HOLLY SPRINGS, N.C. – Holly Springs Salamanders head coach Andrew Ciencin did what many in organized sports leagues do following a season-ending loss, he played a round of golf.
Before teeing off at Chapel Ridge on Sunday, Ciencin reflected back on his team’s inaugural season in the Coastal Plain League (CPL), and how they wrote the opening chapter in the franchise’s history.
He started with how it ended – a 7-0 loss to the Edenton Steamers as part of a double-header played on Saturday to complete the second and third games of a best-of three series in the 2015 CPL Petitt Cup East Division semifinal.
After losing 4-2 in Game 1 in Holly Springs last Wednesday, Ciencin’s hard-working squad evened the series with a 4-2 win early into the weekend at Historic Hicks Field.
However, the Salamanders didn’t have enough in the tank to keep swinging toe-to-toe with the league’s best team.
“We were just light on starting pitching,” Ciencin said.
“We really didn’t have a set starter for that second game. It (the rest) helped out the bullpen, givin’ it an extra couple of days. I don’t know if it helped us or hurt us, but it was just a tough situation to be in.”
Even considering the circumstances, and trailing 2-1 in Game 2, Holly Springs rallied with runs in the seventh and ninth innings to extend the series to the final game.
“They played well that first game,” Ciencin continued.
“Obviously, Edenton’s a really good team, but they chipped away on some mistakes that they provided. We just did a really good job of gettin’ on base, doin’ what we needed to do, and obviously we put up four (runs), and that was enough.”
While breathing easier and still having a chance to advance further in the playoffs, the third game didn’t start the way Holly Springs needed it to.
A fielding error and the Steamers taking advantage of scoring men they put on base in the first inning placed the Salamanders too far behind, trailing 6-0.
It was a deficit they never recovered from.
“You just can’t fall behind in an elimination game,” Ciencin said.
For the players, such an abrupt end to summer ball meant just as quick a turnaround to return to their respective campuses with the beginning of the school year just around the corner.
“We met with them last night after the game and said our goodbyes as they go back to school,” Ciencin said.
The season ended as quickly as it started when the Salamanders won their first-ever game on the road against Asheboro, a 5-2 decision.
They finished the regular season an even 28-28 and qualified for the playoffs, finishing in fourth place in the East Division standings.
They gave a loyal following of fans (averaging just over 1,400 per game) at the newly constructed North Main Athletic Complex much to cheer about in compiling a 19-10 record there, including a 7-6 opening-night win over, of all teams, Edenton.
With the team’s first season over, the Holly Springs skipper, who will return next year, had already talked with general manager Tommy Atkinson about plans for the coming year.
The N.C. State grad completed his third year in the CPL coaching ranks – his second as a head coach – having coached Forest City in 2014 – and was already putting together the team roster in preparation for his second year in leading the Salamanders.
“Tommy and I have already sat down and talked about next summer,” Ciencin said.
“We actually have some guys lined up for next summer as crazy as that sounds. College coaches like to place their guys early, so they don’t have to worry about it in the Fall. Some guys from this team will be back. We’ll be goin’ all Fall and gettin’ a roster set. We’ll send out emails and give guys (coaches) a call who we know tellin’ them that we’ve got spots open. We’ll just go from there.”
Ready to go for 2016, Ciencin reiterated his appreciation for the work all 39 players who were on the roster throughout the season put in to finish the Salamanders’ historic first-ever season in 2015.
“I was just proud of ‘em,” he said.
“They worked hard all summer. They came out every night. You never saw someone jog down the line. They were always playin’ as hard as they could. That’s hard to do in summer ball because there’s so many games and not many days’ rest. I was proud of ‘em for stickin’ it out ‘till the end, and playin’ hard every night.”