By: Evan Rogers

HOLLY SPRINGS, N.C. — After Brett Callahan launched a solo home run to start off the first inning, a shiny new object awaited the center fielder in the dugout — a gold home run chain. 

“We dropped the ball a couple times and left (the chain) in the locker room past games,” Callahan said. “Now I’m going to have the chain in my locker and I’ll bring it out for the next game.” 

And, the lead-off blast ignited the Salamanders to a 7-4 win over the Tri-City Chili Peppers Tuesday night, preserving Holly Springs’ spotless home record.

However the festivities of the new — and finally present — chain were quickly silenced by Tri-City. In the next frame, the Chili Peppers cannoned consecutive home runs to give the visitors a one-point lead. 

The powerful display at the plate replayed nightmarish flashbacks for the Salamanders, who fell to the Chili Peppers in their third game of the season. Facing off against a team atop the Coastal Plain League’s East Division, Holly Springs understood a win would have to be earned against the Chili Peppers. 

“Tri-City has a good club,” head coach Brain Rountree said. “They swing it well, pitch it and don’t make many errors on defense.”

But, the Salamanders refused to back down. 

In the bottom half of the same inning, Holly Springs answered with two runs of its own. First, Callahan chipped a blooper into center field to drive in the tying run while Nick Carriere’s sacrifice fly awarded the Salamanders their third run of the contest. 

Yet, what presumed to be a shootout contest soon went quiet, as the two teams traded doughnut holes on the scoresheet for the next 90 minutes. But, the events of the seventh inning made everyone at Ting Stadium forget the prolonged offensive drag. 

After loading the bases with no outs, the Salamanders drew a walk to double their lead. Then, a routine flyout looked to be driving in the innings’ second run for Holly Springs, but a failed relay attempt and error by Chili Peppers catcher Derek Bender contributed an extra run for the Salamanders. 

“We were able to capitalize on their mistakes,” Rountree said. “That’s what you have to do against good teams”

With every run scored, a culmination of high-fives and cheers from the Salamanders’ dugout grew — a sign of the team’s newfound chemistry. And, to hear pitcher Fran Oschell say it, this change has paid dividends during Holly Springs’ three-game win streak.

“At the beginning, it was a little bit of, ‘go out and do your thing,’” he said. “Now it feels like we’re playing more as a unit and it’s starting to show in the win column.”

And with Holly Springs scheduled to take on the top-seeded Wilson Tobs in a home-and-home series starting Thursday, the Salamanders have their eyes set on revenge — and, maybe whipping out their new gold chain a few more times. 

“We know we’re right up there in the standings,” Callahan said. “Wilson (Tobs), we owe them after losing those close games.”