Wilson, N.C.—With a first year coach and a history of having not made the playoffs since 2010, nobody could blame prognosticators for not expecting much out of the 2014 Wilson Tobs. However, as fans of the Tobs and teams around the Coastal Plain League would soon find out, the 2014 Wilson Tobs were built to defy the odds.
The Tobs picked Justin Hay (Barton College) to be their 13th head coach in the team’s 18-year history back on November 19th, 2013. Hay knew Tobs fan were itching to get back to the playoffs and did everything in his power to make that happen, “the fans in Wilson are some of the best in the CPL,” said Hay, “my goal from Day One was a playoff birth. I wanted to give these great fans something they could remember this season by because they deserved it.” With that goal in mind, Game One of the regular season was a good barometer for how the Tobs season would progress as they hosted the defending CPL Champions, the Peninsula Pilots.
Bryant Stafford (UNC-Greensboro) pitched into the ninth inning for the Tobs, firing 8 1/3 innings pitched, striking out seven and walking two while allowing just two runs. The Tobs were actually down 2-1 for most of the game until they tied the game in the bottom of the eighth inning. They had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth, but a great play by the Pilots shortstop kept the Tobs off of the scoreboard and the Pilots went on to score a run in the tenth inning on a Tobs’ error and take the 3-2 ten inning win.
So with one game in the books and that first game being an extra inning affair where the Tobs battled back against the defending CPL champs, Tobs fans were prepared for an exciting 2014 season and the Tobs did not disappoint.
They immediately rattled off four wins in a row to climb three games above .500 including avenging their loss in the opener by driving up to Hampton, VA and dropping Peninsula on their home turf in a 5-4 contest for their fourth win in as many games. Braden Bristo was the highlight of the game for the Tobs, collecting his first save of the season, picking up five outs and striking out three batters.
The Tobs continued their three game road trip with a contest against the West Division Forest City Owls, which the Tobs lost, and a game against eventual West Division Champion Florence Red Wolves, where the Tobs rolled the Wolves 10-3, bringing their record to 5-2.
Their offense was primarily why the Tobs got off to such a hot start; the UNC-Pembroke boys (Dalton Knight, Drew Cole and Ben Schmucker) provided the fire power with all three sluggers bashing baseballs and getting on base, pushing the Tobs to the top of the CPL in on-base percentage and Schmucker climbing to the top in Runs Batted In, a position he never dropped the rest of the season in the East Division, finishing the season as the East RBI King with 36.
However, the Tobs offense started to falter, and combined with a lack of quality pitching through the next five games, the Tobs record dropped back down to .500, at 6-6 after 12 games. But in a theme that hung around for the entire season, every time it looked like the Tobs season was going to go down in the gutter they rattled off some wins, this time consecutive 5-2 wins against the Morehead City Marlins and Fayetteville SwampDogs.
In that first game against the Marlins, big Mikel Belcher (Samford University) picked up the win in 1 2/3 scoreless innings pitched on two strikeouts and no walks. Chris Williams (NC State University), a local boy from Cary, NC, shut the door on the Marlins in the ninth for his first save of the season, starting one of the best streaks in CPL history.
In the closer role for the Tobs, Chris Williams was perfect. Every time Justin Hay called on Williams to extinguish the flames, he was up to the task and did so in a manner that humbled opponents.
After that first save opportunity, Williams had eight more chances to bury the other team and he did so eight more times while not allowing a single run. Every time Williams took the ball as the closer for the Tobs, opposing bats were unable to muster a single run of any kind. From June 11th, when he took over the closer’s role, to July 27th, Williams went 9-for-9 in save chances, pitching ten innings, allowing just five hits, striking out eight and walking nobody.
In fact, the only time Williams allowed any runs from May 31st to the end of the season was in the Tobs’ 9-8 victory on July 20th, a game in which he picked up the win. Williams’ final season stat line was the most impressive on the staff; 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA, but his season ending run was even more spectacular: over his final 17 appearances, Williams fired 21 1/3 innings pitched, allowing three runs, just two earned, striking out 21 and walking one batter, good for a scintillating 0.85 ERA.
