The Pilots were holding a manageable 3-0 lead after the first four innings, but erupted to put the game out of reach in the bottom of the fifth with plate discipline coupled with a trio of clutch hits.
Peninsula (21-8, 4-3 second half) downed Holly Springs (15-12, 2-3 second half) 9-2 behind left-handed pitcher and designated hitter Alden Mathes’ five shutout innings on the mound and 2-for-4 day at the plate.
“He’s a heck of a player; we’ve said it every night pretty much after these games,” manager Hank Morgan said. “Sometimes it looks funny, he’s got parts falling everywhere, but the barrel’s on the ball, and on the bump he attacks people.”
Third baseman Mason Dunaway led off the bottom of the fifth with an eight-pitch walk. Mathes smacked a 100-mph double to the right-center field wall that scored the James Madison infielder from first base.
After working ahead 2-0 in the count, first baseman Justin Starke smacked a back-side single to right field for his first RBI of the day, chasing Holly Springs righty Easton Klein after just 1/3 inning to extend the Pilots lead to 5-0.
Second baseman Jack Dragum walked to put runners on the corners with one out for shortstop Logan Steenstra.
Dragum took off on the pitch and the Tennessee Volunteer smacked a line drive to the exact spot Holly Springs second baseman Clay Woeste was playing, driving in two more to put the lid on the jar in the Pilots’ four-run fifth.
“I’d love to take credit for the hit-and-run; it was actually a run-and-hit. We had the guy moving and Steenstra saw a pitch he liked and hit it hard right through the vacancy,” Morgan said. “It looks beautiful, and I agree with you, it’s a beautiful play.”
Steenstra bounced back nicely after his three-game hit streak was snapped at Tri-City, finishing Wednesday’s contest 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored.
In the sixth, right fielder Erik Stock singled to center field to set up Peninsula’s two-run inning.
Mathes followed in order with a hard-hit line-drive that sped up on right fielder Jake Gitter, scooting by him for an RBI triple — his second three-bagger of the season.
The Broomall, Pennsylvania, native’s double and triple with two RBIs at the dish, coupled with his performance on the mound earned him the Coastal Plain League’s hitter and pitcher of the night — the first time that has happened this season.
“I was just seeing it well, I was trying to stay middle of the field,” Mathes said. “I got two slower pitchers, I pulled both of them. I’ve just been staying line-drive middle of the field and I’m just going off that, and it’s been pretty well for me.”
Starke collected his second RBI of the day — and 13th of the season — on a high chopper to the left side of the infield in which third baseman Cash Young’s only play was to first for the 5-3 putout, plating Mathes from third.
Peninsula led 9-0 after the bottom of the sixth — the largest lead since June 20’s 10-run advantage against Wilson.
In the top of the eighth, Holly Springs ended the combined shutout when shortstop Caden Miller skied a 351-foot home run off of Peninsula right-handed reliever John Altman.
Of the Salamanders’ five hits, four of them came from the bottom three in the order.
The Pilots weren’t at Tri-City’s Shepherd Stadium, but mashed a first-inning home run two batters into the game courtesy of Dunaway.
Dunaway’s first four-bagger of the year sailed easily over the wall in left-center field, registering 400 feet on the Trackman technologies at War Memorial Stadium.
An inning later, Peninsula’s sticks were still rolling.
Dragum led off the inning with a five-pitch walk followed by Steenstra’s ringing double that hit off the top of the wall in left field, missing landing in the Salamanders’ bullpen by just a few feet.
With bases loaded and no outs, left fielder Trevon Dabney skied a ball to shallow center field that plated Dragum from third.
Center fielder Trey Morgan copied Dabney with a long fly ball of his own to give the Pilots back-to-back sacrifice flies and a 3-0 advantage after the second inning.
Peninsula’s victory marches its record at home to an impressive 14-1 clip, as the team still has yet to lose consecutive games this season. The Pilots have now scored at least nine runs in six games this season — tied with Florence for the most in the East Division.
The Pilots will make the 2 1/2-hour drive to Wilson, North Carolina for the second-to-last time this season where they will take on the Tobs who they lost 4-2 to on June 27.