by Benny Benton
WILSON, N.C. – Senior Dillon Rudio gave the Barton College baseball team its first home run of the season Wednesday afternoon, but the three-run blast was not enough to prevent the Bulldogs from suffering their third straight loss in a 5-3 setback to visiting Catawba College at Nixon Field.
Barton (4-8) has now lost six of its last seven after a 3-2 start to the year, while Catawba (6-8) has reeled off five wins in its last six outings since beginning the season 1-7.
Sophomore Joe Watson (1-0), making his first career start for the Indians, took a three-hit shutout into the sixth inning before consecutive walks to Tyler Garrett and Phillip Cotten, followed by the Rudio blast down the left field line, ended his day. Those two walks were his only free passes of the afternoon, and the right-hander struck out five.
The homer pulled Barton to within a run at 4-3, but the Bulldogs got just one more hit over the final 3 2/3 innings off three Catawba relievers. Senior Ryan McClintock worked the final two innings for the Indians, retiring all six batters he faced, three by strikeout, to earn his fourth save of the year.
T.J. Wharton gave McClintock an insurance run to work with when he lined a solo shot over the fence in left in the top of the eighth for his fourth home run and 14th RBI of the season, both team highs. Blake Houston, Craig Brooks and Cameron Beard each added two hits and an RBI for the Indians.
Barton used six pitchers in the contest, beginning with freshman Kerry W alker (0-1), who was also making his first career start. Walker retired the first five batters he faced, but issued a two-out walk in the second inning to Julio Zubillaga. After a wild pitch moved Zubillaga to second, Brooks doubled into the gap in left-centerfield, driving in the game's first run.
The Indians started the third inning with consecutive singles by Beard and Houston. Ethan Satterfield drew a walk to load the bases, and Keaton Hawks lifted a fly ball to left deep enough to score Beard on the sacrifice fly and give the Indians a 2-0 advantage. Walker avoided further damage, however, by getting a 4-6-3 inning-ending double play ball off the bat of Paul Kronenfeld.
The Bulldogs threatened Watson for the first time when Harper led off the third with a double down the left field line and moved to third on Ben Youngblood's sacrifice bunt. However, Harper tried to score on a grounder to first by Garrett and was gunned down at the plate on an excellent throw by Kronenfeld.
After Wharton walked to open the Catawba fourth, Walker was replaced by reliever Kyle Rufer, who got one out before giving up a single to Brooks. Barton recorded the second out of the inning on a fielder's choice grounder to second off the bat of Jon Wallace that forced out Brooks, but the Bulldogs could not complete the double play, and Beard made them pay with a single to right field to drive in a run.
Houston followed with an RBI single through the right side, scoring Wallace to increase the lead to 4-0, but Catawba stranded two more possible runs on an inning-ending pop-up chased down by second baseman Youngblood along the right field line.
That margin held until the home run by Rudio in the sixth made it a one-run game.
Barton will complete an eight-game home stand this weekend when it entertains Bloomsburg University in a three-game series beginning with a doubleheader Saturday at noon.