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The long ball finally conquered small ball and the Wilson Tobs advance into the Petitt Cup playoffs semifinals as the Coastal Plain League’s North Division champion for the second straight year after holding off the Peninsula Pilots, 5-4, in a tension-filled affair Monday afternoon at Fleming Stadium.
The proceedings were a completion of the divisional title game’s start Sunday evening. Play was suspended after two innings because of inclement weather with Peninsula owning a 1-0 lead.
And, for the second straight year, the Tobs travel to Morehead City for the NorthEast Region championship or playoff semifinals. Morehead City, which won both halves in the East Division and ousted Fayetteville in the opening round, is the defending champion in the summer collegiate baseball league.
After ousting the top scoring team in the 16-team CPL, Wilson (30-21) challenges the winningest team (38-14). The Tobs, who finished first both halves of the North Division regular season for the first time in club history, stopped Peninsula, 4-3, in the opening round last year.
Trailing 1-0 after two innings, Wilson, which has belted a franchise-record 46 homers in 2019, powered to victory behind a three-run home run from first baseman Chris Meyers in the bottom of the third inning and a solo shot from center fielder Jared Carr to lead off the bottom of the seventh.
The nail-biter featured five lead changes as the Pilots, second overall in the North Division, thrived with small ball — giving the Tobs fits with stout execution of the little things.
But right-hander Josh Arnold worked out of an eighth-inning jam with a pair of strikeouts and right-handed closer C.J. Gonzales retired the Pilots in order in top of the ninth to post his third save and preserve the win for left-hander Taylor Soper (5-1), the fourth Tobs pitcher.
“It’s the world!” Gonzales exclaimed of the Tobs emerging one of four teams with a shot at the CPL title — which Wilson has never won. “Wilson is always here supporting us, and it’s nice to get it for them.”
Clamored Carr: “It feels great! We get to stay here a little bit longer so that we can continue to play and ball with our bros as a team.”
“Awesome!” remarked Meyers. “It’s real fun to keep playing together. We don’t want to leave yet.”
Wilson head coach Bryan Hill admitted the final seven innings were tense.
“When you have a division rivalry and put it into a one-game playoff scenario, it magnifies everything. The guys pulled it off and got what they deserved. Now, we have to keep on trucking.”
The Pilots utilized a walk, bunt, throwing error on the bunt attempt and singles by left fielder Kyle Battle and second baseman Matt Burch to tie the score for the final time at 4-4 in the top of the seventh. However, the Tobs kept the damage at a minimum with left fielder Christian Avant’s strong throw cutting down Peninsula third baseman Jake Boone at the plate.
In the bottom of the seventh, Pilots head coach Hank Morgan summoned left-hander Trey Morgan, his son, to the mound. In a three-inning outing last week, Trey Morgan mesmerized Wilson hitters with his finesse and sweeping curve ball. Morgan, a recent high school graduate who has committed to Virginia Military Institute, struck out seven in three innings. In Monday’s outing, he struck out four of the six batters he retired.
However, he got a fastball up to Carr, and Carr belted the pitch out of the park to right-center field.
“I knew it was gone,” said the smiling Carr. “I know he doesn’t want to throw me a fastball and, actually, I’m sitting on the breaking ball. But his fastball is below the speed limit and it’s not that hard to turn around on.”
Of the pitch decision, Trey Morgan noted: “I don’t know. The count was 3-1 (three balls, one strike). The catcher was thinking fastball and the coaches were thinking fastball.
“Things happen. We’ll get back at ‘em next year.”
The Tobs had a chance to add on in the eighth, but left the bases loaded. Wilson was also retired with the bases full in the first and wasted another threat in the second. However, Meyers delivered in the third.
With two outs, designated hitter Michael Calamari’s single and Avant’s double set the stage for Meyers’ blast that suddenly staked Wilson to a 3-1 cushion. Meyers rapped a homer, double and single in four at-bats.
“Our main job was locking ourselves back in with all the adversity we had with the field (soft and slippery in spots) and all,” he commented. “Our focus was making sure we didn’t let adversity take control. It was a fastball in.”
However, Meyers was involved in a weird play in the top of the sixth. With two outs and fleet Pilots catcher Nick Biddison stationed at second base, center fielder Drew Ashley hit a slow hopper that Tobs third baseman De’Andre Pitts fielded. However, Ashley was ruled safe at first — to the aghast of Pitts and Meyers.
Biddison never slowed as he rounded third base, and scored without drawing a throw.
“The ball was in my glove before (Ashley) touched the base,” Meyers insisted. “I was running off the field. When I looked up and there was no chance to get (Biddison).”
But in the bottom of the sixth, Meyers led off with a single and eventually scored on shortstop Kevin Jordan’s bouncer to shortstop. Wilson led 4-3.
“It was a good feeling to get back on top,” Meyers assured.
Biddison doubled and scored Peninsula’s second run on a wild pitch in the fourth inning.
Neither starting pitcher from Sunday returned, The Tobs went with right-hander Nate Imig, while the Pilots countered with left-hander Luke Zimmerman. Right-hander Nick Hollas, Sunday’s starter, will get the call against the Marlins on Tuesday.
Hill savored a second straight division title, but emphasized: “All this means is that we’ve got a big game tomorrow. We have three wins to get.”
Score by innings:
Peninsula 010 101 100 — 4
Wilson 003 001 10x — 5
WP-Taylor Soper 2/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO. LP-Trey Morgan (4-3) 1 2/3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO. S—C.J. Gonzales 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Peninsula:Kyle Battle 2-5, Nick Biddison 2-4, 2B, 2 R; Tommy Bell 2-3, HR, RBI; Drew Ashley 1-2, RBI. Wilson: Chris Meyers 3-4, HR, 2B, 3 RBI; Jared Carr 2-4, HR, RBI; Michael Calamari 2-4, Hunter Gore 2-3, 2B.