HOLLY SPRINGS, N.C. – It was a tale of two games played in one when the Holly Springs Salamanders beat the two-time defending champion Peninsula Pilots 10-5 in front of 943 in attendance at the North Main Athletic Complex on Thursday.
Having ended a four-game losing streak with a 6-5 win over Morehead City on Tuesday, Holly Springs (12-13) looked to get a game closer to the .500 mark – and did.
With recently named Coastal Plain League (CPL) Pitcher of the Week Sam Mersing (Pitt) on the mound, making his first start since a 4-0 win over Wilson on June 18, it looked like a definite possibility.
Following a scoreless first inning, the Pilots (14-9) managed to get on base and had them loaded until Holly Springs’ defense worked its way out of it.
Offensively, Holly Springs second baseman Robbie Thorburn (UNCW) helped find holes in the Pilots defense throughout the game, finishing 2-4 with five RBIs and scoring a run himself.
Thorburn broke open a scoreless game in the bottom of the third when he hit his first homer of the season, a shot over the right field fence that brought home Josh McLain (2-3, 3 R) and Brian Miller (2-4, 2 R, 1 RBI).
“Today was just one of those days when I got a fastball on a 3-1 count with runners in scoring position,” Thorburn said.
“I was just trying to grab the ball and it got over the fence, so that was good. The next one, with a lefty on the mound, with lefties, you try to stay up the middle and that’s what I did and that would be two more runs on base. So it was a nice day.”
Through four-and-a-half innings, Mersing continued to keep the Pilots off the board with one hit against and four strikeouts.
With Daniel Gooden (1 IP, 2 R, 3 H) on the mound for Peninsula, Thorburn ignited another explosive inning for the Salamanders in the fifth as he once again drove in McLain and Miller to put the Salamanders ahead 5-0.
With dark clouds and rain starting to fall, Peninsula’s Conner Myers (2-5, 2 R, 2 H) took Mersing beyond the left field fence and cut the Pilots’ deficit to three runs with a two-run shot that brought Danny Valdez (1-2, 1 R, 1 H) across the plate before him.
After getting the last out in the top of the sixth, and with a heavy rain falling, the game was stopped as the passing storm surrounded and engulfed the park.
The remaining dozens in the stadium stood on the concourse as numerous passing sheets of rain blew through while lightning strikes lit up the dark sky.
Play eventually resumed 72 minutes later with the Salamanders leading 5-2.
The stormy conditions had subsided and allowed the Pilots to regroup.
Having left the game with six innings and 76 pitches behind him, Mersing finished with four strikeouts as Brad Archer (Missouri State) and then Connor Johnson (Catawba) took over on the mound.
Holly Springs carried its three-run lead into the top of the eighth until the Pilots scored three runs to tie the game 5-5.
“It’s always tough when you’re mentally checked out of a game and come back and be able to win,” Holly Springs coach Andrew Ciencin said.
“I thought we did a great job of putting together at-bats in the eighth. Overall I thought we played really well tonight.”
While Johnson was responsible for three runs on three hits against, he became the game’s eventual winning pitcher thanks to the Salamanders’ tenacity at the plate and along the base paths.
“We’ve been down before,” Thorburn said.
“We’ve come back in a lot of games, so we weren’t stressin’ at all. We were just thinkin’ one at-bat at a time, do whatever you can to get on base, get to the next guys, and let some magic happen.”
And magic did happen.
Holly Springs regained the lead in its half of the inning as DH Joey Roach walked to start it off.
Shaq Rolle then came in to pinch run for him and set up the go-ahead run by stealing second and advancing to third on a subsequent wild pitch.
After Logan Porter walked, Jon Rosoff (2-4, 1 R, 1 H) laid down a squeeze bunt to score Rolle as the Salamanders regained the lead, 6-5.
Peninsula’s fourth pitcher of the night, Dario Santangelo, came in to slow the Salamanders’ momentum after Zach Burke (1-2, 2 1/3 IP, 3 R, 2H, 3 SO) couldn’t.
Holly Springs extended its rally and scored four more runs to lead 10-5.
Johnson then finally grounded the Pilots by striking out two of the final four batters he faced, and completed the win for the Salamanders.
“That’s a tough team and I knew it was gonna’ be even tougher after that rain delay,” Ciencin concluded.
“Mersing did a great job early on to keep them limited to where we had a chance. Our offense I thought did a great job against their pitching.”
Notes: Rosoff played in his final game with the Salamanders as he was headed to Cadet training at West Point in the coming week. To honor his service to the military and his time playing with the team, his teammates allowed him to head to right field by himself to begin the fifth inning, An announcement was then made on his behalf which was followed by a standing ovation from all in attendance.