HOLLY SPRINGS, N.C. – The Holly Springs Salamanders beat the Wilmington Sharks 5-2 in front of a crowd of 1,232 in attendance at the North Main Athletic Complex on Thursday.
Lefthander Michael Elwell (4 IP, 1-0, 2 H, 7 SO) earned the win for the Salamanders (4-4), while Collin Woody came in final relief to earn the save as a cadre of five hurlers contributed to the effort throughout.
Devin Wenzel (3 H, 2 R) and Xyruse Martinez (3 H, 1 R, 1 RBI) each went 3-for-4 at the plate to help generate the runs needed for Holly Springs, and included additional support from Nick Hernandez (2-4, 1 R) and Will Nance (2-4, 1 RBI) to help the team end it’s recent two-game losing skid.
Jeffrey Johnstone (6 ½ IP, 12 R , 5 H, 6 S) absorbed the loss for Wilmington (4-3), while Sam Foy (2-4, 1 RBI) was the offensive bright spot for the Sharks.
“That’s exactly what we’re lookin’ for,” Holly Springs coach Andrew Ciencin said.
“We were the attacker tonight, and that’s what I asked them to be.”
Coming off an 11-9 loss to Asheboro on Tuesday, Ciencin wanted his players to do just one thing – compete.
It seemed that the postgame discussion he gave them with that theme in mind sunk in, but not before the players took advantage of a day off on Wednesday to re-energize.
“During the summer I want them to relax – its’ a grind,” Ciencin said.
“Days off are few and far between. I would like them to relax, hang out with each other, get to know one another because I think that team chemistry helps when you’re playin’. Get a workout in early in the morning, then if they wanna’ go sit by a pool, go ahead sit by the pool. I want them just to relax and kind of get away from baseball, then the next day we gotta’ come back and get their focus back.”
With Tuesday’s loss behind them, a fresher outlook resulted in the Salamanders producing a 12-hit, five-run effort that ended the Sharks’ recent four-game win streak.
“We can’t wait for something to happen,” Ciencin continued.
“We have to be the guys who create the intensity, the atmosphere that we’re goin’ out and just attacking them. I think we did a great job of that tonight.”
For starting pitcher Andrew Wantz (1 IP, 1 R, 1 SO), his time on the mound was cut short when it appeared that the UNC-Greensboro product from Holly Springs strained his back, and was replaced after walking a Sharks batter, Joe Bialkowski, to start the second inning.
Elwell, fresh off playing in the NCAA Division II National Championship game with Catawba last week, took to the mound.
Though not in the game, Wantz eventually got tagged with an earned run against as Wilmington’s Sam Foy eventually recorded the RBI with a hit off Elwell to put the game’s first run on the board.
Trailing 1-0 into their half of the inning, the Salamanders’ bats came alive to produce three runs.
Holly Springs held onto its 3-1 lead until the top of the sixth when Elwell’s teammate, pitcher Connor Johnson (2 IP, 1 ER, 4 SO), got into some trouble that allowed Wilmington to cut its deficit to one.
Wenzel then got the crowd excited in the bottom of the seventh when his standup double advanced Hernandez to third.
Martinez then drove Hernandez in and the Salamanders led 4-2 with runners remaining on first and third.
Holly Springs added another run when Martinez got caught in a rundown between first and second.
What looked like a definite out actually turned into a scoring opportunity when Sharks first baseman Alex Destino decided to try to throw Wenzel out while running towards home.
The ball went sailing over catcher Ben Connor’s glove and Wenzel crossed the plate unchallenged while Martinez attempted to gain third on the play.
He didn’t make it as the throw beat him to the bag.
With a 5-2 lead intact, Chris Williams (1 IP, 1 BB) took to the mound in the eighth for Holly Springs before Woody came in to shut the door on the Sharks in the ninth.
“I think our bullpen did a fantastic job of comin’ in,” Ciencin said.
“Two guys (Elwell, Johnson) whom we just got today, threw them right into the fire, and I thought they answered their calling really well.”
Notes: While Johnson and Elwell suited up and saw action in their first Coastal Plain League (CPL) game of the season with Holly Springs, Ciencin noted that additional players would help round out the roster a bit more by early next week. Robbie Thorburn (UNC-Wilmington) a Raleigh native who played at Cardinal Gibbons is expected to join the team, as are N.C. State’s Tommy DeJuneas and Josh McLain. All three should be ready to play on Tuesday according to Ciencin. As a result of the roster additions, conditional players Thomas Young (P), Patrick Graham (IF), and Daniel Calabretta (IF) will eventually be reassigned to other CPL rosters as needed…An nice touch before the game was seeing each Salamanders starter standing with a young fan in their position on the field during the playing of the national anthem.