With a clearly defined closer to anchor the bullpen, the Tobs had some issues getting to the important ninth inning with a lead, exchanging wins with losses for some time until back-to-back wins on the 20th and 21st of June put the Tobs at 12-10 and John Valek, one of the seven returning players to eventual make the Tobs 2014 roster, improving to 3-0 on the season in the Tobs’ 6-1 victory.
The Awards Start to Pile Up
While the wins and losses piled up at a consistently even rate, the Tobs enjoyed some standout performances, including back-to-back 919 Marketing CPL Player of the Week honors in weeks four and five.
Seth LaRue, one of three Camels from Campbell University on the Tobs roster (John Allen and Matthew Parrish), lit up the CPL in week four; batting .588 with seven RBI, 15 total bases (adding two doubles and a home run to go along with one walk) while scoring four times and even stealing a bag in his lone attempt on the week. He had two multi hit games during the week and hit safely in all of them, moving his hitting streak to seven games at that point in time. He finished the week slugging an impressive .882.
Christian Slazinik, one of the returners for the Tobs and a guy who led the CPL in ERA during the first half of the season, made it two awards in two weeks for the Tobs with his dominance of the Wilmington Sharks on June 26th. At that point in time the Tobs did not yet have a shutout on the season, but Slazinik’s performance would change all that.
By the time Slazinik had left the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning with nobody out and a man on second base, he had thrown 8+ innings of shutout baseball, walking just one, scattering five hits and striking out seven Sharks. He really only faced trouble once in the game; in the fifth inning the Sharks would load the bases, but Slazinik got out of the inning with a popout, snuffing any chance of a rally for the Sharks.
And the Tobs needed the performance as well because the offense was only able to secure three runs during the game in their 3-0 shutout victory. The Tobs finished the season with three 919 Marketing awards, but the final one would not come until the final week of the season.
With no awards in week six, the Tobs got back to doing what they seemingly did best; playing .500 baseball in a manner that was the same time head scratching and impressive.
The Second Half Mystery Tour
No streak better encapsulated the Tobs season than the four game stretch from July 2nd through July 6th. After finishing the first half of the season third in the East Division of the CPL with a 15-13 record, the Tobs looked to jump start their second half on the right foot, but instead, tripped, fell, and landed flat on their face, dropping the first game of the second half to the Forest City Owls 16-0 for their worst defeat of the season.
After getting stomped and suffering their worst defeat of the season, most teams would immediately go into a tailspin, but the 2014 Wilson Tobs were not most teams.
After that crushing defeat to the Owls at home, the Tobs came back the next day and went on the road to Fayetteville and came up with their largest win of the season, smoking the SwampDogs by the tune of 18-6. Doug Teegarden and Zach Callahan paced the Tobs in the game. Out of the one and two holes respectively, the two Tobs scored a combined five runs and drove in four. Teegarden was a mainstay for the Tobs during the summer, getting on base at a .417 clip, more than any other Tob while walking 30 times to also lead the Tobs in that category.
The next night was one of the toughest losses of the season for the Tobs as Braden Bristo delivered the guttiest performance of the season in front of the Tobs’ largest crowd of the summer.
Although the 3,722 fans went home disappointed on America’s Birthday because the Tobs lost 6-4 to the Morehead City Marlins, Braden Bristo was not the reason why. Bristo, as he did all summer for the Tobs, pitched his heart out. The youngster out of Monroe, LA and Louisiana Tech University went 7.1 innings pitched and fired 137 pitches, on nine hits, six runs (five earned) as the bullpen allowed both inherited runners to score on a night where he walked three and provided additional fireworks, registering the Tobs first and only double digit strikeout performance of the season, punching out ten Marlins.
But the team of ups and downs took the disheartening loss and shrugged it aside, heading out on the road to Edenton and with the Power of the Zebra on their side (there is a Zebra on the road to Edenton that the Tobs stopped at multiple times), produced one of their best comeback wins of the season, taking out the Steamers, who at the time had the best record in the CPL.
After falling behind twice in the game by scores of 1-0 and 5-4, the Tobs stormed back in the top of the eighth inning, scoring four runs to take a 7-5 lead. Matt Rembielak (University of Akron), who had the highest batting average in the month of July for the Tobs, came up with the bases loaded and wiped the deficit away with a well-placed ball down the third baseline and the Tobs took the lead as three runs came home on the play.
