College baseball: Johnson, Richardson lead Catawba to Sunday split
SALISBURY — While the opposing lineup was tougher than any he’d ever faced, Connor Johnson’s college debut for Catawba’s baseball team looked no different than his brilliant high school and American Legion careers.
Basically, the former East Rowan southpaw threw — and guys made left turns and sat down. Johnson struck out eight in six innings and allowed two singles. Catawba beat Belmont Abbey 6-0 in the seven-inning nightcap of a Sunday doubleheader at Newman Park.
“It was my first college start, but I tried not to think about that,” Johnson said. “It didn’t really feel any different. I just threw the ball.”
Johnson fanned six the first three innings in a game played in surprisingly pleasant conditions. Temperatures were in the 50s.
“Johnson was good,” Catawba coach Jim Gantt said. “He had his good fastball, and his breaking ball is really coming along. He has things to work on as far as controlling the running game, but he kept a great pitching tempo, and he’s real easy to play behind. He just got the ball and went right after a good lineup. Belmont Abbey is a good offensive team.”
Johnson faced his first college adversity in the fourth when he hit the first batter on a 3-2 pitch, and then gave up a bloop single. He helped himself by getting the lead runner at third on a bunt\, and after the Crusaders pulled off a double steal, Johnson got out of the jam with a strikeout and a groundout.
Johnson had a breezy fifth. Then he got some help from right fielder and former high school teammate Luke Setzer, who made a diving catch down the right-field line in the sixth.
“If he doesn’t make that play, they might’ve gotten a rally going,” Gantt said.
Johnson’s teammates said his performance wasn’t a shock.
“He’s been good since he came in here last fall,” shortstop Dylan Richardson said. “We knew he could do what he did.”
Richardson ended the game with a charging defensive play and has been astonishing offensively. He batted .242 with 10 RBIs as a part-time player in 2014. Three games into the 2015 season, he’s batting .727 with three doubles and two homers and he’s already matched his RBI total for all last season.
“It’s great to get off to a good start,” Richardson said. “My confidence is up.”
Craig Brooks gave Johnson a 1-0 lead with two-out RBI single in the first that came right after Catawba had a man thrown out at the plate. Malachi Hanes walked, stole second, moved to third on Richardson’s bunt, and scored on a wild pitch for a 2-0 lead in the fourth.
Richardson’s two-out, bases-loaded single in the fifth was huge. It was a solid liner that gave the Indians a 4-0 lead.
“I got a fastball to hit and didn’t try to do too much,” Richardson said.
Kyle Smith’s two-run single up the middle in the sixth pushed the Indians’ lead to 6-0.
Johnson had thrown 92 pitches, so Ryan McClintock finished off the Crusaders with a quiet seventh.
• Belmont Abbey won the opening game 7-5, bouncing back from the 27-7 pounding it took from Catawba in Belmont on Saturday.
Brooks, an All-America hurler, struck out 11 in five innings, but he’d thrown 97 pitches at that point and left the mound with a 2-1 lead.
Catawba’s bullpen couldn’t hold it. Russ Weiker took the loss.
Richardson hit a solo homer for the Indians in the eighth.
Harry Ferguson pitched six strong innings for Belmont Abbey, and Ryan Allen earned a save.
“We just didn’t make enough plays or pitch well enough to beat a good team,” Gantt said.
Catawba (2-1) returns to action at SAC rival Carson-Newman next weekend.
Belmont Abbey 100 004 110 — 7
Catawba 000 020 111 — 5
W — Ferguson (1-0). L -Weiker (0-1), S — Allen (1). HR — Richardson (2).
Belmont Abbey 000 000 0 — 0
Catawba 100 122 x — 6
W — Johnson (1-0). L — Davenport (0-1). HR — None.