The Holly Springs Salamanders saw their inaugural season come to a close Friday following a 7-0 loss to the Edenton Steamers in the opening round of the Petitt Cup Playoffs. The Salamanders, which lost Game 1 4-2 and won Game 2 by the same score, dropped the best-of-three series 2-1.
Despite the loss, the first season of Coastal Plain League baseball in one of North Carolina's fastest-growing communities was a smashing success.
The Salamanders went 28-28 (19-10 at home, 9-18 on the road) and were one of eight teams in the 15-team league to qualify for the postseason thanks to a 16-12 second-half record.
Standout performers: Outfielder Brian Miller (North Carolina) rose to the surface as not only one of the best offensive players on the team, but the CPL. Miller was second in the league with a .389 batting average while leading the league in hits (77), on-base percentage (.476) and stolen bases (38, in 49 attempts).
Third baseman Collin Woody (UNC Greensboro) drilled 11 home runs, good for second in the CPL, and led the league with 50 RBIs.
Chandler Sanburn (Wichita State) compiled an ERA of just 1.76 in 41 innings on the mound. Sanburn won his only two decisions as opponents batted just .154 against the right-hander.
Connor Johnson (Catawba College) amassed a 5-1 record with a 3.59 ERA.
Team performance: As a team, Holly Springs finished fifth in runs scored (296) and hits (481).
The Salamanders were third in the league in stolen bases with 118 (on 152 attempts) and the pitching staff led the CPL in pickoffs (16) while allowing the fifth-fewest runs (274) and ranking sixth in ERA (4.30). Defensively, Holly Springs committed the third-fewest errors (63).
What worked: Coach Andrew Ciencin cited his team’s hustle and heart as a big reason for success.
“It was one of the hardest-working groups I’ve ever been a part of,” said Ciencin, who played four years at N.C. State and won two Petitt Cup Championships while playing for the Forest City Owls.
“You never saw someone not run out a ground ball or a fly ball. That’s all you can ask for in summer ball. It’s 56 games on top of their spring 56 so for them to come out here with the enthusiasm they had, it was impressive to watch.”
Needed improvement: Inconsistency, particularly in the bullpen and at the plate, was a stumbling block. Relief pitchers accounted for 11 of the 28 losses while the offense was held to five or fewer hits 15 times.
“Our bullpen throughout the season was kind of inconsistent. We never had a guy that we knew could go in and just be the guy for us,” Ciencin said. “Wayne Wages came in late and ended up being that guy. But I think we were just up and down as players all summer.”
Team leaders: Ciencin tabbed four players that emerged as leaders.
Devin Wenzel: “I had him last summer on my summer team so I knew what kind of guy he was. He’s a good clubhouse guy and always looking to make someone else better.”
Holly Springs native Michael Sconzo: “He played such a big role in just being there and he’s a pretty good ballplayer too.”
Holly Springs native Joey Roach: “He’s a guy that came on late offensively and he’s just a guy that never complained, never said a word. He just came out here and did his job.”
Collin Woody. “His offensive stats are pretty impressive. Collectively as a team, they were a pretty good group.”
Player turnover: Unlike college baseball, players in the CPL can come and go throughout the season, a twist that is equally unique and challenging.
“We lost (Sam) Mersing, Sanburn, Johnson. That’s our top three starters right there,” Ciencin said. “Losing them going into the playoffs hurts but there’s always that next-guy-up mentality. You have to take what you can get from whoever (you can). Ultimately, it’s our job to get guys ready for their upcoming season and I think we’ve done a good job of that but it is tough for us.”
Versatility: The Salamanders were rife with utility players, affording Ciencin plenty of lineup options.
“It gives us options. It definitely helps putting guys in the lineup where they can play multiple positions and they feel comfortable at it.”