By: Evan Rogers
HOLLY SPRINGS, N.C. — For the past six days, the Salamanders have been grueling through a professional-like schedule.
With seven contests during this stretch Holly Springs has mirrored the scheduling of many minor and major league squads. Through the week-long grind the Salamanders have seen no shortage of failure, losing bouts to the Wilson Tobs and Wilmington Sharks.
But, behind the perseverance of a familiar face, and the rise of the youngest Salamander, Holly Springs grind out a 10-6 win over the Asheboro Zookeepers on Friday.
After giving up one run to Asheboro in the game’s first frame, Holly Springs appeared to be traveling down a familiar trail that has doomed the Salamanders in their recent losses. That is, in the early stages of games Holly Springs has fallen behind, attempted to claw its way back and eventually come up short.
Against the Zookeepers, such a pattern would not fall into form.
In the bottom half of the first inning, center fielder Nate Carriere rocketed a lead-off double, sparking the barrels of his teammates. Shortly after, designated hitter Ryan Clifford dribbled an RBI single up the center gap to knot the game up at one.
Clifford, the youngest Salamander on roster, has been with Holly Springs for only four games. Even so, the top high school prospect in North Carolina has flashed his full arsenal of tools.
“(Clifford) is physical at the plate,” head coach Brain Rountree said. “When he goes up to the plate he has a presence that affects the rest of our lineup.”
That presence was felt during Holly Springs’ next offensive frame.
Trailing by two runs, the Salamanders sliced Asheboro’s lead in half after an error by the Zookeepers helped second baseman Connor Coolahan trot home. One batter later, shortstop Gavin Troutman’s crack of lumber resulted in a 2-RBI double to left field, giving Holly Springs its first lead of the night.
As the Salamanders’ bats came to life, pitcher Sam Peddycord was throwing a gem on the mound.
The junior from Greensboro College holds a unique approach, relying on a knuckleball that rarely surpasses 70 mph. Throughout the night, his knuckleball had Asheboro spinning in circles, as the Zookeepers tallied just one hit — and no runs — during Peddycord’s 5.1 innings of work.
“I felt like myself tonight,” Peddycord said. “I trusted my knuckleball a little more than I normally do.”
While Peddycord continued his best outing of the season, Clifford thrived at the plate.
Two innings after his RBI single, the Vanderbilt commit came to the plate with one out. On the first pitch he saw, Clifford skyed a solo bomb to right field — a home run that nearly sailed outside of the Ting Stadium grounds.
“(The homer) felt good,” Clifford said. “The guy had been spinning curveballs all day so I took that up to the plate with me. I was able to get one he left up and I did some damage on it.”
Even more impressive, in the sixth inning Clifford escaped out of a pickle to plate a run, after a pass ball didn’t kick out as far as the designated hitter judged it to.
And, after inching closer to a .500 finish on the week, Rountree offered a smile when asked how it felt to get back in the win column.
“You’re not always going to have your best day, but the bottom line is you need to show up the next day and have a good day,” he said. “You’ve got to have a short memory and learn from your mistakes.”