The only reason for Rembielak’s heroics was because of Daniel Batts and his three innings of relief work where picked up the win. Batts was one of the most dependable arms out of the bullpen for Justin Hay, compiling a perfect 6-0 record, all in relief appearances. The game also highlighted Chris Williams’ amazing summer, going six outs for his longest save of the season, allowing just one hit and striking out two Steamers and of course, not allowing a single walk.
The good times did not last though and the Tobs suffered their longest losing streak of the season, dropping the next three games to the Morehead City Marlins and having their record fall under .500 for the first time since the season opener against Peninsula. It looked like the Tobs’ losing streak would extend to four games in Petersburg against the Generals, falling behind by scores of 7-0 and 8-2, but the biggest comeback of the season stopped any chance of that happening.
The Tobs exploded for six runs in the sixth inning, tying the game at 8-8 and took the lead for good in the seventh inning when Douglas Ard (USC-Aiken) started the inning with a double and Justin Carroll (UNC-Wilmington) followed with a double of his own to give the Tobs their first advantage of the game. Jake Armstrong’s (NC State University) double two batters later to put the Tobs ahead by two. They never relinquished the lead as again Batts and Williams shut the door in the final four innings with Batts blitzing through three shutout innings of work allowing just one hit on three strikeouts and no walks for the win.
Only an Injury Could Stop Taylor Nichols
After the thrilling victor against the Petersburg Generals the Tobs had a chance to recuperate thanks to the All-Star Break in Morehead City. Sitting with a record of 18-18 at the break, the Tobs were glad to send four of their players to Morehead City, one arm and three bats: Christian Slazinik, Ben Schmucker, Seth LaRue and Taylor Nichols.
Nichols was probably the best bat in the Tobs lineup for the first two thirds of the season, but apparently injured his knee in a 16-2 loss against Morehead City on June 26th.
Without knowing the extent of his injuries, Nichols (Louisiana Tech University) continued to play through the pain and continued to strike fear into opposing pitchers. While playing on visibly one working leg, Nichols kept his batting line at an incredible .320/.449/.402 (BA/SLG/OBP). However, after getting an MRI on the ailing knee, Nichols received the news that ended his season; he had torn his PCL and could not make the All-Star Game nor play any longer for the Tobs, robbing them of a colossal bat in the middle of the lineup.
The Tobs Get Back on the Right Track
The first day back for the Tobs after the All-Star break was actually a double header against the Edenton Steamers. Braden Bristo was again almost unhittable on the mound, but he made one mistake, a two run home run, and it cost him, and the team, the game as the Tobs dropped the opener 2-1. They took game two though 6-1 on Ryan Minteer’s first win of the season thanks to four scoreless innings of work. Minteer finished the season with four more above average starts for the Tobs, which they sorely needed as players were beginning to get called back home by their schools.
The Minteer win also started a Tobs three game winning streak with the culmination of that streak occurring on the third annual Train Game. On a rainy night in Wilson, N.C., the Tobs hosted their sister club in the West Division, the High Point-Thomasville HiToms (both the HiToms and the Tobs are owned by the ownership group of Rick Holland and Greg and Heather Suire). Last season’s train game was an extra inning contest where the Tobs prevailed 3-2 in eleven innings and this year’s was just as exciting.
John Valek, in his last start of the season for the Tobs, put up one of his best performances. He was perfect through the first five innings before allowing a leadoff single in the sixth and took a shutout into the eight inning before the Tobs’ defense imploded. While the Tobs had a four run lead entering the eighth inning, three errors by the Tobs allowed the HiToms to tie the ballgame up.
Through 39 games, the Wilson Tobs did not have a walk-off victory, but Game 40 proved to be the deciding night… except they would still not have a walk-off hit when everything was said and done. The Tobs had Jake Armstrong at the plate to start the bottom of the ninth inning and he was hit by a pitch. Zach Callahan (Francis Marion University) was asked to pinch-hit, but he too was hit by a pitch to put runners at first and second with nobody out.
