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Christmas in July, eh!
In temperatures of approximately 90 degrees, with Wilson Tobs players wearing their holiday jerseys, the bases painted red and green, general manager Mike Bell running around the stadium in Santa Claus garb, wreaths adorning the grandstand netting and pitchers dealing with a Scrooge-like strike zone, the promotion proved successful with the Tobs claiming a 7-3 victory against the Wilmington Sharks in Coastal Plain League summer league baseball action in Fleming Stadium on Sunday evening before a small turnout (probably too many Christmas parties).
Designated hitter Ben Faso’s first-inning grand slam powered Wilson to its 18th 2018 victory — matching last season’s total output when the team went 18-37.
In a clash of division leaders, the Tobs maintained their division lead, climbing to 8-2 and 18-16 overall. The Sharks, North Division front-runners, fell to 5-5 in second-half play.
Wilson stretched its lead to 1 1/2 games against idle Peninsula. Those two teams collide Monday and Tuesday, with Tuesday’s clash set for 7 p.m. in Fleming Stadium.
“This was huge,” commented Faso, who also doubled. “We knew we weren’t going unbeaten the second half, but we really wanted to win (Saturday night --10-6 loss at Edenton) to keep losing two in a row. And when you get a good start from your starting pitcher, you need to win those games.”
Right-hander Dylan Ward, a rising senior at Barton College, drew the start in his Tobs debut and his gift was three scoreless innings. His first two innings proved troublesome before retiring the Sharks in order in the third. He allowed one hit, two walks and a hit batsman while striking out a pair.
“The plan was to go 50 pitches or three or four innings and see how it felt,” Ward revealed. “I felt pretty good. I thought I did pretty well. I need to work on a few things and get my stamina back up. I hadn’t been on the mound a lot (since the conclusion of Barton’s season). I was throwing a fastball and change-up and tried to mix in some curves.”
Ward wasn’t complaining about being staked to a four-run cushion after one inning.
The Tobs loaded the bases with no outs on a walk, hit batsman and an error on a misplayed fielder’s choice. With one out, Faso connected on the first pitch he saw from Sharks left-hander Landon Wright for a no-doubter —a blast far over the left-field wall for the Tobs’ second grand slam of 2018.
“We knew this kid had not pitched in college,” Faso explained, “and that he was a little inexperienced. When you start walking people, the fastball is coming. I was sitting fastball and he threw it right down there. You could eliminate off-speed pitches because you knew he wasn’t going to throw them for strikes. He was pitching to try to get ahead (in the count) and I was trying to be aggressive.”
The Tobs boosted the lead to 5-0 in the third on a walk, Faso’s double and first baseman Caleb Dean’s RBI grounder. Right fielder Carson Freeman and third baseman Kevin McGowan each drove in a run in the seventh.
Ward was followed to the mound by Ryan Troutman for two innings, and Eddy Tavarez, Waylen Ergle, Danny Cody and closer Luis Acosta for one inning each. Acosta retired the Sharks in order in the ninth, striking out a pair.
Tobs pitchers offered gifts in the form of nine walks and two hit batsmen.
“I didn’t know how many,” said Wilmington head coach Tyler Jackson, “but I knew it was a lot. We just couldn’t get a hit when we needed it.”
Aided by two walks, the Sharks plated their first run against Troutman in the fifth. But Wilmington acted in the holiday mood in the eighth against Cody.
The Sharks pushed across two runs on two walks, a hit batsman and shortstop Douglas Anglei’s two-run single.
With two outs and base runners at first and third, Angeli broke late for second base. He got hung up between first and second and found himself in a rundown. Finally, right fielder Aiden Karraker darted from third and excellent execution from the Tobs resulted in Karraker being thrown out at the plate to end the inning.
“It was a straight steal and we had one of our best base runners at first,” Jackson explained. “He got a poor jump and got caught. I coach aggressively and I told (the runner at third) to go home and try to get out of it. It ended up not working out for us.
“It’s bad that it happened, but it’s something for them to kind of learn from.”
But maybe not on Christmas in July.
Score by innings:
Wilmington 000 010 020 — 3
Wilson 401 000 200 — 7
WP-Ryan Troutman (1-0) 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 Bb, 2 SO. LP-Landon Wright (1-1) 5 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 5 BB, 3 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Wilmington: Mason Streater 2-4, Noah Liles 3-3, Douglas Angeli 1-4, 2 RBI; Wilson: Ben Faso 2-3, HR, 2B, 4 RBI; Shamoy Christopher 2-4, Carson Freeman 1-3, 2 R, RBI.