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Can the Wilson Tobs, with or without more help from Mother Nature, lose their way into the 2018 Petitt Cup playoffs?
The dubious situation became more concerted Thursday evening in Fleming Stadium.
Thirsty for victory on the final “Thirsty Thursday,” the Tobs ended their regular-season home schedule with a 6-0 loss to an Edenton Steamers club that came to play.
But despite the fifth consecutive loss, Wilson progressed closer to the playoffs, which begin Sunday.
The Tobs remained atop the North Division standings at 12-9, but their lead shrunk to a mere game against first-half winner Peninsula (9-8). Peninsula’s scheduled division clash with Martinsville was canceled because of more inclement weather — and that situation erased Martinsville’s playoff hopes.
Wilson ends the regular season with road tests Friday and Saturday. Peninsula concludes with a doubleheader against Edenton on Saturday. The Tobs’ foe Saturday is a Martinsville team that has won the last two meetings by a combined 23-3 score.
Teams throughout the 16-team league have dealt with numerous cancellations this week and one more cancellation involving Wilson or Edenton will lock up Wilson’s appearance in the Petitt Cup playoffs. One more win will accomplish the same objective.
Edenton’s only sure scenario is to win its last three games and the Tobs lose their last two.
Wilson, which last won with a six-innings 3-2 outcome against Peninsula on July 23, dropped to below .500 overall (22-23) for the first time since July 15. The Steamers climbed to 10-11 in the division and to 22-25 in all games.
“We’re going (to the playoffs),” insisted Wilson head coach Bryan Hill. “We’re getting prepared; we’ve got to get over that one little speed bump.”
Added starting and losing Tobs pitcher Chris Kernen: “We’re going to make it happen; I’m not worried about that.”
And the upbeat reaction was understandable from Edenton team that wrapped up the season’s series against the Tobs with a 7-5 advantage.
“We’re in it to the end,” exclaimed head coach Russ Burroughs. “These guys are not ready to go home; they want to keep playing. We want the playoffs, the Petitt Cup, a ring!”
“We were ready to play. We knew what was on the line and that this was the biggest game of the year. And we love playing here.”
Despite a delay of nearly 100 minutes following late-afternoon rain, the spirited crowd that included vocal Edenton followers watched the Steamers subdue Wilson with seven strong innings from starting pitcher Jake Miller and a couple of big hits the first three innings.
Miller boosted his record to 5-2, stopping the Tobs on three hits and striking out nine.
“We expect 6-7 innings from him every night and he usually gives us that,” Burroughs commented. “He does it with his off-speed pitches. He’s a competitor; when he makes a mistake, he corrects it the next inning.”
Relievers Matt Gill and Alex Hart, a rising sophomore at Barton College, preserved the shutout with an inning of work each.
The Tobs’ Kernen worked six effective innings, but first baseman Ben Whetstone’s first-inning RBI double and designated hitter Zane Harris’ mammoth solo homer in the third accounted for more than enough Edenton offense.
Wilson’s situation deteriorated in the seventh and eighth innings after Tobs first baseman Caleb Dean hesitated momentarily after fielding left fielder Anthony Warneke’s bouncer in the seventh inning and flipped the baseball too late to pitcher Cody Smith, who was covering first base. The Steamers scored once in the seventh and thrice in the eighth — when Whetstone, Rich Giupo, Tim Bechtold and T.J. Wegmann all singled.
“That’s baseball,” Kernen reasoned with a shrug. “I do the same thing, the same routine before every game. Every day is a new day. You can’t dwell on what has happened. You have to go out and show up for the next game.”
The Tobs wound up with four hits, including a double and single from all-star center fielder Brenton Doyle.
Wilson’s best scoring chance occurred in the bottom of the first inning. The Tobs loaded the bases on Doyle’s double and two walks, but Miller escaped unscathed with his second strikeout of the inning.
“We’re in a little skid offensively,” Hill admitted, “but that’s baseball. We got another solid outing from Chris. We had a bunch of chances, but we’re in an offensive lull right now. We are looking to snap out of it tomorrow (at High Point-Thomasville).
“The guys are still proud, have good attitudes and come to the ballpark to win. We just haven’t been on the good side of a ‘W.’ Everybody is still pleased, happy and positive.”
Added Kernen” “Our one goal is the playoffs. We have two games left and we’re going to make it happen.”