Belanger mows down Itawamba Indians

Published 5:00 am Monday, May 23, 2005

ST. Catharine, Ky. — Ryan Belanger didn’t need a slingshot toknock off Goliath Friday in the NJCAA Southeast Super Regional. TheCo-Lin sophomore right-hander used a fastball and an effectivecurveball to pitch a 1-hit shutout and lead the Wolfpack to a 2-0victory over the nationally-ranked Itawamba Community CollegeIndians. Belanger struck out a career-high 17 batters and issuedjust 1 base on balls.

Belanger, a 5-foot-10, 155-pounder from Houma, La., resembledDavid as he mowed down Itawamba’s powerful lineup. He struck outAndy Rice, the Division II home run leader with 20 dingers,twice.

“It’s the best feeling to beat (Itawamba),” said Belanger. He isCo-Lin’s all-time strikeout leader with 119 Ks in one season.

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“I’ll feel even better when we make the World Series,” saidBelanger, referring to the Division II gathering in Millington,Tenn.

Belanger (6-7), a Southern Miss signee, pitched a complete,9-inning game and walked just 1 batter. He was locked in a pitchingduel with Itawamba ace Jared Koon (10-2), a Mississippi Statesignee.

“I located pitches well today,” said Belanger. “I was able tomove my fastball in and out but I didn’t have my best fastball. Mycurveball was working well, too.”

Koon, a 6-4, 200-pound right-hander from Tupelo, allowed only 4hits. He struck out 9 batters and walked 4.

Co-Lin coach Keith Case praised Belanger’s performance. “Ryanwas an equalizer for us. We felt like his breaking ball would be anequalizer.

“We thought we might be able to get six innings out of him buthe went nine,” added Case. “We put ourselves in a position towin.”

Case said, “Itawamba was huge. They had 15 guys who were6-foot-2 or taller. They’re an impressive group of athletes.”

The Wolfpack, reduced to 16 healthy players due to injuries,continued to display grit and determination, finding a way towin.

“We played good defense and we were able to move runners aroundthe bases and get in scoring position,” said Case. “We distractedKoon when we got runners on second base.”

At the plate, leadoff batter Joshua Logan guided the Wolfpackinto the Promised Land. The hustling centerfielder delivered a2-RBI single to center field in the top of the third inning. Itscored designated hitter Ben Sandifer who led off the inning with asingle to left-center field and Joseph Langham who drew a walk.

Sandifer had stolen second base and went to third on a passedball. Logan wound up on second base after Itawamba’s centerfieldermishandled his single.

“It was a fastball down the middle,” said Logan (5-7, 160), afreshman from Magee. “Their pitcher was pretty good.”

Catcher Matthew Schexnayder and shortstop Patrick Williamsaccounted for Co-Lin’s other hits, both singles.

“Ryan pitched a great game today,” said Schexnayder, a freshmanfrom Houma who caught Belanger in high school at VanderbiltCatholic. “He had great stuff.”

Schexnayder said Itawamba didn’t respect his teammate. “Theylooked at him and thought he was too small to pitch. That justpumped up Ryan more. He had good defense behind him, too.”

Co-Lin second baseman Jody Britt leaped to spear a line driveoff the bat of Itawamba designated hitter Kyle Mills in the thefourth. Britt said Belanger had extra incentive to beat theIndians.

“Ryan pitched incredible and he had a little extra incentive,”said Britt. “At the banquet (Wednesday), they (Indians) weremumbling about his record and they were doing it again today duringoutfield (warmup).”

Co-Lin rightfielder Xavier Qualls killed another Itawamba threatin the third inning. He caught a line drive off Scotty Deloach’sbat and then threw out the runner (Adam Yoe) trying to return tofirst base.

Yoe had Itawamba’s only hit, an opposite-field single toright.

“Ryan’s pitching was unbelievable,” said Sandifer, a sophomorefrom Brookhaven. “I ain’t seen nothing like it.”

Itawamba coach Rick Collier was impressed by Belanger, too. “Hethrew a good game. He had a great day.”

Collier’s Indians (41-16), who hit 76 home runs this season,were eliminated by St. Catharine in the next game, falling 3-1.Co-Lin (29-25-1) plays St. Catharine (36-9) at 11 a.m. CDT Saturdayin the finals.