One look at the Coastal Plain League standings suggests the Holly Springs Salamanders didn’t get off to the start they had hoped for. But a closer examination reveals just how deceiving looks can be.
The Salamanders dropped their first four games of the season last week before finally breaking through with a 6-4 home victory over the Peninsula Pilots on Saturday night. But lost among the rocky start was the fact that Holly Springs lost two of those games in extra innings and brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning of another.
“Two walk-off (losses) in the first four games, you’re right there,” said manager Andrew Ciencin. “But we’re playing good ball and I think we’re really starting to gel together. We’ve definitely had our chances; it’s all about capitalizing on the opportunities that we bring up.”
Holly Springs 6, Peninsula 4: J.T. Rogoszewski (UNC) allowed just one run in seven innings of work and the Salamanders scored three times in the first inning on their way to their first win of the season.
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Morehead City 5, Holly Springs 4 (10): Matt O’Neill hit a two-out RBI double in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Salamanders their second heartbreak in four games.
Morehead City 6, Holly Springs 2: The Salamanders struck out 12 times at the plate and had just two baserunners in the final four innings of play.
Savannah 8, Holly Springs 6: Trailing 8-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning, a late Salamanders rally came up just short. Holly Springs plated a pair of runs in the eighth before scoring twice more in the ninth. The Salamanders then brought the tying run to the plate but a groundout ended the game.
Asheboro 4, Holly Springs 3 (10): Dominic Miles hit a two-out walk-off single in the bottom of the tenth inning to lift Asheboro to victory. Chris Clare (High Point University) belted a three-run home run to account for all of Holly Springs’ runs.
Standing out: Because of the CPL’s use of wood bats, it’s never known which players might emerge as a threat at the plate. It hasn’t taken Dillon Stewart long to adjust.
Stewart, who plays for UNC-Greensboro, has gone 5-for-12 (.417) at the plate with a double, a home run and seven RBI. He has also gone a perfect 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts and has played both the infield and outfield. Stewart batted .335 with 14 home runs for UNC-Greensboro this spring.
Run, run, run: Ciencin established his aggressive baserunning style last year when the Salamanders finished third in the CPL with 118 stolen bases in 56 games. If the first week of games is any indication, this season will be no different. Holly Springs leads the league in both stolen bases (16) and attempts (21) and six different players have swiped a base through the first five games.
“I like putting pressure on the defense. I like guys that can run,” Ciencin said. “We can hit-and-run, we can bunt, we can do a ton of different things with that (speed). So we’re going to stay aggressive.”
Waiting at the ready: Aggressiveness on the base paths isn’t the only similarity to last year’s team. The Salamanders’ bullpen so far has shown the same level of assertiveness as a year ago. In over 21 innings of work, Salamanders relievers have struck out 16 batters while walking only seven and giving up just eight earned runs.
“Our bullpen comes in and pounds the strike zone,” Ciencin said. “I’d much rather see that than guys coming in and walking the world.”
The week ahead: June 6 at Edenton; June 8 at Martinsville; June 9 vs. Edenton; June 10 vs. Asheboro; June 11 at Florence.