Coach Andrew Ciencin enjoyed his first season with the Holly Springs Salamanders so much that he didn’t think twice about returning for a second go-round.
The Salamanders made the playoffs in their inaugural season, were a big hit in the community and Ciencin got to spend the summer at the ballpark, a place the former N.C. State and Coastal Plain League infielder knows best.
Ciencin and the Salamanders will try to replicate last year’s success when Holly Springs digs in for its second season Tuesday in Asheboro. Holly Springs’ home opener is Wednesday when the Salamanders play host to the Savannah Bananas.
“To be able to go out there every day and help these guys achieve their goals, it’s pretty special to me so I figured I’d grind it out for another summer and just have fun with it,” Ciencin said.
Who’s on first?
As is often the case in the CPL, Ciencin will have just two days to conduct practice with his team before the Salamanders take the field for the season opener. Salamanders players are just wrapping up their respective collegiate seasons and then making the move to Holly Springs for the summer. Most will meet each other for the first time on Sunday, which presents Ciencin with his first challenge: building a lineup within 48 hours of meeting his new players.
“Last year I had a really good group of guys and they just worked hard and that’s all you ask for,” Ciencin said. “(General Manager) Tommy (Atkinson) does a great job of putting guys together, but I definitely do have some say in what I’m kind of looking for. We have different connections so we kind of hit on all the connections we have to see who’s available. You get two days to put a whole team together and kind of know what you’re doing. It’s a lot of focus on (batting practice) the first couple of days to see how guys handle the (wood) bat.”
Not everyone is a stranger, though. Ciencin expects up to five players will return from last year’s 28-28 team that lost a best-of-three playoff series to the Edenton Steamers.
And a few of those players who are returning were integral parts of that success. Drew Butler finished second on the team with a .301 batting average while Mike Sconzo collected 18 hits in his 24 starts. Pitcher Chandler Sanburn posted a 1.76 ERA and an opposing batting average of just .154 in 41 innings of work.
“There’s definitely a new group coming in, but we have a couple guys that have been here and know the ropes and know what I’m looking for,” Ciencin said.
Eight players have ties to the Triangle.
Sconzo and infielder Conlin Hughes are graduates of Holly Springs High School while pitchers Luke Emmett and Andrew Papp hail from Leesville Road. Four players – pitchers Rodney Hutchinson, Cody Roberts and J.T. Rogoszewski along with utility man Brandon Riley – play for North Carolina.
Fourteen of the 32 rostered players are from North Carolina and represent schools such as Campbell, UNC Greensboro, East Carolina, Davidson, High Point, Wingate and William Peace.
Faces from all over
Eighteen different states are represented by either the hometowns or colleges of the Salamander players. They come from as far west as California, as far north as Rhode Island and as far south as Florida.
Holly Springs may have the distinction of being the smartest team in the league.
Pitchers Drew Scott (Yale), Jeff Gottesman (Bucknell) and Dante Bosnic (Brown) all give a boost to the team’s overall IQ. Pitcher Matthew Eagle attends Virginia Military Academy.
The Salamanders will play a 56-game regular season in a stretch of 70 days, a span that includes a three-day all-star break. They will travel as far as Savannah, Ga. (310 miles), Lexington, S.C. (230 miles), Forest City, N.C. (220 miles) and Hampton, Va. (212 miles).
Spectators and players alike will be treated to some additional luxury at the North Main Athletic Complex this summer. Large fans have been installed to help spectators beat the heat. And after the Salamanders played all of last season with an unfinished clubhouse, this year’s team will enjoy a finished home away from home.
(All home games at 7pm unless otherwise noted)
May 31 at Asheboro
June 1 vs. Savannah; 2 vs. Morehead City; 3 at Morehead City; 4 vs. Peninsula; 6 at Edenton; 8 at Martinsville; 9 vs. Edenton; 10 vs. Asheboro; 11 at Florence; 13 at Peninsula; 14 at Petersburg; 15 at High Point-Thomasville; 16 vs. Wilson; 17 at Savannah; 18 at Wilmington; 19 vs. Petersburg (4:00); 20 vs. Fayetteville; 21 at Fayetteville; 22 vs. Wilson; 23 at Wilmington; 24 vs. Wilmington; 25 vs. Martinsville; 28 vs. Forest City; 29 at Wilson; 30 vs. Fayetteville.
July 1 at Morehead City; 2 vs. High Point-Thomasville; 3 at Morehead City; 4 at High Point-Thomasville; 6 at Wilson; 7 vs. Gastonia; 8 vs. Petersburg; 9 at Edenton; 13 vs. Edenton; 14 at Wilmington; 15 at Savannah; 16 at Fayetteville; 17 vs. High Point-Thomasville (4:00); 18 vs. Wilmington; 20 vs. Wilson; 21 at Petersburg; 22 vs. Morehead City; 23 at Peninsula; 25 at Forest City; 26 vs. Asheboro; 28 at Fayetteville; 29 vs. Peninsula; 30 at Asheboro.
August 1 vs. Fayetteville; 2 at Wilson; 3 vs. Morehead City; 4 vs. Forest City; 5 at Martinsville; 6 vs. Wilmington; 8 vs. Martinsville.