File photo  Aaron Wright (left), Orlando Olivera (right) and the Edenton Steamers begin their quest for a Petitt Cup title today at Wilson.
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File photo Aaron Wright (left), Orlando Olivera (right) and the Edenton Steamers begin their quest for a Petitt Cup title today at Wilson.

Clams take momentum to postseason

By Jimmy LaRoue

Sports Writer

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EDENTON — Though rainouts wiped out the Edenton Steamers’ final four games on the regular season schedule, they go into tonight’s opening game in their best-of-three playoff series with Wilson on a high thanks to a five-game win streak.

Edenton (36-16), with the No. 2 seed, will host Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) of the Coastal Plain League’s East semifinal.

But with rain predictions this week for the area, today takes on additional importance.

“Winning Game 1 could actually win the whole thing for you, being that there’s rain in the forecast,” said Edenton coach Bryan Hill. “They don’t have the two extra days to back it up and play in. If it gets washed out, whoever wins Game 1 would win it all.”

Hill doesn’t think it’s much of a home field advantage to play the first game on the road, and have the other two in the series after that at home, even with the Steamers winning the season series with the Tobs, 4-3.

“It should be two at home and one there, if needed, but we’ll take the win on the road and finish it in front of the home crowd,” Hill said.

With various departures and injuries, Hill has had to remake his starting rotation.

He’ll start San Diego State right-hander Cody Thompson in tonight’s opening game, with Peru State righty Manny Arciniega going in Game 2, and if a Game 3 is needed, Pennsylvania right-hander Connor Cuff.

If the Steamers sweep, Cuff would start Game 1 of the division championship series.

Thompson, who moved into the starting rotation later in the season, is 3-0 with a 2.18 ERA in 21 appearances, five of those starts in 41-1/3 innings, limiting opposing batters to a .216 average.

Arciniega, the only pitcher on the roster who started the season in the rotation, is 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA in 54 innings, with batters hitting just .204 against him.

Cuff, though a late-season signing, was on the roster last season and pitched in last season’s Petitt Cup playoffs.

Hill expects to see Wilson (27-27) throw out left-hander Christian Slazinik to start Game 1. Slazinik went 3-2 with a 2.34 ERA in eight regular season starts.

“We’ll get our left-handed approach at the plate and get everything going,” Hill said. “We’ll put the pressure on them. They don’t have the cleanest defensive club, so that actually plays to our strengths better — get on base and make something happen.”

Offensively, Ryan Raslowsky (.369 average, 21 RBIs) and Orlando Olivera (.325 average, 6 homers, 30 RBIs) have been key producers for a team that finished second in the CPL in runs (300).

Of late, N.C. State catcher Chance Shepard has had an improved bat, with his average jumping by nearly 50 points to .242.

Shepard also ended the season tied for the team lead with Olivera in homers with six.

Stefan Kancylarz and Jake Placzek, despite having two of the lowest batting averages on the team, have had productive campaigns.

Kancylarz’s power has improved of late, while Placzek led the league in walks (47) and was among the leaders in on-base-percentage (.448).

“We’ve got to hit,” Placzek said. “I wouldn’t say we’re thin on pitching, but we’ve got to score runs. I know our pitchers are going to battle and so are we, but we’ve got to keep scoring runs and get our bats hot. I think that’s going to be huge for us.”

Despite the rainouts, the Steamers have been able to get a few workouts in while getting much-needed rest for its bullpen and position players, though it has thrown off the starting pitching rotation.

Hill expects his starters to get him about six innings, then use the bullpen to get to ace closer Josh Roeder (14 saves).

But it will be the Steamers’ offensive production that is likely to determine whether they advance to the CPL East Division championship series, with a possible matchup against top-seed and rival Peninsula on the horizon.

“We’ve just got to play our style of baseball — aggressive, in-your-face baseball,” Hill said. “We’re going to steal bags, we’re going to hit doubles, hopefully get those strikeouts when we need to and limit our strikeouts offensively. Baserunners, that’s our game offensively — get guys on and put the pressure on them.”