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A crowd in excess of 3,000 turned out to Fleming Stadium on Wednesday night to witness a frenzied Independence Day tradition — a fireworks spectacle.
The Wilson Tobs obliged.
With their version of fireworks, the Tobs rallied in the bottom of the ninth inning to overcome the Fayetteville SwampDogs 3-2 in a Coastal Plain League summer collegiate baseball thriller.
Igniting the comeback from a 2-1 deficit was a solo home run off the bat of left fielder J.T. Stone, a product of the University of Mount Olive. Delivering the game-winner with one out was catcher Jacob Charron with a walk-off looping single that fell in front of the SwampDogs left fielder.
As Wilson players celebrated, raindrops fell and the huge, geared-up crowd observed the fireworks display in steady rain. Spirits were not dampened.
The outcome boosted Wilson’s overall record to 13-14 and, all important, the club is off to a 3-0 start in the second-half North Division race.
The SwampDogs of the East Division departed 1-2.
To win, the Tobs had to overcome strike one and strike two in the adversity column.
Fayetteville snapped the 1-1 deadlock in the top of the ninth with an unearned run. Shortstop Matt Kelly led off with a double against right-handed reliever Luis Acosta, the fourth Wilson pitcher. Kelly raced home with the go-ahead run on a throwing error by Wilson catcher Charron after fielding left fielder Joey Weimer’s bouncer in front of the plate.
Then, in the bottom of the ninth, Wilson center fielder Brenton Doyle legged out an infield hit, but was thrown out attempting to steal second base with Stone at the plate.
“(Doyle) has a green light to go any time,” Stone explained. “He got a read on the pitcher that he liked and the catcher just made a great play. Doyle is a great athlete and I can’t fault a great athlete for trying to make a play.
“But it did not affect the at-bat — that’s baseball. Plain and simple, I was trying to drive a fastball backside. I swung at the right pitch at the right place at the right time.”
The blast sailed over the right-field wall.
With the score knotted 2-2, first baseman Ben Faso singled and raced to third when third baseman Drew Brooks’ blistered grounder zipped underneath the glove and between the legs of the SwampDogs first baseman.
Down in the count, Charron atoned for his error in game-winning fashion. After fouling off four pitches, Charron looped a single between the shortstop and left fielder, allowing Faso to trot home.
“There were runners at second and third and I just said I’ve got to get the job done,” Charron said. “I just wanted to hit it deep enough to score the run — and that’s what I did. I just wanted to drive something up the middle and I got a pitch to handle. I am glad I was able to help the team out.”
Charron was quick to hail the pitching performance of starting Tobs right-hander Sean Deely, who worked a season-long six innings after lasting a total of just 8 1/3 innings in his first three starts. Deely had pitched sparingly because of the weather and the decision to give pitchers’ starts who were about to leave the team.
In six innings, Deely spaced five hits, allowing one run, no walks and striking out four. He worked out of mild jams in the first two innings and a wild pitch factored into the fifth-inning run he allowed.
“I just figured things out,” he reasoned. “It just felt good and I hope I can build on the performance. I felt like I had command of all my pitches. I did what I expected to do.”
Deely waged a duel with starting Fayetteville right-hander Tyler Shuck for four innings. The contest was scoreless until Tobs designated hitter Kevin McGowan walloped a homer over the right-field fence in the bottom of the fourth. McGowan, who had two hits, homered in his second straight game.
Tobs relievers Gary Watkins and Jared Gallagher each worked a scoreless inning until Acosta was summoned in the ninth and wound up with his second win against as many losses.
Wilson players saw the potential for a statement win on July 4.
“This absolutely could be a (season-changing) win,” Stone said. “We have got a lot of momentum going into the second half. We have really come together as a team. This game showed the character of this team in that we never give up and never get down.”
Added Charron: “This could be a big win for us. We’ve got a great group full of energy, and we have a lot of momentum going into the second half.”
The Tobs return to division wars at Edenton on Thursday night before appearing in Fleming Stadium to oppose division-leading Martinsville on Friday and first-half East Division winner Morehead City on Saturday.