HOLLY SPRINGS, N.C. – The Holly Springs Salamanders fell behind early, fought hard to come back, but eventually fell 11-9 to the Asheboro Copperheads at Holly Springs Park at the North Main Athletic Complex on Tuesday.
Jordan Bissette (0-1) suffered the loss for Holly Springs (3-4) while Ryan Columbo (1-0) recorded the win with the support of Micah Wells who earned the save for the Copperheads (3-4).
The Salamanders’ offense was led by Mike Sconzo (3-5) and Xyruse Martinez (2-5) who finished with two RBI’s apiece, while five others supported with one each.
It was a four-plus hour matchup that included a 45-minute rain delay that extended an ending which came too late for all but 40 of the 1,082 in attendance to stick around to witness.
A six-run ninth inning rally, part of an 8-0 scoring run during the final three innings, was not enough for the Salamanders to stay undefeated at home.
“What I want out of my guys is to compete,” Holly Springs coach Andrew Ciencin said.
“For the first eight innings, I didn’t think we did that one bit.”
After starting the season at 3-3 (.500), Salamanders coach Ciencin was honestly surprised, “shocked” was the exact word he used, to see his team come out of the gate as strong as it had.
“We just haven’t put together a good game.”
Even with two walk-off wins at home, he felt that the team’s control off the mound was a product of his pitchers not having enough live play and not having the mindset to start and finish the job.
Prophetically, the coach’s words rang true as pitching put the team in trouble early on.
Starter Jordan Bissette, a freshman at N.C. State and hailing from nearby Fuquay-Varina, walked batters in successive innings, the second and the third, and just couldn’t control his delivery.
That allowed Asheboro’s batters to tag him for five runs on six hits in 2 1/3 innings.
It was his second walk to Asheboro’s Justin Bellinger (2-4, 3 R, 1 RBI) that set up the first run of the game as a double from Damian Rutherford (2-3, 3 R, 3 RBI) eventually scored the Duke freshman to put the Copperheads up 1-0.
Soon after, an apparent balk on Bissette brought Rutherford in, but Ceincin’s challenge of the call initiated a 10-minute discussion amongst the two umpires.
Once they clarified the rule application with a Coastal Plain League (CPL) official, the umpires determined that the play was not a balk.
It didn’t take long to bring that runner back across the plate as the Copperheads connected to score two more runners to extend their lead to 3-0 after the second.
Bissette patched together the rest of the inning to end it after facing nine batters that produced four hits.
It was a rough start that seemed to paralyze the team’s effort.
“You’re only as good as your starter,” Ciencin said.
“If he comes out walkin’ guys, throwin’ balls, everyone gets complacent and kind of sit back. They don’t know what to do. It’s a long inning for fielders. It’s a long inning for the guys in the dugout.”
Trailing 5-0 as the result of a homer and passed ball that brought in two more Asheboro runners in the top of the third, the Salamanders got a break as rain developed and forced the teams to clear the field.
As the saying goes, ‘when it rains, it pours’ – and it did for 45 minutes.
With only the pitcher’s mound to tend in order to restart play, both teams waited for the heavier portion of the weather system to pass before continuing the game at 9:15 p.m.
Colten Duttweiler (2 2/3 IP, 3 R, 3 H, 1 BB) didn’t fare much better on the mound for the Salamanders as his performance allowed Asheboro to extend its lead to 8-0.
The delay didn’t cool the Copperheads’ bats as they quickly put up three more runs as Duttweiler followed Bissette and got tagged for three hits that included a passed ball that set up a runner on third to eventually score.
Holly Springs finally put some offense together as Devin Wenzel (1-2) doubled to set himself up to score as Martinez’s double sent him home in the bottom of the fifth.
The Salamanders worked to start a rally as a sacrifice bunt from Shaq Rolle (1-2, 2 R) advanced two runners, Butler and Martinez, to second and third respectively.
However, Sconzo’s pop-up ended the inning as Asheboro carried an 8-1 lead into the sixth.
Thomas Young (1 IP, 3 R, 3 BB) came in for the Salamanders, but quickly hit Asheboro’s Luke Horanski to put him in position to begin another Copperheads scoring drive.
A single and a walk later and the bases were loaded with one out.
The Salamanders pitcher continued to struggle and walked in two runs, and an overthrow brought in another, to push the home side’s deficit to 10 runs.
A pop fly to center finally ended the Copperheads’ inning, with them firmly in possession of an 11-1 lead.
Many more continued to file out of the stands as it seemed that the Salamanders had been bit too deeply by the Copperheads to have any chance of coming back.
However, with the help of West Point’s Jon Rosoff (2 IP, 1 SO) on the mound, Holly Springs started to recover from any effects of venom that it had in its system.
“You can tell he goes to West Point” Ciencin said of the utility player who plays as a fielder and as a pitcher.
“He has that fire in him. He has a competitive edge in him – that will to win.”
Asheboro didn’t score a run for the final three innings while the Salamanders bats started to find openings in the Copperheads’ defense.
A modest offensive spurt helped Holly Springs to score another two runs in the bottom of the seventh.
A ground-out to second from Brian Miller (0-3, 1 RBI) brought Drew Butler (1-2, 2 R) home, while a single to right-center from Sconzo brought Rolle in.
The Salamanders trailed 11-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth.
Could they put together another dramatic late-inning rally like they’ve done in a few of their first six games?
They tried – yes, they tried.
A six-run rally attempt had those still in the stands wiping their eyes to more clearly see and believe what was happening.
They posted run by run and the score rolled upwards accordingly – 11-4, 11-5, 11-6, 11-7, 11-8, 11-9.
Everyone held their breath as Butler was at the plate with two outs and men on second and third.
A single could have brought in both Martinez and Patrick Graham (1-3, 1 RBI), but it was a strikeout that ended it.
Butler slammed his bat down on the plate in disappointment as the Salamanders’ valiant effort to make up for their previous lackluster eight innings wasn’t rewarded.
“You definitely see what we can do offensively,” Cinecin said.
“These guys know what they can do offensively. I know what they can do offensively; our coaches know. So, it’s just a matter of getting’ them to know it and not sittin’ back for the other team to do something (first). We need to be the attackers and get goin’ from the get-go.”
With a day off on Wednesday, everyone on the Holly Springs roster will have time to look back at what could have been, and take to heart their coach’s words in preparation for their next game at home on Thursday against Wilmington.
“As a player, once you step in between the lines, you need a competitive edge in you – the will to win, whatever you want to call it,” Ciencin said.
“We haven’t really seen that out of our guys yet, and that’s what I want. I want to see that fire and get them goin’, and them want to win. Not saying that they don’t want to right now, but they need to show it more. They need to go out for nine innings, 20 innings, whatever it may be. They just need a competitive edge, and that’s kind of what we’re tryin’ to find right now.”