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Catawba drops first game to UC San Diego in first round of World Series

By David Shaw
sports@salisburypost.com

CARY — One game into its quest for a Division II World Series championship, Catawba’s baseball team has some catching up to do.

The third-seeded Indians face an uphill climb in the double-elimination tournament after suffering a 5-0 loss to UC-San Diego in Sunday’s opening round.

“You get shut out, you’re not going to beat anyone,” coach Jim Gantt said at the U.S. Baseball National Training Complex, where Catawba (47-13) rolled its first gutter ball and lost for the first time in seven weeks. “We’ve faced some really good pitchers and he was certainly one of them.”

Gantt’s reference was to UCSD starting pitcher Preston Mott, a senior left-hander who scattered four singles and struck out six in 6 2/3 worry-free innings. A nine-game winner, Mott beat the Indians throwing nothing but fastballs and sliders.

“Yeah, but he could throw it anywhere he wanted, whenever he wanted to,” Catawba infielder Jackson Raper said.

Catawba faces an elimination game at 3 p.m. Tuesday against Mercyhurst, which dropped a 4-2 first-decision to Tampa.

“We’ve just got to come back Tuesday fired up and ready to go,” said catcher Cam Morrison. “The last time we lost, we won 13 in a row. We know we can do it again.”

Mott allowed only two base-runners to reach second base — Lee Poteat in the bottom of the third inning and Morrison in the fifth. UCSD reliever Cameron Leonard tied it all up in a pretty package with 2 1/3 innings of hitless relief.

“Getting that first win is the biggest thing,” said Mott, who lowered the 2.74 ERA he brought into the game. “I was just trying to pitch to contact and trust my defense. I threw quality pitches, down in the zone where they couldn’t hurt me.”

Mott outdueled Catawba southpaw Bryan Ketchie, who made his 17th start and lost for only the second time in 11 decisions. Ketchie was sharp early, delivering 4 1/3 innings of thoughtful, precise patterns. Then he abruptly surrendered five straight hits and left amid a rainstorm of line drives.

“He just started leaving the ball up,” said Morrison, the sturdy junior backstop. “He’s a great low-ball pitcher, but he left some balls up and they hit him.”

Ketchie’s troubles began with one away in the top of the fifth, when he served up an 0-2 fastball with high-fat content that UCSD’s Ryan McNally drove 389 feet onto the berm in left field. A .291 hitter, it was McNally’s second home run of the season.

“Fastball up and in,” he said. “I thought it was definitely a mistake pitch. I anticipated a fastball and got it.”

Two offerings later, teammate Chris Schasteen hammered an 0-1 pitch over the wall in left-center for a 2-0 lead. “We knew (Ketchie) was a strike-thrower,” said winning coach Eric Newman. “We tried to keep him from getting ahead, but when he did, we decided to make an adjustment and not sit back. We decided to be aggressive.”

It paid off when R.J. Prince legged out his second infield hit, Shay Whitcomb jerked a double into the left-field corner and Alex Eliopulos brought them both home with a hustle double to right. That ended Ketchie’s day.

“Ketchie did a good job, but it looked like they had a good plan against him,” Gantt said. “They hit some balls hard, but I don’t think anyone got a hit on anything that had spin on it.”

D.J. Laxton relieved Ketchie and immediately yielded Blake Bumgartner’s RBI-single, capping a five-run inning. Catawba’s final hit came when Raper chased Mott with a two-out single in the seventh. Even so, Newman wasn’t comfortable.

“Five runs, that’s nothing in college baseball,” he said. “That can go away quickly. You know how competitive these game can get.”

This one never did. Catawba succumbed quietly against Leonard, who retired seven of the eight batters he faced.

“We’ve just got to learn from this and move on,” said Catawba first-baseman Hunter Shepherd. “The sun’s still gonna rise tomorrow.”

NOTES: Shepherd, Catawba’s leading hitter with a .372 average coming in, went 0-for-4 and stuck out three times. “(Mott) got me to chase a lot of balls out of the strike zone,” he explained. … Center-fielder Bryce Butler made a pair of sensational catches. He skidded along the warning track in right-center to rob Eliopulos of an extra-base hit in the top of the first inning, then crashed into the wall to haul in Aaron Kim’s blast in the fourth. … UCSD snuffed out rallies with inning-ending double plays in the second and fifth innings. … Schasteen’s homer was his first of the season. It traveled 402 feet. … Mott earned his 27th career victory in his 55th start.

UC San Diego     000  050 000 — 5   8   1

Catawba               000  000  000 —0  4   2

WP — Mott (9-1).  LP — Ketchie (9-2).

HR — McNally (2), Schasteen (1).

Leading hitters — UC San Diego: Eliopulos 2-for-4, double, 2 RBIs; Prince 2-for-4.  Catawba: Raper 2-for-3; Poteat 1-for-2; Morrison 1-for-3.

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