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Tobs win key clash with playoff implications

In his farewell performance, designated hitter Mason Sykes established himself as a key cog in a 12-5 Wilson Tobs Coastal Plain League summer league baseball victory with heavy playoffs implications Sunday evening at Fleming Stadium. 

Sykes thrilled the announced attendance of 880 that turned out for the East Division clash and the “Christmas in July” promotion when he led off the bottom of the first inning with his ninth 2022 home run and wound up 2 for 4 with three RBIs and two runs scored in his final outing before departing for home in the Chicago area.

Joining Sykes as major contributors were second baseman Trey Paige, right fielder Jacob McCaskey, first baseman Matt Schark and shortstop Efry Cervantes as Wilson matched its season high of 16 hits and slugged three homers to boost its CPL-leading total to 48. The Tobs also stole a season-high nine bases — including seven in the first three innings.

“We picked up on some (Holly Springs) pitch tendencies,” Tobs head coach Harry Markotay disclosed. “We have a bunch of athletes that can really run. It was good to see the guys come out in full force all the away around.”

Sykes, who wound up batting over .300 and was brilliant in right field in his first season with the Tobs and in the CPL, described his final game as “bittersweet.”

“I definitely don’t want to leave this group,” Sykes explained. “I’ve never had a better group to play summer ball with. These guys were different; we morphed together right away.”

Besides hitting over .300, Sykes was happy his walks increased from his spring season at the University of Toledo but admitted he experienced little success in cutting down on strikeouts. Only hamstring issues aggravated his outfield play.

“I am happy with the way I performed,” he assessed. “I was added in at the last second and, a couple of days later, I found myself driving to North Carolina. I learned a lot about myself. With the way I played this summer, I am looking forward to the fall. If I play summer ball again next year, (Wilson) is where I want to be.”

After splitting a doubleheader at Tri-City (Virginia) on Friday, the Tobs entered Sunday’s game with a half-game edge against Holly Springs in the chase for the East Division’s second — and final — playoff spot. Morehead City is also advancing after winning both halves in the East Division.

With five games remaining, the Tobs, at 24-18, lead Holly Springs by 1 1/2 games. The Salamanders stand 23-20. The victory enabled Wilson to clinch the season’s series with a 5-2 advantage. The final 2022 game between the Tobs and Salamanders is scheduled for Wednesday at Holly Springs.

“This was a huge game for us,” commented Markotay. “We needed the guys to play like they did tonight; it’s a good start to the week. We have to keep on moving forward.”

The outcome didn’t leave Salamanders head coach Brian Rountree in a talkative mood.

“It’s part of baseball,” he said. “All of them are big games now. One is not bigger than the other. We’ve still got a week of them.”

The Tobs scored first and never trailed after Sykes, the lead-off htter, hammered a three balls, no strikes pitch from starting and losing Holly Springs pitcher Derek Potts out of the park.

“You can’t expand and you’ve got to stay yourself,” Sykes noted of swinging at instead of taking the 3-0 offering. “I’m not one that usually likes to swing 3-0. But as the pitch was thrown, it was in the zone and I decided why not take a swat. I was seeing it good and I had confidence. (The blast of 425-plus feet) felt really good off the bat.”

Right fielder Jacob McCaskey connected for his fourth homer, a two-run shot, in the fourth inning and, in the same inning, first baseman Matt Schark walloped his CPL-leading 10th homer — another shot of 425-plus feet.

Schark wound up 3 for 5 with three RBIs and two runs scored. McCaskey went 3 for 4 with three RBIs. Shortstop Efry Cervantes contributed a 2-for-4 effort with a double and two runs scored. Second baseman Trey Paige banged out four hits, including a double, in five trips.

Paige notched his second four-hit game of the season. He was denied a 5-for-5 showing with a bouncer to second base in the seventh.

“It was only on my mind because my teammates kept talking about it,” Paige commented of the five-hit opportunity. I was trying to have a good at-bat. Even then, I was just trying to help the team.

“The season is coming to an end and the summer is coming to an end. We’re just trying to have fun playing a kid’s game, but it’s nice to see some success. This was a game we needed to win. The lineup was consistent on offense throughout the game, and that’s what I like to see the most.”

Indeed, Wilson piled up a 7-0 lead after two innings. The margin stretched to 10-0 with three runs in the fourth. The Tobs kept attacking, adding their final two runs in the seventh.

Wilson’s starting left-handed pitcher Derrick Carter blanked the Salamanders until the sixth. He was lifted in favor of right-hander Joey Mazzetti after facing two batters in the sixth. With the aid of an errorless defense, Carter (2-0) spaced nine hits and two walks while striking out four. He worked out of jams in the second and fifth innings.

Mazzetti, in his second appearance, lasted until two outs in the eighth. Jaren Washington, a 6-foot-7 left-hander, came on to finish — retiring the only four batters he faced. Mazzetti walked the bases loaded in the eighth, and the Salamanders capitalized with a three-run homer off the bat of No. 9 hitter, Nathan Humphreys.

Shortstop Luke Hoefner batted 3 for 3 for Holly Springs and right fielder Nate Carriere wound up 3 for 5. The Salamanders totaled 10 hits.

Now, the Tobs are left with three games in Fleming Stadium (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) and a pair on the road.

“We have to keep going out there and doing our thing,” Markotay challenged. We’re going to try to win every pitch, every inning.”

Sykes wished his teammates well and assured: “They have the talent to make it to the playoffs.”

Score by innings:

Holly Springs  000 001 040–5

Wilson         430 030 02x–12

WP-Derrick Carter (2-0) 5 IP, 9 H, 1 R 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO. LP-Derek Potts 1 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO.

LEADING HITTERS — Holly Springs: Luke Hoefner 3-3, RBI; Nathan Humphreys 1-3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R; Nate Carriere 3-5; Brett Callahan 1-3, 2 B, 2 R. Wilson: Trey Paige 4-5, 2B, 3 R; Mason Sykes 2-4, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R; Jacob McCaskey 3-4, HR, 3 RBI; Matt Schark 3-5, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R; Efry Cervantes 2-4, 2B, 2 R.

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