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HAMPTON, Va. — The first victory since July 23 has vaulted the Wilson Tobs to within one victory of a spot in the best-of-three Petitt Cup finals series to decide the 2018 Coastal Plain League summer collegiate baseball champion.
The possessor of a 4-0 lead through seven innings, Wilson needed a sensational leaping catch from 6-foot-2 right fielder Ben Faso at the wall at War Memorial Stadium to preserve a 4-3 upset of first-half winner Peninsula and seize the North Division championship Sunday evening. It was the first postseason win for the Tobs since 2016.
The Tobs, second-half division winners, had not won a game since a six-inning 3-2 conquest of Peninsula on July 23. Wilson finished atop the second-half division standings despite losing its last five games and having five of its last seven scheduled contests canceled by inclement weather.
The Tobs evened their record at 23-23 and will visit the Morehead City, a 7-6 victor over Fayetteville in 16 innings Sunday night, for the Northeast Region title on Tuesday night.
Also victorious in the Petitt Cup quarterfinals were South Division king Savannah and High Point-Thomasville of the West Division.
Wilson and Peninsula split 10 regular-season meetings and the Pilots bow out with a 27-18 record.
Starting Tobs pitcher Tyler Grauer, a Coastal Plain League All-Star, and reliever Danny Cody combined to blank the Pilots on three hits through seven innings. Grauer earned his fourth win against one loss.
But against Wilson reliever Jared Gallagher in the eighth, Peninsula cut the deficit to 4-2 with two unearned runs on a hit, walk and two Tobs errors.
After a strikeout to open the bottom of the ninth, Wilson right-handed closer Luis Acosta encountered rough going.
Peninsula’s Cole Girouard singled and raced home on Jack Strunc’s double to trim the deficit to 4-3. Acosta retired Jonatham Embry on a fly ball to Faso in right field, bringing up Pilots all-star first baseman Tyler Adams, who had burned Acosta with a three-run walk-off homer in the Pilots’ 6-4 victory over the Tobs on June 30 at War Memorial.
But Adams drew a two-out walk, bringing up Peninsula designated hitter Cole Prestegard, who lashed a rope to right field that backed Faso to the wall. Faso leaped and extended his 6-2 frame to glove the baseball and likely rob Prestegard of a hit that would have ended the Tobs’ season.
Acosta notched the save, his fifth, and preserved the win for Grauer.
Grauer responded with a brilliant six innings that required 96 pitches. He allowed but three hits and two walks while striking out seven.
Peninsula starter Jackson Wark, the loser, lasted one inning after being nicked for three runs. Wilson’s Kevin McGowan slapped a two-run single and later scored on Shamoy Christopher’s single.
Pilots reliever Eric Muller allowed but four hits the next four innings. However, Wilson reached him for a run and a 4-0 cushion in the fifth. Center fielder Brenton Doyle tripled and trotted home on Faso’s single.
Cody relieved Grauer and pitched around two walks in the seventh.
Against Peninsula relievers Mullett, Austin Krizon and Tim Elliott, Wilson managed but three hits the last five innings.
McGowan and Doyle, also a CPL All-Star, each batted 2 for 4 for the Tobs, who outhit the Pilots 8-6. Strunc and Matthew Schwarz each wound up 2 for 4 for Peninsula.