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College baseball: Catawba plays Tuesday in Cary

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

CARY — Catawba’s baseball team will look to regroup after being shut out for the first time all season on Sunday.

This was the first shutout suffered by the Indians since March of 2018 when they were blanked at Anderson.

Catawba’s 5-0 loss to UC San Diego in the first round has the third-seeded Indians playing in the afternoon elimination game on Tuesday at 3 p.m. against seventh-seeded Mercyhurst.

The Mercyhurst Lakers fell to second-seeded perennial power Tampa in the first round, 4-2, but the underdogs held the lead until the eighth inning.

Mercyhurst (34-15) is located in Erie, Pa., on the southern shore of Lake Erie. It’s not a large school, but it’s still about twice the size of Catawba.

Mercyhurst got its season started on Feb. 24 after losing some early games to weather. The Lakers played their first home game this season on March 13.

Catawba got started on Feb. 1 in Florida, so the Indians have been playing for four solid months.

Who pitches for Catawba Tuesday?

The candidates to start with the Indians’ season on the line are left-hander Hunter Shepherd (7-4, 3.76 ERA, 70 strikeouts) and right-hander Sawyer Strickland (8-2, 3.60 ERA, 69 strikeouts).

Both were home-schooled as youngsters. Both played for Catawba head coach Jim Gantt on the Rowan County American Legion team that finished as runner-up in the 2016 World Series in Shelby.

When Shepherd, Catawba’s regular first baseman, pitches, it changes Catawba’s lineup quite a bit because he will still swing the bat.

Shepherd’s mound outings usually move left fielder Jacob Nester to first base and put Catawba’s regular DH Heath Mitchem in left field. Shepherd is unlikely to pitch nine innings, but whenever he exits the mound, he’ll simply become Catawba’s DH and will hit instead of Catawba’s relief hurler.

Mercyhurst’s strength is its pitching staff.

Tyler Garbee pitched superbly against Tampa on Sunday and struck out 12, so he’s out of the mix for Tuesday.

Lefty Matthew Minnick had some struggles in the Atlantic Regional by Charleston, but he’s a third-team All-American and an All-Atlantic Region selection and could get the call to pitch Tuesday against Catawba. He’s 6-3 with a 2.77 ERA. He strikes out a ton of people. He fanned 16 in one game this season, and 15 in another. In another game, he threw a no-hitter.

Right-hander Russell Lamovec (6-3) also should be ready to go. He was outstanding in a six-inning relief stint in the regional.

Mercyhurst shortstop Alex O’Donnell is the team’s only .300 hitter. Tampa held him without a hit, but he’ll no doubt bat third against the Indians.

Mercyhurst’s big power threat is center fielder Domenic DeRenzo, a transfer who started some games for Oklahoma University in 2018. He’s been mostly an all-or-nothing slugger with a .211 batting average and a pile of strikeouts, but he also leads the team with 10 homers and 37 RBIs.

•••

NOTES: On Monday afternoon, Ashland (Ohio) eliminated New York Institute of Technology, 8-3. Top-seeded Colorado Mesa edged Central Missouri, 6-5, on Monday night … Colorado Mesa doesn’t have its ace pitcher. He was left behind for disciplinary reasons. … NYIT, a D-I school two years ago,  is coached by former major leaguer Frank Catalanotto. He batted .330, fifth in the American League, for the Texas Rangers in 2001.

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