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Rarely do two July games in the thick of the Coastal Plain League regular season carry a significant amount of weight, but the Wilson Tobs will return from the All-Star break Thursday night with a chance to seriously bolster its Petitt Cup playoff prospects in Fleming Stadium.
After a 5-0 start to the second half of the season, Wilson, winners of five in a row, welcomes North Division rival Martinsville for a 6 p.m. doubleheader. Both contests are scheduled for seven innings and could serve to give the Tobs (15-14 overall) a further stranglehold on the division lead after a regularly scheduled game at Fleming was postponed last Friday.
The Mustangs have played two more games than the Tobs in the second half and own a 5-2 mark in that span. Peninsula, the first-half division winner with its ticket already punched to the Petitt Cup playoffs, is 3-2 in the second half.
Should the Pilots win the second half as well, then the second playoff berth from the division will go to the team — Wilson, Martinsville (16-16) or Edenton (13-19) — with the best overall record. Otherwise, the second-half champion will snatch the other berth.
By design from the league office, Wilson’s remaining 21 games will be heavily focused against North Division foes. Of those contests, 15 will come against the division, breaking down to five meetings against Martinsville, four opposing Edenton and six versus the Pilots. Consecutive matchups against the Pilots (July 16-17, July 21 and 23) loom on two occasions as the second-half unfolds. The Tobs of head coach Bryan Hill play their home finale Aug. 2 against Edenton before venturing to the road for its final two games, at High Point-Thomasville Aug. 3 and at Hooker Field in Martinsville on Aug. 4.
While the Wilson offense muddles around the middle of the 16-team league in most offensive categories, a vast improvement in the quality of its pitching staff has helped turned the squad into a second-half contender. The Tobs are sixth in the league in earned run average as a staff at 3.83 and have given up 106 earned runs. That figure ties Wilson for fourth in the CPL prior to play resuming Wednesday evening. The Tobs took Wednesday to tune-up in exhibition action, easily coasting past the High Point-Thomasville Locos by a score of 18-1.
Wilson’s rotation has also done a respectable job of keeping the ball in the ballpark with 12 home runs allowed, which ranks sixth in the league.
But if the Tobs are to keep their second-half run going, the offense will have to improve its hitting for average and cut down on the number of strikeouts. Wilson hits at a .237 clip to stand 12th in the league and has struck out and has struck out 282 times. Only Macon (297) and Wilmington (317) have retreated to the dugout in defeat more.
Led by CPL All-Star selections Brenton Doyle and Kevin McGowan, Wilson’s offense lacks an everyday starter hitting above .300 currently. Wake Forest’s Patrick Frick, who has appeared in 18 games, hits .284 and was selected as an All-Star starter. However, Frick did not play in the game and hasn’t appeared in the Tobs’ lineup since June 23.
The Petitt Cup playoffs begin Sunday, Aug. 5 with a single-elimination divisional round featuring the first- and second-half champions from each division, or next best overall record in the event of a repeat champion.
In the North, Peninsula is assured of hosting the game as the first-half champion. The second round will send the North Division survivor against the East, while the South and West champions meet in another single-elimination game on Tuesday, Aug. 7.
The Petitt Cup championship series is set for Aug. 9-11 in a best-of-3 format.