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With the available outs fast being exhausted, the Wilson Tobs’ summer collegiate baseball winning streak appeared in dire jeopardy on a summer-hot Sunday evening in Fleming Stadium.
But a slick-fielding Asheboro team committed back-to-back errors in the bottom of the eighth inning, and the Tobs capitalized with four unearned runs to pull out a 6-5 Coastal Plain League victory in a clash of division co-leaders.
The sixth consecutive win vaulted the Tobs into the North Division lead by a half-game against idle Peninsula with a 9-5 record. Asheboro, the West Division co-leader, departed with a 7-7 mark.
Each of the errors allowed Wilson to plate a run and trim a 5-2 deficit to 5-4. With two outs, second baseman Kevin McGowan delivered a two-run single that accounted for the final score in the only 2018 meeting of the teams.
The Tobs had sputtered after grabbing a 2-0 lead and mental lapses took a toll as the Copperheads forged out front, 5-2. Head coach Bryan Hill admitted the Tobs lost focus for a couple of innings.
“But we knew we could put together an inning,” McGowan commented. “Anything is possible — especially in baseball.
“I was just looking to put the ball in play — find a hole. With two outs, it’s kind of tough; you can’t strike out. We might have lost a little energy but, when it got close, we turned it back on.”
Added Hill: “It’s baseball — a freak of nature. We were not trying to do anything extraordinary. But we are super-talnted and the guys were just being themselves. We’re not a bunch of good baseball players; we’re a team.”
Asheboro head coach Keith Ritsche eventually conceded: “It’s baseball.”
He also noted: “It was a tough one for us. The pitchers all came in and did their job. We played well enough to win. But we made two costly errors; if we don’t, we win. But you have to give them credit.They put the bat on the ball and made things happen.”
Wilson shortstop Patrick Frick led off the bottom of the eighth with a double. With two outs, left fielder Antwaun Tucker singled. The back-to-back miscues on bouncers off the bats of center fielder Brenton Doyle and third baseman Drew Brooks brought in two runs. The left-handed hitting McGowan’s opposite-field liner drove in Doyle and Brooks.
Right-handed closer Luis Acosta relieved in the ninth and retired the Copperheads in order to post his second save and preserve the win for Danny Cody (1-0).
The Tobs struck for two runs in the second on singles by right fielder Carson Freeman, Frick, Tucker and Doyle.
Wilson starting pitcher Jason Cornatzer didn’t allow a hit the first four innings and departed after allowing a run on two hits in the fifth. Center fielder Zach Miller drove in the run on a sacrifice fly.
The Copperheads’ first three runs were plated on sacrifice flies by Miller, shortstop Caleb Webster and third baseman Brandt Ollenger. First baseman Sean Phelan singled in the final two runs.
Cody finally squelched Asheboro’s three-run uprising in the seventh and worked out of a mild jam in the eighth. The Tobs squandered threats in the third and seventh innings.
Also, Hill removed frustrated catcher Shamoy Christopher from the game after he flung his bat against the backstop screen after striking out in the fifth. Hill explained Christopher was not ejected but taken out of the game because of his conduct.
Until the eighth, the Copperheads sparkled defensively, responding with several gems.
“We usually play very good defensively,” Ritsche remarked. “But they’re just kids and, sometimes, when one bad thing happens, another happens — especially when you’re playing on the road. It’s a good learning experience.”
That kept the Tobs winning.
“Just keep it going,” McGowan said. “We don’t talk about it that much; just keep winning and see how far it goes.”
Added Hill: “It’s great; it’s a part of baseball. Our pitchers have kind of figured things out and, when a team clicks, anything can happen.”
After an exhibition game at noon Monday in Fleming Stadium, the Tobs welcome Peninsula (8-5) at 7 p.m. Tuesday.