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Spectacular defensive plays from Wilson Tobs left fielder Nick Smith and shortstop Drew Brooks in the first inning limited the Peninsula Pilots to one run.
But a sensational response with the leather from first baseman Ben Faso in the top of the 10th inning saved the night for the Tobs.
With the international tiebreaker being implemented in the extra inning, Faso’s gem not only ended the inning, keeping the Pilots off the scoreboard, but inspired Wilson to an 8-7 extra-inning triumph in the regularly scheduled Coastal Plain League summer collegiate baseball clash of North Division leaders in Fleming Stadium on Saturday night.
The second-place Pilots, first-half division winners, claimed the suspended game 9-3. The score was knotted 1-1 after five innings when play was suspended because of lightning Tuesday evening.
The Tobs forced the extra inning with a run in the bottom of the ninth — after Peninsula erased a 6-4 deficit and seized a 7-6 lead with three runs in the top of the ninth.
Faso’s play on a smash down the first-base line off the bat of torrid-hitting Peninsula center fielder Cole Girouard left Pilots stranded at second and third bases.
“I knew he was swinging a good bat (hits in four of his previous five at-bats),” Faso noted of Girouard. “He actually faced (Tobs right-hander Caleb) Dean the last time and got a hit off him. I was waiting for him to pull it hard and I was focused and locked in on every pitch. After that, I had to let my instincts take over.
“I knew it was hit kind of hard, and I saw it take a little (unexpected) hop. I stayed with it with my eyes. I knew he was pretty fast and, when I gloved it (while literally on his knees), I knew I had to get up and sprint to the bag.”
Jim Leggett, joined by Collin Brinkley in directing the team in the absence of head coach Bryan Hill (attending wedding), elected not to intentionally walk Girouard, who led off the game with a home run.
“I didn’t feel good putting a (potential) third run on base,” Leggett explained, “and possibly put us in a situation of having to score three runs in the bottom of the inning.
Peninsula head coach Hank Morgan reasoned the Tobs decided not to walk Girouard became of Tyler Adams, Jack Strunc and Jonathan Embry, the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters, following him.
“They had to pick their poison,” he said.
LIKED TOBS’ CHANCES
When Dean, Faso and the defense escaped unscathed, Leggett liked the Tobs’ chances in the bottom of the 10th.
The at-bat started with base runners placed at second and first against Pilots reliever Kyle Kovach. Smith laid down a bunt that froze the Peninsula third baseman and loaded the bases. On a 3-1 count, catcher Jacob Charron drew a walk-off walk.
“I thought we were going to win at that point (Faso’s play),” Leggett commented. “The odds were in favor of us. That was a great play and it gave our team some life.”
Morgan was quick to note the Tobs emerged victorious after bringing in a position player (right fielder Dean) to pitch.
“Hats off them for working their way through it,” he said. “That was not an enviable spot.”
The Tobs, second-half division leaders, evened their record at 3-3 in extra-inning games. Dean, who pitched the last two innings, came away with his first win against one loss. Kovach (0-2) took the loss.
Early on, Wilson benefited from the contributions of its “Barton College Connection” of right-handed pitcher Dylan Ward, a rising senior, and designated hitter Colby Warren, a rising sophomore.
Ward, in his second start, pitched 4 2/3 gritty innings, striking out seven and departing with a 6-4 lead.
Warren wound up 2 for 3 and sent the Tobs ahead 3-1 with a two-run double in the first inning.
The Tobs upped their lead to 6-2 in the fourth, when Warren walked and Smith and Brooks each singled.
Right-hander Graham Boggio made his Tobs debut in following Ward and responded with two sharp innings.
Right-hander Charlie Sheehan, next after Boggio, dazzled in a brief outing of 1 1/3 innings. But Dean, who had pitched only 2 1/3 innings, was summoned in the ninth.
Embry rapped an RBI double and, with two outs, right fielder Matt Schwartz slapped a two-run single. The Pilots led 7-6.
During his at-bat, Embry was afforded a second chance when his foul pop, on a tough play, was misplayed for the Tobs’ only error.
“Caleb is a good pitcher,” Leggett explained of not returning Sheehan to the mound in the ninth. “He just hasn’t pitched that much because he is a position player. I wish we had given him a few more opportunities.”
For the Pilots, right-hander Clyde Yoder struck out the side in the eighth in finishing a three-inning stint. Neither did he go back out in the ninth.
“Clyde could have finished and wanted to finish,” Morgan admitted. “And we really like him. But we want (Ryan) Erickson to embrace the (closer’s) role. Sometimes, you’ve got to take a chance and, sometimes, it doesn’t work out.”
In the suspended game, Peninsula snapped the 1-1 tie in the top of the sixth as Tyler Adams grounded into a double play, scoring Dedas. The Pilots erupted for five runs in the top of the seventh, when Wilson’s defense turned sloppy.
The Tobs got an RBI double from Warren in the seventh and an RBI single from Brooks in the ninth.
Thus after five-plus hours, nothing gained but nothing lost. Wilson remained 2 1/2 games ahead of Peninsula. The Tobs, 11-4 the second half and 21-18 overall, were off Sunday while the Pilots, 8-6 the second half, visited division foe Edenton.
Wilson begins the next-to-last week of the regular season no worse than two games ahead of the Pilots. Three of the Tobs’ remaining 11 games are against Peninsula.
“The games against (division) rivals Edenton and Martinsville might be even more important,” Leggett suggested. “We want to win the second half and, if we do that, everything else will take care of itself.
“(Winning the regularly scheduled game) was big for our team -- especially the way we played the first game. We didn’t come out with much energy and didn’t play very well. But in the second game, we responded to some adversity.”
The Pilots continued to pressure although they are assured of a spot in the Petitt Cup playoffs as first-half division winners.
“I would like to think it’s pride and respect for the game,” Morgan declared. “You can fall into bad habits if you become complacent. Nobody is going to give us anything; we’re going to have to earn it.
“But it’s about respect of the game. When people pay their money and come out and watch you play, you should give your best effort. The only time I get disappointed is when we show up and don’t play hard.”
With wins in both games, the Pilots would have shaved Wilson’s lead to a mere half-game and Morgan admitted: “That’s a big flip.”