Collins Cuthrell (UNC-Pembroke), who was making his first start of the season for the Tobs in his third summer with the team, laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move the runners into scoring position. An intentional walk to Matt Rubino (Francis Marion University) loaded the bases for Adam Pate. Pate worked the count to 2-2 and on the fifth pitch of the at-bat watched a ball go over his head and to the backstop; Armstrong dashed home and beat the throw by the slimmest of margins, giving the Tobs their first walk-off win of the season.
The Local Speedster
While the wild pitch made it impossible for Pate to come up with the game winning hit, the local boy from Aycock High School showed tremendous upside in his summer with the Tobs. Pate put up a line of .279/.377/.407 and was second on the team in walks with 25. Normally at the top of the lineup, he helped out in the extra base hit department with five doubles, two triples and a home run while driving in six on the season.
However, it was on the bases where Pate truly made his mark. Showing tremendous speed in the outfield is one thing, but on the bases Pate was practically uncatchable. He attempted 28 stolen bases on the season and was caught just three times. He also displayed a howitzer of an arm in the outfield, collecting four outfield assists.
The 500 Club Gets Pumping
Although the Tobs sat at 21-19 after the Train Game, they dropped two in a row and continued to play .500 baseball for the next week and a half. Having gone almost the entire season without a walk-off hit, the Tobs and the their fans were anxious to have a 9th inning celebration and the man who was a Tob for longer than any other pulled through in the clutch.
The Tobs hosted the dreaded Peninsula Pilots for a doubleheader on July 31st. With their magic number at two games to clinch the playoffs for the first time since 2010, Christian Slazinik again put together a tremendous game for the Tobs on the mound, going seven innings, allowing just one run on six hits and four strikeouts against three walks, but the Tobs offense failed him, not scoring a run through the first six innings.
Down 1-0 and down to their final three outs, Ben Schmucker started the frame with a single and Matthew Parrish also singled before Drew Cole bunted the two over, setting the scene for Collins Cuthrell.
“The Crusher” missed his senior season at Barton College because of weightlifting accident, which resulted in a broken wrist. He showed great power though in batting practice and Tobs’ fans were waiting for him to display it in a game. He picked the perfect time for his first aerial bombardment. After fouling off the first 3-2 pitch, he sat on the next offering and blasted it deep to left, over the Fleming Stadium scoreboard for the Tobs’ 3-1 walk-off victory.
Quinn Atwood Clinches the Door in Dramatic Fashion
Despite Cuthrell’s heroics, the Tobs could not muster another win and their magic number was stuck at one with just three games left in the season. That is when Quinn Atwood, the right-handed pitcher from Texas State University who logged just 0.2 of an inning for the Bobcats, decided to present the Tobs with their first playoff birth since 2010.
With the Tobs hosting a double header against the Wilmington Sharks, Atwood walked the very first batter he faced in the game, but came back to get a double play ball. He then retired the next 18 batters he faced. With one more out to go to complete the no-hitter, Atwood allowed a double just out of the reach of right fielder Ben Schmucker who earlier in the game made a catch while crashing into the right field wall. The ball hit off the top of the wall and fell for the double, but Atwood got the final out on a groundout, sending the Tobs to the CPL playoffs for the first time since 2010.
For his efforts, Atwood was named the 919 Marketing CPL pitcher of the Week for the final week of the season, making it the third time a Tob received a 919 Marketing award to go along with Seth LaRue and Christian Slazinik from earlier in the summer.
Smoke the Steamers (Round One of the Playoffs)
The Tobs dropped the final game of the doubleheader and had their last game of the regular season rained out to fittingly put them at 27-27 for the regular season. Their first round opponent would be the Edenton Steamers and while the Tobs lost the regular season series three games to four, the Tobs had won three of the final four contests and were feeling very confident about their chances.
They proved that confidence was well placed, winning the first game 7-6. Cameron Langfels (Eastern Kentucky University) picked up the win in relief while Braden Bristo, who picked up the first save of the regular season for the Tobs, bookended that feat by picking up the first save in the postseason in his last appearance for the Tobs (Chris Williams reached his innings pitched limit in the final week of the season).
