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A week ago, the Wilson Tobs owned a share of the Coastal Plain League North Division lead.
The Tobs haven’t won since and aspirations of the first-half division title and a berth in the Petitt Cup playoffs continued to tumble with a 6-5 loss to the Fayetteville SwampDogs in the first game of a doubleheader in Fleming Stadium on Sunday evening.
The second seven-inning contest was still in progress at press time.
Despite a late three-run home run from right fielder Carson Freeman, Wilson saw its skid reach five games and its record drop below .500 at 9-10.
Following the first game, the Tobs dropped to 3 1/2 games behind first-place Peninsula with only five games remaining before the first half ends with the June 30th games. Wilson was coming off a 5-1 loss at front-running Peninsula on Saturday evening.
Perhaps, Freeman’s blast that cut a 6-2 deficit to 6-5 in the sixth inning depicted his team’s never-quit attitude.
“We’re going to win the first half before we worry about the second half,” Freeman declared in a brief interview between games Sunday.
Freeman’s blast to right-center field sailed over the wall after SwampDogs left-handed reliever Logan Carter issued a walk to designated hitter Kevin McGowan and yielded a double to left fielder Caleb Dean.
“I was trying to hit a fly ball and pick up one run,” Freeman said. “I was hoping (the home run) would spark something, but we came up a little short.”
Right-hander Jared Lembcke relieved Carter and promptly put out the spark. Lembcke got the final two outs in the sixth and retired the Tobs in order in the seventh to notch his first save and preserve the win for starting right-hander Michael Hendricks, who limited Wilson to three hits the first five innings.
“Just shut down the momemtum,” Lembcke described his assignment. “I just had to come in and throw strikes.”
In the seventh, the Tobs hit a pair of shots — with center fielder Brenton Doyle lining out to first base and third baseman Drew Brooks slamming a fly ball near the wall in the deepest part of center field — where center fielder A.J. Hrica circled the ball and made the catch while on his knees. A strikeout ended the opener.
“I was confident my guys would be there to catch the ball,” Lembcke expressed. “I just had to throw strikes, make them hit it and let my defense take care of it.”
The SwampDogs never trailed after tagging starting Tobs pitcher Josh Arnold for five unearned runs in the third. The first two SwampDogs scored on an infield throwing error and the last three raced home on third baseman Tyler Shuck’s double. Arnold, after two strong innings, was plagued by three third-inning walks. First baseman Jay Hayes added an RBI single in the fifth.
Wilson’s first two runs came in the third. First baseman Ben Faso and second baseman Jacob Hester rapped back-to-back doubles. Doyle walked and, with one out, Hester scored on McGowan’s groundout.
“We’re hitting balls hard,” Freeman declared, “but they’re just not finding holes. That’s baseball.”