The Morehead City Marlins seemed bound for a championship berth even back in June when they ripped off a Coastal Plain League record 14 straight wins to become the winningest team in the first half of the season.
The Fish repeated the winningest accolade in the second half of the season, matching the same feat accomplished during the 2018 season. The Morehead City franchise wrapped up that season with a Petitt Cup title. I see no reason to assume it won’t do the same this weekend.
The baseball gods demand that I not write about this subject, but sportswriters don’t have the luxury of jinxes. The CPL has a history of repeat winners, painting the Fish to be the favorite in their best two-out-of-three series with the Macon Bacon.
Let’s also stop and admire the name, “Macon Bacon.” Baseball is renowned for sprouting wacky team names, but college summer leagues are even more notorious. Around the country, there are the Fond du Lac Sock Spiders, the Hays Larks, the Cotuit Kettleers, the Portland Pickles, the Bellingham Bells, the St. Cloud Rox and the Walla Walla Sweets, just to name a few.
Anyway, back to CPL playoffs action. Since the Pettit Cup was established in 2002, only five championships weren’t part of a consecutive run of titles. Even the first champion – the Outer Banks Daredevils – won in 2002 and 2003.
The Edenton Steamers won in 2004 and 2005, The High Point-Thomasville HiToms won from 2006-2008, the Forest City Owls in 2009 and 2010 and the Peninsula Pilots in 2013 and 2014.
The solo championships came in 2017 (Gastonia Grizzlies), 2016 (Savannah Bananas), 2015 (Edenton), 2012 (Columbia) and 2011 (Gastonia).
Not only have the last few years featured one-off championships, the team that won the first game of the series has gone on to win three out of the last four times. Last year, the Marlins defeated the Hi-Toms 2-0.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself considering this column is appearing the day after game 1 of the series since the press deadline for the Friday issue is Thursday shortly before the contest began.
As for what the Marlins faced Thursday, it was all new since they had not played the Bacon this season. Macon is actually one of nine teams the Fish haven’t played this summer, joining the Florence RedWolves, Lexington County Blowfish, Martinsville Mustangs, Asheboro Copperheads, Bananas, Grizzlies, Owls and HiToms.
Game one of the series was played on Macon’s Luther Williams Field Thursday. Game two will take place Saturday at Big Rock Stadium in Morehead City. If needed, game three will also be played on the Marlins’ field Sunday since they have the best record in the CPL. That would ensure they will be home if a championship is captured.
The Marlins and the Bacon are both statistical standouts, each with their own standout hitters and pitchers. For the Fish, the unquestionable offensive leader is Jack Harris (San Francisco State) who ranks highly in nearly every statistical category. For the Bacon, it’s Calvin Estrada (Long Beach State).
The two are explicably linked as two stalwart hitters. Harris ranks first in the league in runs (52), while Estrada is 28th (32). Harris’ 47 RBIs rank second, while Estrada’s 46 are fourth. Estrada ranks third in hits (63), while Harris is 12th (55). Estrada ranks second in batting average (.361), while Harris is 15th (.322). Harris has a .448 on-base percentage that ranks ninth, while Estrada’s .410 is 19th. Harris’ .649 slugging percentage ranks fourth, while Estrada is sixth with a .615. Harris has hit 12 homers, 14 doubles and three triples for a total of 29 total extra-base hits. Estrada has hit six dingers and 25 doubles for a total of 31.
Both teams have strong bullpens – the Marlins sport a league-low 3.55 ERA and the Bacon’s 3.68 ERA is third – and each have a clear-cut ace pitcher. For the Marlins, that’s Eric Miles (Presbyterian), who guided the Fish past the Fayetteville SwampDogs in the first round, and for the Bacon, that’s Preston Sparks (Middle Georgia State), who pitched Macon past Forest City in the second round.
The staggered starts for the pair likely mean they won’t face off during the three-game series, but fans will still get to see both pitch. The two are comparable right-handers statistically. Miles is 6-0 on the season with 58 strikeouts (10.88 per nine innings) and a 2.06 ERA over 48 innings pitched. Sparks is 4-2 this season with 49 strikeouts (8.54 per nine innings) and a 3.66 ERA over 51 2/3 innings.
The two teams will make a good matchup, considering the numbers. The Marlins rank fourth in total runs (330) and the Bacon fifth (324). Macon ranks third in hits (463) and Morehead City fifth (442). The Bacon rank second in hitting average (.293) and the Marlins eighth (.265). The Marlins rank fifth in slugging percentage (.405) and the Bacon sixth (.400).
Repeat victory or not, the Marlins have proven themselves this summer and more than justified the moniker that Morehead City is “Marlin Country.”
(Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @zacknally)