tuttle stayed sharp even though Catawba had two long innings at the plate. After the disputed double, he retired 10 straight Pioneers (21-13, 12-9).
The nightcap was 0-0 until a double by Hawks set up a two-run third. Houston and Dula picked up the RBIs. If the season ended today, Dula would win the SAC triple crown with 12 homers, 42 RBIs and a .416 batting average.
Catawba pulled away with a three-run fifth that included doubles by Dula and Hawks and RBIs by Houston, Zach Smith and Cockman.
With two SAC series left, Catawba is in second place, two games behind Wingate.
“Today should give us a shot in the arm,” Gantt said.