One game away from eliminating the Steamers, the Tobs quickly fell behind 2-0. They cut into the lead with a run in the second inning and that is when “The Crusher” pummeled the Steamers with a grand slam to take a 5-2 lead. Matt Rubino, who had the best postseason out of any Tob at the plate (6-for-13, HR, 3B, 2B, 4 RBI, 4 R, 2 BB), bashed a long ball to right to extend the Tobs’ lead to 6-2.
However, the Steamers came right back to tie the game a couple of innings later. The two teams traded runs in the seventh before the Tobs eeked out a run in the ninth and sent out the reigning 919 Marketing Pitcher of the Week, Quinn Atwood, to the mound for the save. He ran right through the Steamers in the ninth, sending the Tobs to the next round and a chance for the East Division Crown.
The Tobs Crash Land Against the Pilots
They faced the defending CPL Champion Peninsula Pilots for a chance to wear the East Division crown. The Tobs went with Michael Wilson (LSU-Shreveport) for Game One and threw his best game of the summer, taking a shutout into the seventh inning before the Tobs defense and bullpen lost the game, eventually falling by a score of 8-3.
Facing Elimination, the Tobs came back with their best gun at the end of the season in the person of Atwood. Atwood was riding a streak of four quality starts heading into the elimination game. Knowing that the start could be his last, Atwood put together a performance to rival any other Tobs pitcher from the entire season; he went eight innings, scattering eight hits, allowing just one run while striking out four and walking two.
The only run for the Pilots came with two outs in the fifth inning on a routine ball into shallow left field where none of the Tobs could locate the baseball. This terrific performance was almost wasted, but Jake Armstrong provided the heroics, mashing a three run home run in the seventh inning, providing the difference in the Tobs’ 4-1 win.
Atwood finished the season on a crucially good run as the Tobs needed every win they could muster. He knotched five consecutive quality starts to end the season, and with the addition of the save against the Steamers, his line over the end-season run was 35.2 innings pitched, a 2/1 strikeout to walk ratio (16/8) and allowed just five earned runs for a 1.28 ERA over that span.
However, the team that refused to quit all season long finally let one slip out of their hands. In the decisive Game Three the Tobs scored one run on a Collins Cuthrell home run (he finished the season with four home runs, two regular and two postseason), but allowed 14 to the Pilots, ending their season by a score of 14-1.
A Successful Season
The Wilson Tobs, under first year head coach Justin Hay, enjoyed a very succesfful season. The team finished with 30 wins on the season and the three seed in the East Division of the CPL Playoffs. They won a postseason series for the first time in team history when they upset the #2 seeded Edenton Steamers in a first round sweep before eventually falling to the East Division Champion Peninsula Pilots two games to one.
Tobs finished the season with 30 wins overall and a record of 30-29. They ended up 16-15 at the friendly confines of historic Fleming Stadium and 14-14 on the road. The Tobs organization and historic Fleming Stadium celebrated its 75th anniversary this season and hosted Team USA for an exhibition game as well as a Friendship Series game between Team USA and Team Japan.
“This was one of the most successful seasons in Wilson Tobs history,” exclaimed Thomas Webb, General Manager of the Wilson Tobs, “Justin Hay did a terrific job and hired the perfect assistants in Rich Billings (Leesburg High School) and Chris Rawlings (Barton College). There is no way we could have had so much success without the help of our fans, the host families, and the sponsors.”
“I’d also like to thank all the people who made this season possible behind the scenes, from our game day staff who is too numerous to count and the front office staff of Mike Bell (Director of Group Nights & Ticket Sales), our unbelievably talkative Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations Jake Donnelly, Craig Daniel (Community Events Coordinator), and all of our interns: Wiley McLeod, Olivia Ingram, Betsy Braswell and Shelby Zack. They all made this season one Tobs fans will always remember.”
The Coastal Plain League is the nation’s hottest summer collegiate baseball league. Celebrating its 18th season in 2014, the CPL features 14 teams playing in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. The CPL gives college players the chance to refine their skills with the use of wooden bats. Players are housed with local host families for the summer and past experiences have been very positive for both players and hosts. The CPL has had over 1,200 alumni drafted and 72 of those – including 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander – make their Major League debut; while another notable alum - Russell Wilson - won Super Bowl XLVIII. For more information on the Coastal Plain League, please visit the league website at