College Baseball: Indians win another SAC title

Published 11:46 pm Saturday, April 21, 2018

Staff report

WINGATE —  It’s been anything but business as usual for Catawba College baseball this season, but the Indians have kept plugging.

They stayed with it after a 3-9 start and they stayed with through all sorts of pitching struggles.

The Indians claimed another South Atlantic Conference crown on Saturday night. It was the sixth straight regular-season title for the Indians (27-21, 19-8), and the 11th for coach Jim Gantt.

Roughed up by SAC runner-up Wingate (34-15, 17-10) on Friday, the Indians came back to sweep Saturday’s doubleheader, 9-5 and 7-3, and won the league by two games over the Bulldogs.

Senior left-handers Michael Elwell and Connor Johnson turned in solid starts to give the Indians a chance. Hunter Shepherd wound up closing both games and he finally ended a long, long day and night with a big strikeout with two Bulldogs on base.

Elwell pitched six innings in the opener, striking out 10, walking three and allowing only one earned run.  His effort allowed Catawba to take a 2-1 lead into a wild seventh inning.

Hits by Jackson Raper, Heath Mitchem and Joe Butts loaded the bases for Catawba in the top of the seventh. Jacob Nester, who already had homered, produced a two-run single up the middle, and Jason Curtis contributed a sac fly for a 5-1 lead.

When Elwell walked the lead-off man in the bottom of the seventh, Gantt turned to the bullpen and the results weren’t good. Wingate tied the game 5-all, costing Elwell the win.

Undaunted, Catawba responded with a four-run eighth that proved decisive.  Jackson Raper’s RBI double put the Indians back on top. Butts had a two-run single. Cameron Morrison knocked in insurance.

Shepherd, who was credited with the win, got the last eight outs. He struck out four.

In the seven-inning nightcap, Johnson pitched five innings, striking out five and walking one, and Catawba was able to take  a 4-3 lead. Chance Bowden hit an early homer for Catawba, while Nester and Morrison produced RBI singles. Catawba picked up another run on a wild pitch.

Catawba boosted its lead in the top of the sixth to  7-3, as Mitchem, Butts and Nester drew consecutive walks with the bases loaded.

Wingate loaded the bases  with one out in the bottom of the sixth, but reliever D.J. Laxton got two huge outs to end the threat.

In the seventh, Shepherd got the call again. The first two Bulldogs reached against the big left-hander, but he retired the next three, and Catawba owned another title.

Nester had five RBIs in the doubleheader.

Game 1

Catawba 001  100   340   — 9   16   2

Wingate  010  000 400  —  5     8   1

HR — Catawba: Nester (1).

Leading hitters — Catawba: Raper 3-for-5; Butts 3-for-5; Nester 2-for-5, 3 RBIs.

W — Shepherd (4-2). L — Lane Wildman (2-3).

Game 2

Catawba   202   003  0 — 7   8    1

Wingate   200    100  0 — 3   5    1

HR — Catawba: Bowden (18). Wingate:  Tanner Forry (17).

Leading hitters — Catawba: Bowden 2-for-5; Nester 1-for-3, 2 RBIs.

W — Johnson (3-2). L — Hunter Hamilton (2-3).