Catawba baseball: Smith, Fowler key victory with clutch hits
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Winston-Salem State battered four homers, including a grand slam, but Catawba rallied to win another game at Newman Park on Tuesday night.
While the Indians were out-homered for a change, they pounded out 17 hits, prevailed, 13-7, and boosted their home record to an impressive, 19-2. Bryce Fowler and Kyle Smith led the onslaught. Both had four hits. Both came through with men on base in the bottom of the fifth when the game was still very losable.
“Just a lot of battling back after we got down,” said Fowler, a strapping senior outfielder who is batting .345. “Another anything-can-happen night at Newman Park.”
A lot happened in the three-hour contest, starting with second baseman Smith’s back-to-the plate catch in right field in the first inning.
“I saw it right off the bat and broke back,” Smith explained. “Then I put up my glove and got lucky.”
Not much good fortune was involved in Chance Bowden’s two-run homer to center for the Indians in the bottom of the first. It left the ballpark with Luke Setzer where he always is — on base —and the Indians led 2-0.
Catawba starting pitcher Russ Weiker rolled through three innings before running into issues in the fourth. Two solid hits and a bunt single preceded Randal Ortiz’s grand slam. Catawba fans were still recovering from that blast when John Garcia made it back-to-back long balls, and the visitors led 5-2. After two more hits, Weiker’s night was over. Clay Young (4-0) relieved and got the elusive third out on one pitch.
Young put up a zero in the fifth with the help of center fielder Malachi Hanes, shortstop Jeremy Simpson and catcher Zac Almond. Running from first, Ortiz was intent on scoring on a two-out double to left-center by Garcia, but Hanes got the ball to Simpson quickly, and Simpson whirled and fired home. Ortiz was going to be out by 20 feet. He put on the brakes, and tried to scramble back to third, but his feet slipped. Then Catawba got him out in a rundown.
“Simpson made that exchange (from catching the relay to throwing home) so quickly,” Catawba coach Jim Gantt said. “That play was really good for us as far as momentum.”
Momentum led to the decisive bottom of the fifth. Setzer, the South Atlantic Conference’s leading hitter at .431, started it with a single up the middle. Simpson battled WSSU starter Jordan Carlton (2-2) to a 3-2 count before flying out. Almond reached on an error. Bowden singled to left, one of his three hits, to fill the bases. Smith, a junior batting .351, was up next for a lefty vs. lefty matchup, and Smith didn’t try to do too much. He stroked the first pitch he saw for a ground ball through the right side. It wasn’t spectacular, but his single meant two runs and Catawba was down, 5-4.
“Just tried to put a good swing on it,” Smith said. “That helped us get closer and set up the big hit.”
Nick Coble struck out on a 3-2 pitch for the second out. That left it up to Fowler, who quickly was in an 0-and-2 hole.
“Fowler changes his approach with two strikes and he’s really hard to strike out,” Gantt said. “He can put the bat on the ball. It really doesn’t matter where you throw it.”
Fowler fouled off one 0-and-2 pitch. Then he took two balls. The 1-and-2 pitch was close to nipping the outside corner at the knees. WSSU fans howled at the plate umpire. Fowler shrugged. Then he hit Carlton’s 2-and-2 pitch hard. It barely cleared the leaping second baseman’s head, but it scooted all the way to the warning track in right-center. Bowden trotted home from second to tie the game, and Smith, who can really run, scored from first with the go-ahead run. The Indians (31-12) wouldn’t trail the Rams (27-14) again.
“I was just thinking backside approach with two strikes, and I got a good fastball to hit,” Fowler said.
Connor Johnson pitched a 1-2-3 sixth. Then the Indians blew it open in the bottom of that inning, as WSSU trudged through a chorus line of relievers. Catawba scored seven times, with Hanes supplying the exclamation point with a towering, three-run blast over the center-field wall. That made it 13-5, and it proved to be a knockout punch.
“Malachi got every bit of that one,” Gantt said, shaking his head.
Catawba sent Heath Mitchem, Cody Fitch, Coble and Bryan Blanton to the mound to secure the last nine outs. Ivan Acuna launched two homers against the bullpen, but both were solos, and the Indians owned another victory.
NOTES: Catawba will play North Greenville tonight at Fluor Field in Greenville. That field is modeled after Boston’s Fenway Park. … WSSU outfielder Matt Mauldin (North Rowan) was out with a wrist injury.
Winston-Salem State 000 500 101 — 7 14 1
Catawba 200 047 00x — 13 17 0
W — Young (4-0). L — Carlton (2-2).
HR — WSSU: Acuna 2 (10), Ortiz (5), Garcia (4). Catawba: Hanes (10), Bowden (8).
Leading hitters — WSSU: Acuna 3-for-5. CAT: Smith 4-for-4, 3 RBIs, Fowler 4-for-5, 3 RBIs, Bowden 3-for-5, 3 RBIs, Setzer 2-for-5.
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