Catawba falls to SAC-leading Lincoln Memorial

Published 12:08 am Saturday, March 19, 2016

By David Shaw

SALISBURY — Kindly excuse Jim Gantt for not knowing what to make of the 2016 Catawba baseball team.

The long-time coach was befuddled once again Friday night when visiting Lincoln Memorial erased a three-run deficit and gained an 8-6 South Atlantic Conference victory over the hot-and-cold Indians.

“I’m still trying to get a read on them,” Gantt said at Newman Park, where Catawba (13-11, 5-5) suffered its third straight loss. “We’ve played a really good schedule. We’ve played a lot of good teams early and we’ve competed with them. We’ve just got to play better at crucial times.  Last year we found ways to win. This year we’re finding ways to lose.”

That’s not the song Catawba thought it would be crooning after being named pre-season favorites to win the league title. But pinpointing the reason for its mid-season malaise has proven difficult.

“It’s not just one person. It’s everyone, myself included, who can do better,” said junior DH Malachi Hanes. “We’re better than this. Maybe it’s just one or two things, but we’ve got to fix them and get back on track.”

It looked like they were through five innings against conference-leading LMU (17-6, 8-2). Catawba built a 3-0 lead on Kyle Smith’s two-out, two-run double in the bottom of the first and Hanes’ third home run of the season in the fourth. The Indians were cruising on auto-pilot behind right-hander Shaefer Shepard — a junior who forced the Railsplitters to play the game at his pace and had had them waving at pitches that were low and just off the plate.

“He wasn’t letting a lot of guys get on base,” Catawba catcher Will Albertson said. “His slider was working, they were swinging over the ball and he hung up five zeroes. Then he got in trouble in the sixth (inning). It’s frustrating. It really is.”

Shepard, a front-line starter seeking his fourth win, allowed only two hits in the first five innings. He faltered in the sixth when he walked two batters, hit another and watched Lincoln Memorial’s Wes Neiderland reach on a catcher’s interference — but that wasn’t even the bad news. LMU cashed in when both Logan Augustine and Russell Clark crunched three-run homers, helping the guests mount a 6-3 lead.

“It’s been like that all year for us,” Clark said after going 3-for-4 with four RBIs. “We get a guy swinging well who steps up when we need it most. Same for me. I’ve been getting good looks, but not getting the results. Tonight it paid off.”

Clark’s go-ahead home run came on a 1-1 pitch that Albertson thought was high and out of the strike zone. “It was a tough pitch to barrel up, but he got it,” he said.

Catawba tied the score in its half of the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Luke Setzer, an RBI-single by Hanes and an infield error. An inning later LMU regained the lead when Neiderland grounded a run-scoring double into the right-field corner and Clark delivered a two-out infield hit to the left side.

In many ways this was a self-inflicted defeat. The Indians stranded 14 base-runners, including 11 in scoring position. The game ended with Setzer, representing the go-ahead run, hoisting a long fly ball to right.

“Any time you can go on the road and win a Friday night game in the conference, you’ve got to be pleased,” said LMU coach Jeff Sziksai. “Especially against Catawba. They’ve been the class of our league for a long time.”

Just like it was for half-a-game last night. “We’ve got to play a complete game,” Gantt said, “if we want to be a better team.”


NOTES: The teams are scheduled to play a double header beginning at 1:00 p.m. today. … Hanes added a Ruthian double off the center-field wall in the third inning. Teammate Dylan Richardson was 3-for-6. … Shepard persevered through seven innings and 130 pitches. He struck out 11. … The game was stopped for 17 minutes in the top of the fourth when a spectator was injured.

Lincoln Memorial   000 006 200 — 8  9  3

Catawba                    200 013 000 — 6  12  1

WP — Randolph (1-1). LP — Shepard (3-3). S — Morabito (3).

HR — Augustine (3), Clark (3), Hanes (3).