College baseball: Wilmington Sharks eye Petit Cup playoffs

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WILMINGTON- The Wilmington Sharks entered the 2016 season with a bit of a bad taste in their mouth. Coming off last summer’s run, just one win away from reaching the Petit Cup Championship Series, you wouldn’t think this would be the case. But, it was that one elusive win that stayed with the players through the school year as returning standouts like pitcher Mike Castellani came back to get another chance at a league title.

 “Going out to Edenton like that in the playoffs was pretty rough,” Castellani said, “This year the team had a good attitude about it and we work hard and I think we can definitely make a deep run in the playoffs this year.”

Connor Riley. Photos courtesy- Wilmington Sharks
Connor Riley. Photos courtesy- Wilmington Sharks

The Sharks started a little slow, losing six of their first nine games. Of course, by nature of the Coastal Plain League, players trickle in as the season progresses as college programs finish their run through postseason play. As new players arrived, the Sharks went on an incredible hot streak. They won seven in a row, moving their record well above .500, and set precedence for the season.

Win streaks have been the name of the game for the 2016 Sharks as they have won three or more games in a row five times. Head Coach Scott Wingo said getting hot is the mark of a successful team.

 “We’ve definitely been a team that can string wins together and that’s what we’ve been able to do this summer,” Wingo said.  “It’s been awesome to see and fun to coach and hopefully we can keep it going down the stretch.”

 By the time the All-Star break rolled around, the Sharks were quite literally in mid-season form. Six Sharks were named to the Coastal Plain League All-Star game, with Castellani named the East team’s starting pitcher. Alec Bohm and Cletis Avery also started, while Mark Donadio, Connor Riley and Ryan Kelly severed as reserves. Prior to the game, Alec Bohm participated in the home run derby and brought this year’s derby title back to Wilmington.

The Wilmington Sharks could host a home playoff game this week.
The Wilmington Sharks could host a home playoff game this week.

 After finishing the first half only 2.5 games out of first place, the Sharks had high hopes for the second half. They won five straight after the break and in first place ever since. Connor Riley (USC Aiken) continued his dominance of batters, even striking out 16 in a game against Wilson. With his school limiting his work this summer, he made his final start on the mound last week and eclipsed the 100 strikeout mark, becoming only the third pitcher in CPL history to achieve the mark.

 Local ballplayers, including Ward Coleman (New Hanover/Davidson), Chris Graham (North Brunswick/UNC-Greensboro) and Shelton Perkins (North Brunswick) have also played a role on the team. Coleman has started 44 games this summer, while Graham is hitting .300. Perkins has also logged 23.2 innings on the mound, with 12 appearances and a 1.90 ERA.

 Looking ahead, the most likely finish for the Sharks would be a two seed in the CPL East. With the new format, consisting of two rounds of one game each followed by a three game championship series, the Sharks will likely host a playoff game on Wednesday, Aug. 10. A win in that game would put them just three wins away from the ultimate goal, a Petit Cup Championship.