HOLLY SPRINGS, NC- The beep of the ticket scanner, the crack of the bat, and the murmur of the crowd – a few of the sounds we have learned not to take for granted – returned to Ting Stadium in 2021. After the Salamanders opted out of the 2020 season, it was time to get back to baseball.
Before the players reported, off-field business needed to be ironed out. It was announced that Kevin Soine would return as the Salamanders’ skipper. Soine, fresh off a shortened season championship with the Macon Bacon, was ready to return to Holly Springs to recreate the magic he experienced in the previous season.
Beginning the 2021 season, the Salamanders would have a new affiliate team, the South Wake Shakes. The Shakes would feature local North Carolina talent from numerous junior colleges across the state, with many hailing from the Triangle area. The Shakes and Salamanders would face off in nine exhibition contests throughout the summer, often concluding with a homerun derby and kids running the bases.
The Salamanders took the field inside Ting Stadium for the first time in 663 days against a new CPL opponent, the Tri-City Chili Peppers. As the rain came down in Wake County, the Salamanders poured on the runs in their first home game in over a year, winning against the new franchise 11-8.
A hot start to the first half of the summer saw the Salamanders fighting for the first-place spot along with the Morehead City Marlins and Peninsula Pilots. An early three-game winning streak saw Marek Chlup (North Greenville University) receive the Coastal Plain League’s Hitter of the Week honors for week two. In the seven-day stretch, Chlup batted an astonishing .426 in his 13 at-bats. In the six games played, he tallied three homeruns, two triples, two doubles, and a lone single. Chlup was the first Holly Springs slugger since 2018 to receive “Hitter of the Week” honors.
An up and down finish to the first half saw the Salamanders finish in third place with a record of 13-9. Hunter Stevens (University of Mount Olive) had five saves at the halfway point of the year. Stevens was chasing the record of his Trojan teammate Kyle Davis (2019), who had nine.
Pressing the fast forward button on the season, the Shakes and Salamanders would face off in an Independence Day showdown in front of a near capacity crowd at Ting Stadium. It was Alex Barker (Monmouth University) who broke the 1-1 tie late with a solo shot out of the park, and onto Main Street behind the stadium. The 1,400+ fans in attendance were treated to a nail-bitter on the Nation’s birthday.
In the second half of the season the Salamanders hosted two weekday baseball camps for children ages 7-12. Over 150 campers received instruction from players, coaches, and staff while getting to experience life as a Salamander. Baseball fundamentals, sportsmanship, and what it means to be a good teammate, were key takeaways during each camp.
The second half of the season was a roller coaster ride. A three-game losing skid forced Holly Springs to play catch-up with the division leaders. Ben Miller (University of Pennsylvania) rode a team-high 11 game hitting streak. Miller would finish the season with eight homeruns, the most out the Salamanders’ 50 on the year. At one point during an 11-game stretch, the Salamanders were not able to put consecutive wins together.
Holly Springs, while being mathematically eliminated from the Pettit Cup Playoffs, finished the season on a high note, tying a season high record of three straight wins. With players starting to report back to school for fall practices and strength training, Noah Takac’s (North Greenville University) number was called to make his first start of the season, in game 42 of 44. Takac had been used as a middle reliever all season, but on July 29th, Takac pitched all nine innings against the Marlins, the only complete game of the season. He struck out nine and only allowed one run. It was on the next night that Stevens collected his ninth, and final, save of the 2021 season on the road. Stevens became the new leader in the young franchise history, and the only Salamander in 2021 to break an individual record.
As the summer season neared its conclusion, Holly Springs had already achieved something they had never done before – a winning record. The 2015 Salamanders finished the inaugural season at a .500 percentage with a final record of 28-28. Entering the game at 23-20, the Salamanders were called upon one final time in the CPL season finale against the Asheboro Copperheads. Trailing the game 6-1 after the first four innings, things looked bleak for the hometown team. In front of almost 1,800 patrons, the ‘Manders were able to battle back, trailing 7-5 in the bottom of the ninth. Tanner Roach (University of Texas-Tyler), one of three players on the Opening Day roster that played until end of the season, became the hero. Roach was able to saw-off a ball right behind the pitcher and force the throwing error that would plate the tying and winning runs. The Salamanders would finish the year 24-20 (15-6 at home) and complete the summer on a three-game winning streak, which was good enough for third place.
Another first for the franchise this year came in the form of alumni making major league debuts. Andrew Wantz, Los Angeles Angels, and Brain Miller, Miami Marlins, became the first two Salamanders in history to get the call to Major League Baseball.
A final exhibition against the Shakes tied a bow on the season, and in a blink of an eye, the 2021 Holly Springs Salamanders’ season was over. Throughout the season, 56 players dawned the “HS” logo, from all three levels of NCAA Baseball and the NAIA. Baxter Halligan, Easton Waterman (Point Loma Nazarene University) and Caden Miller (San Diego State University) traveled the farthest from their respective schools, while Mikey Madej, Kyle Mott, Davis Palermo, and Will Sandy (University of North Carolina) represented the Triangle’s local talent.
This year’s team finished with the highest stolen base percentage, 83.6%, and the highest winning percentage at home, 71.6%. The fans did their part as well, crushing attendance numbers from years past. Thank you to the 30,736 fans who entered through the gates at Ting Stadium, with an average of 1,026 per game.
While the season might have ended sooner than the team wanted, the players made their way back to school with a sweet taste in their mouths. We thank you for tuning in to another season of Salamanders baseball. We hope to see again you in 2022!