On June 12, East Carolina freshman pitcher Cam Colmore stood under the heat of the 84-degree Texas sun, facing five batters in the deciding game of the NCAA’s Lubbock Super Regionals.
Four days later, he stood under the lights of North Main Athletic Complex in Holly Springs, again facing five batters but, this time, for the Holly Springs Salamanders of the Coastal Plain League.
The Pirates’ loss to Texas Tech marked the end of the road for a surprising postseason run that pushed the team to the verge of a College World Series berth. For Colmore, however, it only marked a hairpin turn.
The Winterville native was among three ECU players – including junior first baseman Bryce Harman and redshirt freshman catcher Jake Washer – committed to joining the Salamanders, a summer league team for college players.
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But, because of the Pirates’ surge through June, the college season didn’t end when they had planned, and the Salamanders were already two weeks into their campaign by the time the Super Regionals concluded.
“It was a little weird,” Washer said. “We came in and they were already settled. But I was able to ... feel at home right away, (and) being able to play my first game back was a big step because I had to travel that day.”
Washer did more than play in his first game back: He singled in his second-ever Coastal Plain League at-bat and scored a run in Holly Springs’ 6-4 loss to the Wilson Tobs on June 16. Colmore also made an appearance that night, tossing a scoreless seventh inning.
Five days later, Harman made his Salamanders debut, also singling and scoring a run in an 8-3 win over the Fayetteville Swampdogs.
The trio’s immediate success upon joining the team made Salamanders coach Andrew Ciencin think their run through the NCAA tournament made their integration into summer baseball smoother.
“They came into the season after seeing live pitching and hitters too,” Ciencin said. “It might’ve been an easier transition (for them) than for some of the guys that hadn’t been playing for two or three weeks before the season. And summer ball is a lot easier when you know people – it just makes you more comfortable.”
It wasn’t that way for Washer – because of his redshirt, he hadn’t faced competitive pitching in more than a year – but it was for the others. And the group of teammates haven’t taken long to capitalize on their familiarity with each other.
Colmore and Harman are living together with a local host family, Colmore and Washer sometimes team up as a pitcher-catcher combination and Harman said he has tried to mentor the others.
“They’re my good buddies even though they were just freshmen,” Harman said. “Washer was playing first base when I got here and he’s not used to playing over there a lot, but he just asked me for some pointers. I’m just trying to help any way I can.”
As of Friday, Harman is batting .222 with seven runs in 11 appearances and Washer has a .239 average with 8 RBIs in 13 games. On the mound, Colmore didn’t allow an earned run until this fifth appearance and boasts a 1.74 ERA and nine strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings pitched.
Those solid numbers have pleased ECU coach Cliff Godwin, who helped coordinate the assignments to Holly Springs and checks in every Monday for updates. Godwin said he wanted Colmore and Washer to get more playing time to expedite their development and Harman to get out of his comfort zone.
“Bryce didn’t have the spring that we were looking for, and we wanted him to work on some things to get ready for his senior year,” Godwin said. “We have a really close-knit group of guys ... and those guys are back taking summer school classes and lifting weights, so for him to be out on his own away from his friends I think will be good for him. I think it’s also good for Cam and Washer that Bryce is an older guy.”
Of the three, however, Colmore has been arguably the biggest standout performer so far, and Ciencin said he hopes to transition Colmore into a starter’s role as the season progresses.
“From a bullpen standpoint, Cam has come in and been ‘that guy’ for us,” Ciencin said. “He didn’t throw much all year, so I wanted to get him innings out of the bullpen first, get his confidence up from seeing live batters. We’ll transition him into a starter role if need be. If he continues the way he is, that’s definitely a very good possibility.”
Colmore said his brief stint pitching in front of thousands at the Super Regional was a thrilling moment, but his relatively limited workload in the college season as a whole – he tossed only 11 innings all year (with a 1.64 ERA and 2-0 record) – nevertheless kept his body well-rested for the summer.
And 60 feet away behind the plate, Washer’s glove is frequently waiting for Colmore’s delivery, as the two freshmen classmates during the school year have both enjoyed regular playing time with the Salamanders.
“With catching Cam, I already know everything he’s thrown through the bullpen,” Washer said. “It’s cool playing with (my ECU teammates), because we all know things about each other that other people don’t know – mannerisms and the things they do on the field and the funny things about them.”
He’s not sharing, however, what those funny things are – the trio of Pirates-turned-Salamanders, late arrival and all, just have to keep some stories to themselves.