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While the Wilson Tobs were by no means done, the Coastal Plain League club didn’t seem like one that was headed to the postseason based on their performances — when they were able to play — over the past two weeks.
Since the Tobs blew a five-run lead in the ninth inning in a 6-5 loss to the Edenton Steamers at Fleming Stadium on July 24, they had lost four games and had five rained out — plus another memorable one that didn’t count.
Yet when the Tobs took the field at War Memorial Stadium on Sunday evening to face the Peninsula Pilots in the first round of the Petitt Cup playoffs , Wilson seemed ready for the task at hand. The Tobs scored three runs in the top of the first inning against the North Division first-half champion Pilots and then held on for a thrilling 4-3 victory. That made Wilson, which won the second half, the overall North Division king and earned it a date against East champion Morehead City in Tuesday’s semifinals.
“Anytime we can score early on the road is big, especially in a do-or-die playoff games, it’s very important,” said Tobs head coach Bryan Hill.
For a team that had scored just four runs in its last four games, the Tobs’ instant offense against Pilots starting pitcher Jackson Wark was good to see. Wilson was cruising toward the North title back on July 24 when that five-run lead evaporated in the ninth against Edenton. With the exception of J.T. Stone’s score-tying home run in the top of the fifth inning in the resumption of a suspended game July 31 against Peninsula — that saved Wilson from taking a loss — there hadn’t been much to be happy about.
“That’s just baseball with ups and downs and the grind,” Hill said of that July 24 loss. “We don’t even like to think about that anymore, to be honest.”
Just as tough was dealing with all the rainouts, Hill said.
“It was rough,” he said. “We went on the road (Friday) stayed overnight, traveled for two days and didn’t play a game.”
Hill said the team returned to Wilson after Saturday’s game at Martinsville was washed out and had an intrasquad scrimmage at Fleming Stadium.
He pointed out that Peninsula had it even tougher, with six straight rainouts, plus the cancellation of the suspended game July 31 in Wilson, before the Pilots played a season-ending doubleheader against Edenton on Saturday on the eve of the playoffs.
Now the Tobs will face a Morehead City team that is coming off a 7-6 win in 16 innings against the Fayetteville SwampDogs on Sunday. Hill said aside from some of the Marlins pitchers not being available due to reaching their pitch count, the marathon shouldn’t produce much fallout for Morehead City.
“I don’t know if there is any advantage because there’s a day off today,” he said. “If we played today, yes! There would definitely be an advantage!”
Hill will send right-hander Sean Deely to the mound Tuesday. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound rising junior at Wilmington (Delaware) University is 1-1 with 20 strikeouts and a 4.62 ERA. He hasn’t started since July 19 when he gave up two runs in six innings against Edenton.
The Tobs, who evened their overall record to 23-23, lost back-to-back games to the Marlins (35-14) in early June but won 9-5 in Wilson on July 7. That was in the middle of an eight-game winning streak for the Tobs, their longest of the season. The teams were scheduled to play July 30 in Morehead City but it was, of course, rained out.
Hill saluted the Tobs players, both the ones who came in during the season and the ones from the beginning.
“We’ve lost a ton of guys but we’ve continued to bring in quality players,” Hill said, adding that more than 12 players were not on the original roster. “The guys we have now, I wouldn’t trade them for anything but they weren’t in the picture when we originally talked.”
The Tobs veteran coach, who won two CPL Coach of the Year honors with Edenton and directed the Steamers to the Petitt Cup championship in 2018, understands the rigors of summer collegiate baseball.
“The hardest part is the second half of the season, from July to now,” said Hill, who is the pitching coach at Chowan University the rest of the year.
But all that changes when the postseason begins.
“Once you get to the playoffs, they want to win it,” he said. “There’s no reason to go home without what you came here for and that’s the trophy.”
If the Tobs beat the Marlins, they will host the first game of the Petitt Cup championship series on Thursday at Fleming. Tobs general manager Mike Bell said that it will be a “Thirsty Thursday” with special prices on beverages, just like during the season.
“That would be a big Thursday!” Hill said, before reminding: “Just having a chance to play for that is fun but tomorrow night’s the big one.”