College baseball: Catawba pounds its way into tie for first

Published 11:05 pm Saturday, March 26, 2016

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Luke Setzer completed a rare cycle with his eighth-inning triple, and teammate Chance Bowden joined him in the Catawba record book moments later with his fourth double.
Setzer’s cycle at Newman Park in the first game of a Saturday doubleheader — he homered in the first inning, singled in the fourth and doubled in the sixth — was the first by a Catawba player since Ethan Satterfield accomplished the feat on March 9, 2012, against Anderson.
And while 15 Indians had doubled three times in a single game, Bowden became the first to smash four two-baggers.
“For Chance and me to accomplish something like we did today, and for us to do it in the same inning, that’s something I’ll never forget,” Setzer said.
East Rowan grad Setzer and Salisbury product Bowden were only part of an offensive show at Newman Park where the Indians mauled Mars Hill, 12-5, in the first game, and then held off the Lions in the nightcap, 8-7, to sweep a high-scoring South Atlantic Conference three-game series.
Malachi Hanes walloped two homers in the opener, Kyle Smith cracked a three-run homer in the second game, and Zac Almond, Friday night’s superhero, stayed hot.
“When guys are setting records, well, you should win some of those games,” Catawba coach Jim Gantt said. “If you like offense, this was a fun series to watch.”
In the three-game series, Catawba (20-11, 10-5 SAC) accumulated 10 homers, two triples and 17 doubles and put up 39 runs. The Lions averaged better than nine runs per game and went 0-3.
“A lot of guys were squaring balls up, and I just kept getting good pitches to hit,” said Bowden, who had seven doubles in the series. “Especially at home, we’re hitting well. Mars Hill can hit too, but we did what we needed to do.”
In the opener, Evan Rogers homered in the first inning against Catawba lefty Russ Weiker to put Mars Hill on top, but the Indians answered with a solo homer by Setzer and a run-scoring double by Bowden.
“I went 0-for-4 Friday when we scored 19, so it was great to get off to a good start with that homer,” Setzer said. “I had a cycle against Pfeiffer in a fall league game, but I never thought I’d get a chance to do it again. I knew I needed a triple on that last at-bat. When I hit the ball off the wall, I heard (first base coach) Blake Houston yelling, ‘Three!’ and I just kept hauling.”
It was 2-all going to the bottom of the fourth. Hanes homered to put Catawba in front, and Almond followed one of Bowden’s doubles with a run-scoring single to make it 4-2.
Will Albertson doubled to start the fifth, and Hanes crushed his second long ball for a 6-2 lead.
Almond began the seventh with his third homer of the series — a bomb to center field — and the Indians went up 10-2 on Albertson’s sacrifice fly and RBI doubles by Setzer and Hanes.
Jake Kimble’s run-scoring double and another sac fly by Albertson made it 12-2.
Russ Weiker pitched a sensational game for the Indians with seven strikeouts and one walk, but he tired in the ninth as his pitch count neared 120. That’s when Logan Conley and Dalton Eisenbath rapped back-to-back homers for the Lions with two men out.
Clay Young came in and recorded the final out.
Sean Grant, pronounced healthy after having some elbow issues, started the second game for Catawba, making his first appearance since Feb. 14.
While Grant was knocked out by a leadoff double in the fourth inning, his outing was encouraging. He gave up a homer to Rogers in the first, but then he worked out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the second with a strikeout and a smooth 4-6-3 double play that the Indians turned on speedy Rayshelon Carolina.
“Sean didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled,” Gantt said. “Sean getting out of that jam in the second inning was the key to us winning the ballgame. We already were down 2-0 and they had a chance to put us in a big hole.”
Connor Johnson, who had thrown 74 pitches Wednesday, relieved Grant. He got through the fourth, fifth and sixth, and he even got the first out in the seventh. He had good movement and struck out six to earn the win.
“They’ve got a tough lineup and they send a bunch of grown men to the plate,” Johnson said. “Rogers is a great hitter, but I got him out twice. I felt good about that.”
With the score 2-all in the third, Bowden singled home a go-ahead run, and Smith followed a single by Hanes with his three-run homer for a 6-2 lead.
Catawba went up 8-3 in the fifth when Jeremy Simpson stroked a two-out fly ball that looked harmless but dropped in safely for a two-run single when the left fielder broke back.
Those fortunate runs proved critical when the Lions (22-13, 7-8) made a late charge against a tiring Johnson. Mars Hill got within 8-6 by bunching four hits and a sac fly in the sixth.
Johnson got a punch-out to start the seventh. Michael Elwell relieved Johnson and got a strikeout, and Gantt called on closer Bryan Blanton, who had thrown 81 pitches in an extended relief outing on Friday, to get the final out.
“It was a good matchup for Blanton,” Gantt said. “We needed his velocity.”
Blanton got ahead 0-and-2, but he didn’t get a borderline pitch that could’ve been called strike three, and then he walked Conley. Then Dalton Eisenbath lasered a rocket off the wall to make it 8-7.
Next Gantt called on starter Shaefer Shepard, who had been roughed up early on Friday. Shepard came through. He ended the game by striking out Phillip Carroll.
“That’s a fastball-hitting team, and they had a good fastball hitter at the plate,” Shepard said. “I threw him a good slider in a good spot. Thank God he didn’t hit it.”
Catawba ended the day tied for first place in the SAC with Lincoln Memorial (8-4) and Tusculum (8-4).
“That was a tremendous series sweep for us,” Shepard said. “That’s seven in a row now and we’re finally on a winning streak.”
NOTES: Shepard’s mother, Starr, fell at Newman Park recently and suffered back, ankle and rib injuries. “She’s come through all her surgeries, and she’s going to be OK,” Shepard said. “It’s been a tough time. I’ve tried to block it out when I come to the ball field. I’ve gotten a lot of support from my Catawba family.” … Catawba returns to action on April 1 at Brevard. … Matt Honeycutt (South Rowan) caught the first game for the Lions.

Game 1
Mars Hill 100 100 003 — 5 7 1
Catawba 200 224 11x — 12 17 1
W — Russ Weiker (7-2). L — Hunter Boydston (4-3).
HR — Mars Hill: Evan Rogers (14), Dylan Powers (8), Logan Conley (6), Dalton Eisenbath (4). Catawba: Luke Setzer (4), Zac Almond (5), Malachi Hanes 2 (8).
Leading hitters — MH: Rogers 3-for-4. Catawba: Setzer 4-for-5, Hanes 4-for-5, 4 RBIs, Chance Bowden 4-for-5, Almond 3-for-4.

Game 2
Mars Hill 200 103 1 — 7 15 0
Catawba 014 030 x — 8 11 0
W — Connor Johnson (3-2). L — Tom Mastrodonato (3-2). S — Shaefer Shepard (1).
HR — MH: Rogers (15). Catawba: Kyle Smith (4).
Leading hitters — MH: Conley 3-for-3, Eisenbath 4-for-4. Catawba: Smith 2-for-3, 3 RBIs, Bowden 2-for-3, 2 RBIs, Hanes 2-for-4.