Houston, Brooks lead doubleheader sweep of Bears
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Blake Houston’s hero and athletic inspiration growing up was his older brother, Heath.
Heath Houston was a good enough athlete at South Rowan High that he intercepted a school-record four passes in a football game against North Davidson in 2004.
Five years later, Blake made his own entries into the South Rowan record books as a talented shooting guard/center fielder/quarterback. He was a rare all-county performer in each of the three marquee sports.
Now a fifth-year senior, Blake is back in center field for Catawba College this season. He entered Saturday’s SAC doubleheader with Lenoir-Rhyne batting .404 and left Newman Park batting .426. He scored six runs and drove in six as Catawba swept the Bears, 9-3 and 19-4.
“Having Blake back in center field and at leadoff makes all the difference in the world for us defensively and offensively,” Catawba coach Jim Gantt said. “He’s got so much experience.”
Houston had a two-run single, a two-run double and and two-run triple, and the best part of Saturday was his big brother got to see it. Heath, who is stationed with an Air Force squadron in Germany, was in the bleachers at Newman Park.
“Heath only gets home once a year now, but he got in Thursday,” Blake said. “I looked up to him growing up — and I still look up to him.”
Things are looking up for Catawba (14-4, 7-3) in the SAC standings. The Indians are third now, only a half-game behind Lincoln Memorial and Tusculum. Both are 8-3.
There was a scary moment in the opening game when Catawba pitcher Craig Brooks took a hard shot off his neck. That’s part of the reason Brooks allowed two homers in the fourth inning, as the Indians fell behind, 3-0. Brooks struck out 10 L-R batters, but his day on the mound was done after 96 pitches and five innings.
“Coach Gantt said my getting hit in the neck took some juice out of me,” Brooks said. “I agreed with him.”
Houston scored on a wild pitch in the fourth inning to put Catawba on the board, and his two-run single tied the game in the fifth.
When Brooks left the mound after the fifth inning, Gantt shifted him to the DH spot, and he was still able to swing. He launched a tie-breaking homer to center field, his first of the season, to begin the Catawba sixth inning. That blast broke a 3-3 tie, and it was the blow that turned around the whole day for the Indians.
“I’d been struggling,” Brooks said. “I needed some knocks today. It was good to finally get solid contact.”
Later in the sixth frame, Houston’s two-run triple broke it open. Then Catawba started rolling behind reliever Matt Farmakis, who earned his first win of the season. Farmakis (1-1) threw four shutout innings, allowing only two hits.
“Farmakis looked like the Farmakis we saw last season,” Gantt said.
In the nightcap, Shaefer Shepard (4-1) struck out nine in a seven-inning game. He scattered seven hits and went the distance on 103 pitches.
Brooks got the Indians started with a three-run homer in the first inning. Houston’s two-run double keyed a three-run second, as Catawba went up 6-0.
Lenoir-Rhyne picked up two runs on an outfield error and fought back to 6-4, but Catawba settled things with a marathon, nine-run fifth inning.
Will Albertson had four hits, including his sixth homer, and drove in three runs in the nightcap. Chance Bowden had three hits, including a triple to the center-field wall, and drove in three. Brooks added a bases-clearing double. Brooks, who had eight RBIs all season before Saturday, knocked in seven in the doubleheader.
“We’ve got a good team with strong pitching, and what I like most about this team is everyone plays hard all the time,” Houston said. “We’ve lost four games, but three were by one run. We’ve had a good chance to win every game we’ve played.”
No one wins them all in baseball, but the Indians have taken 12 of their last 13. That doesn’t mean Gantt is taking anything for granted when the Bears (12-8, 4-7) and Indians complete the series today at 1 p.m.
“We were fortunate, and I thought a whole lot of things went our way,” Gantt said. “Lenoir-Rhyne is a good team, and that 19-4 score isn’t indicative of the kind of team they have. They’ll put a guy on the mound Sunday (Ivan Vieietez) who’s as good as anyone, and it will be a tough game.”
Freshman southpaw Connor Johnson will pitch for Catawba.
Lenoir-Rhyne 000 300 000 — 3 7 2
Catawba 000 125 01x — 9 11 0
W — Farmakis (1-1). L — St. Clair (4-2)
HR — Vieitez (4), Newcomer (3), Brooks (1).
Lenoir-Rhyne 002 020 0 —4 7 2
Catawba 330 094 x — 19 17 3
W — Shepard (4-1). L — McGuire (1-2)
HR — Albertson (6), Brooks (2).