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Improved hitting and OK defense propelled the 2019 Wilson Tobs to not only a second straight successful season but to the same destination as last summer — a win away from playing in the Petitt Cup playoff finals for the still-elusive Coastal Plain League championship.
But along the way, the Tobs added to their 23-year history by winning both halves of the four-team North Division for the first time.
Directed by head coach Bryan Hill and assistants Kramer Sneed and Harry Markotay, Wilson stumbled to first-half supremacy but triumphed in “must” games the final week to claim the second-half top finish.
In the postseason, the Tobs conquered the Peninsula Pilots to repeat as official North Division champions. Last season, Wilson also defeated Peninsula for the North Division crown — by a 4-3 margin.
And for the second consecutive season, the Tobs drew Morehead City in the semifinals. Morehead City, the 2018 CPL champion and king of the East Division, prevailed 4-1 and advanced into the Petitt Cup best-of-three finals against the Macon (Georgia) Bacon.
Ironically, the season-long strength, hitting, faltered in the biggest game. The Tobs were limited to four hits by Marlins pitchers and struck out 17 times. Indeed, Wilson didn’t force the Morehead City defense to make many plays.
Neither did the Tobs help themselves by committing four errors.
The adage lives that good pitching and defense beat good hitting in this instance.
Nonetheless, the Tobs exited with a 30-22 record, notching their most wins since the 2016 season.
And as baseball jargon goes these days: “The boys could rake.” The entertainment level escalated.
Including the playoffs, Wilson hitters slugged a franchise-record 46 home runs, with catcher Shamoy Christopher and outfielder Hunter Gore each belting seven.
The Tobs compiled a .265 batting average, deadlocking for seventh in the 16-team league. Their solid .370 on-base percentage tied them for seventh and a healthy .410 slugging percentage ranked fifth.
Wilson averaged 6.1 runs per outing, while allowing 5.4.
First baseman and designated hitter Michael Calamari posted the top batting average of .364, but did not have enough at-bats to qualify for the CPL batting championship. He would have been near the top.
Chris Meyers, who swung a potent bat down the stretch, batted .304 while Christopher wound up at .300 and slugged at a torrid .600 clip.
Chris Avant hit .299, Kevin Jordan .294, Jared Carr .287 and Nick Rose .287.
Carr shared fifth with 26 stolen bases, while Christopher and Gore deadlocked for 15th with seven homers. Meyers finished 20th in the batting race. Gore tied for 14th with 35 RBIs.
The batting order of De’Andre Pitts, Carr, Christopher, Meyers, DeShawn Lookout, Avant, Calamari, Gore and Jordan became formidable the second half. Rose, Reese Farmer and Coleman Sawyer also contributed. Arguably, the unsuspecting strength lay at the bottom of the order with Gore and Jordan.
Tobs pitchers were not without sharp performances, but inconsistency among the starters and relievers marked their plight.
Also, the pitch count resulted in starters rarely pitching more than six innings and, equally as rare, was a reliever working more than one inning. Dependency and defined roles were never there.
A high-water mark was the mound staff yielding 200 walks in 50 regular-season games — the fourth-lowest number in the CPL. The 418 strikeouts was ninth best and the 5.10 earned run average merited a 11th-place showing.
Nick Hollas, Nate Imig and reliever Taylor Soper led the Tobs with four regular-season wins, deadlocking for 7th in the CPL. Soper added a win in the playoffs.
Hollas, a right-hander, emerged the ace and his situation in the playoffs hurt. Hollas drew the opening-round start against Peninsula, but worked only two innings before inclement weather suspended the game until the next day. Hollas did not pitch the following day.
Hill indicated Hollas would draw the start Tuesday night at Morehead City. Again, he did not pitch.
Defensively, the Tobs could make the plays and fielded an exceptional outfield.