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In recent days, Mother Nature hasn’t been kind to the Wilson Tobs.
In a week’s time, four of the Tobs’ last five games have been canceled or called early due to rain — as the team traveled the state by bus and back on at least two occasions without ever picking up a ball or bat.
“You can’t really control the weather,” said first baseman Michael Calamari, who recently joined the team from Dartmouth. “So you do what you can and just play when you can play.”
Thursday night at Fleming Stadium posed a new opportunity, though, with blue skies, sparse clouds and what looked like a night free of rain to welcome in the Fayetteville SwampDogs. That lasted until the eighth inning, when the bottom fell out and the Wilson field could no longer stave off the rain. After a short delay, the umpire had seen enough of the muck on the field and waved his arms, shutting the door on the game and securing the Tobs an 8-4 victory, albeit early.
“I’m never a fan of getting rained out, I like playing baseball,” head coach Bryan Hill said. “At least we got a complete game in, it counts. But that’s just part of being in eastern North Carolina.”
Hill said one positive of so many rainouts has been saving arms. On Thursday, recently joined Illinois State closer Jacob Gilmore made his Tobs debut and got the start — as his summer goal is to lengthen out to be ready to start next season for the Redbirds.
Through three innings, he had a solid first showing — giving up just one hit, no runs and two walks, while striking out five. Then behind him, the bats started to get hot. In the bottom of the third, a leadoff single from Kevin Jordan and a walk by Corrigan Bartlett set a four-run inning in motion. A sacrifice fly by Drew DeVine, and singles from Deshawn Lookout, Hunter Gore and Michael Calamari ensured the Tobs were well on their way to making the cool, dry night worth it.
“That’s what we’re looking for out of a starter, to get us going, to get a little momentum,” Gore said. “The good thing is the hitters came behind him and backed him up and he was able to pitch a little more confident.”
Behind the solid arm of Gilmore, the team took over. Even as Gilmore did not return for the fourth inning — he’s on a strict regimen of 60 pitches — there was enough cushion to survive struggles from Josh Sieglitz, who replaced him and struggled with four walks in his first inning. Despite issues with location, Sieglitz escaped without any more damage than a two-run home run that launched from the plate in between the Thomas Law outfield wall and Subway foul pole, disappearing into the night.
Then the Tobs lengthened out their lead again in the bottom half of the inning. A fly out and a double from Gore that streaked across the right-field line and into the corner brought home three more Wilson runs. Gore said that striking out early in the game reset him and led him to giving his team the hardest-hit ball of the night.
“The first at bat didn’t go how I wanted,” Gore said. “I went up there kind of guessing, so that got me off track. After that I started slowing it down and seeing it better and I think I started to do that and hit the pitches I was looking for.”
Fayetteville (6-5) scored two more runs the rest of the way, but by the time the rain fell hard, it was too late for the team to come back.Though a complete game was not meant to be on Thursday, the Tobs still extended their record to 7-1 and look ahead to drier days.
But all the rain might underscore trouble ahead, in spite of winning four in a row. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, three doubleheaders await the Tobs to catch up to the schedule of games they’re supposed to be up to by now.
“I’m trying to look at the brighter side of it though,” Hill said. “We have available arms because of all these rainouts, so we’re ready for all the doubleheaders, but then again playing six games in three days is always a struggle. We’re looking it as an obstacle we’re trying to tackle.”