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College baseball: Catawba rolls 7-1 and 24-1

By Mike London

mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The do-over COVID baseball season of 2020 has given Catawba players a chance for not only one last ride together, but for a pursuit of places in the school record book.

Bryan Ketchie, a steady lefty from West Rowan who has been pitching for the Indians since he was a freshman in the spring of 2017, picked up his 28th career victory in the second game of Monday’s doubleheader at Newman Park —  a 24-1 rout of UVA—Wise.

Catawba is 13-2 at home and scored 10 runs in the first inning, with Hunter Shepherd accounting for a homer and a double. Cameron Mills, a .388-hitter who bats ninth for the Indians, supplied a bases-clearing double in the big inning.

“The bottom of the first lasted 30, maybe 35 minutes,” Ketchie said. “We were really hitting, so with one out I went down to the bullpen and tossed some more, just making sure I was still warmed up properly.”

To view and order more photos from Monday’s games, click here.

Ketchie (7-0) won seven games in 2017 and nine in 2019, but this has been his most dominant season. His ERA is a stellar 1.97.

“For me, it’s just a matter of being able to put the work in and being prepared,” Ketchie said. “And even though this season started late, I’ve been able to get the work in.”

Ketchie struck out 10 on Monday. That was a career high.

“My fastball isn’t overpowering — 87-88 on Monday,” Ketchie said. “My changeup was 80. I was able to mix up the fastballs and changeups well.”

He allowed a homer, but like most of the bombs he has given up over the years, it was a solo.

Ketchie said his best game this season was when he won 3-1 against North Georgia (24-9) on March 23. That was a huge mid-week win for the Indians.

His latest victory pushed Ketchie past some outstanding hurlers — Jerry Maye, Zach Snyder and Alex Fairweather — on Catawba’s all-time wins list.

“I haven’t looked at that stuff in a while, but I do know seven wins this year helps out the career stats,” Ketchie said with a laugh.

Bill Greene, Blake Ketner and John Tuttle won 29 games each for the Indians, so Ketchie will match them with his next win. Above them are just three more pitchers — Matt Fairweather (30), Tim Smith (31) and record-holder Nick Lomascolo (36), so the unassuming Ketchie is sliding into elite company.

So is fifth-year slugger/pitcher Hunter Shepherd, who won his 26th game in Monday’s 7-1 opening victory. Shepherd didn’t get to swing often in his first two seasons at Catawba, but he still has amassed career totals of 34 homers (tied for 13th in the record book) and 141 RBIs. He could be in the top 20 all-time in RBIs before the end of the week. He launched a first-inning homer in both of Monday’s games.

Jeremy Simpson, who already has been the SAC’s Gold Glove shortstop three times, and right fielder Lee Poteat are other local players who have been around seemingly forever. They are enjoying banner seasons, with Simpson near the top of the league in RBIs. Poteat has been one of the SAC’s best when it comes to on-base percentage and runs scored.

Catawba looked like a national championship threat in 2020 and was ranked second in D-II when COVID halted the season. But almost all of those guys came back to try again. The only missing big bat belonged to third baseman Jackson Raper. Raper is batting .338 with seven homers for Illinois, and had a two-homer game against Northwestern.

“Losing Jackson Raper, that meant some big shoes to fill, but Mills has filled them well,” Ketchie said. “For all of us, this is a second chance for a lost season. We’re making the most of it.”

Catawba boasts a non-stop lineup that is batting .337 as a team. Lead-off man Luke Spiva had two homers after two innings of Monday’s nightcap.

The pitching is always challenged by the cozy dimensions of Newman Park, but it has been good enough.

The Indians (24-7, 20-6) finished a long climb toward first place with a Sunday sweep of UVA—Wise. The pounding continued on Monday.

Tusculum (25-8, 21-7) is second, percentage points behind Catawba.

Catawba had experienced bumps in the road, including COVID setbacks, but the Indians have won 11 of their last 12 and may be gearing up for a powerful finish.

“During my five seasons,  we’ve always been a hard-working team,” Ketchie said. “We keep plugging. Catawba is always there at the end.”

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