After an 0-4 start to the season, the Holly Springs Salamanders have started to turn the corner. The Salamanders have gone 3-3 since the winless start and provided manager Andre Ciencin plenty of optimism nearly two weeks into the Coastal Plain League season.
“I think we’re taking steps forward, it’s just a matter of getting some wins and getting all the parts in the right order,” Ciencin said a day after Holly Springs fell Thursday 12-10 in Florence, S.C.
That loss to the Red Wolves was the second in a row in which the Salamanders (3-7) produced more than enough runs to win but ultimately came up short. Holly Springs fell 7-6 at home to Asheboro on Friday.
“The last two games we’ve scored 16 runs and don’t have a win to show for it,” Ciencin said. “We’re getting runs across and getting into positions to win.”
Never miss a local story.
Closing Time: The Salamanders have thus far struggled to hold onto leads and close out games. On Friday, Holly Springs scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to grab a 6-5 lead but watched Asheboro come back to win the game in the ninth. The next day, the Salamanders led 8-5 in the bottom of the sixth only to have Florence erupt for a five-run inning. The Red Wolves then broke a 10-10 tie in the bottom of the eighth for the win.
The Salamanders have held a lead in five of their seven losses this year.
“We just need to find the guys that can come in and shut down a game. We haven’t found that yet so we’re just waiting for someone to step up and do that,” Ciencin said. “Chad Sykes (UNC-Greensboro/Voyager Academy) had a pretty good outing on Thursday night. He’s a guy that can come in and pound the strike zone. So there’s definitely some potential there with him but we just need some people to step up and take on that role.”
Hit the Road: The Salamanders will embark on their biggest road swing of the season this week and Ciencin believes it couldn’t come at a better time. Holly Springs will play five road games over a six-day stretch beginning Monday, including their longest trip of the season to Savannah, Ga. on Friday.
“It can definitely help with team bonding and just being around the guys,” Ciencin said about how a road trip can often be the best thing for a team trying to find its footing. “Being on the bus, being in the hotel, it can definitely help us in the long run.”
Free swingin’: Brandon Riley has surfaced as a consistent hitter at the top of the Salamanders’ lineup. The centerfielder is second in the Coastal Plain League with a .438 batting average (14-for- 32) among players with at least 30 at-bats.
“He’s doing a great job. His approach is way beyond his freshman title,” Ciencin said. “He has a good leadoff approach. He attacks fastballs and he’s able to hit them gap to gap. He puts pressure on defense on the bases and he’s definitely an all-around four or five-tool guy that has emerged for us and he’s a sparkplug for our lineup for sure.”
Calling their name: Chris Clare had his biggest day as a Salamander on Saturday despite not even playing in the game. The shortstop from High Point University was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 21st round of the Major League Baseball Draft. Clare, who just finished his junior season at High Point, will forgo his final collegiate season and turn professional, meaning his days as a Salamander are over.
“We’re happy for him. Obviously it hurts to lose an infielder but we’ll find someone else that will be ready to step up and be ready to go in that role. We’re happy for him. It’s definitely an accomplishment,” Ciencin said.
Two players from the 2015 Salamanders team were also taken in the draft on Saturday. Catcher Joey Roach, who graduated from Holly Springs High and now attends Georgia State, was picked up in the 31st round by the Tampa Bay Rays and third baseman Collin Woody (UNC-Greensboro) was selected in the 38th round by Baltimore.
“I think they’re both going to succeed in pro ball and I’m definitely happy to see those guys go,” Ciencin said.
The Week Ahead: Monday, June 13 at Peninsula; Tuesday, June 14 at Petersburg; Wednesday at High Point-Thomasville; Thursday vs. Wilson; Friday at Savannah; Saturday at Wilmington.
Florence 12, Holly Springs 10: The Salamanders put up their biggest offensive output of the young season behind 10 runs and 12 hits. But Holly Springs also committed four errors in the field that contributed to seven unearned runs for the Red Wolves.
Asheboro 7, Holly Springs 6: The Copperheads’ Colin Rosenbaum hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning for a comeback victory.
Holly Springs 4, Edenton 3: Andrew Papp (Clemson/Leesville Road High) retired 16 of the 21 batters he faced and Brandon Riley (UNC) homered and drove in two runs to spring the Salamanders to victory.
Edenton 9, Holly Springs 3: The Steamers hit three home runs and put together a pair of four-run innings in the completion of a previously rained-out game.
Holly Springs 8, Martinsville 3: The Salamanders jumped out to a 7-1 lead after four innings behind a 4-for-4 day from Riley and a solid outing from starting pitcher Joe Williams.