WILMINGTON, NC – One month has passed since the Wilmington Sharks defeated the Florence Flamingos 9-4 in both club’s regular season finale. With the 2021 season firmly in the rearview and the off-season officially on-track with the dispensation of league superlatives, it’s time to review the Sharks season that was.
SWIMMING BEYOND EXPECTATION
The Sharks completed the 2021 campaign with a 23-19 record in Coastal Plain League contests. The club added nine wins and three losses in exhibition match-ups making their cumulative record 32-22, Wilmington’s best total since 2017 when they finished 31-24 overall. With the finish, Russ Burroughs becomes the most successful Sharks head coach by record since Scott Wingo from (2016-17, 63-46 overall).
“We had a good season, but we weren’t satisfied with missing the playoffs. We are changing the culture in Wilmington and in 2022,” explained Burroughs, “We look to continue to build off the momentum we have created.”
Wilmington’s CPL record and winning percentage of .548 placed the club in a tie with the Wilson Tobs for the fifth-best record in the league among its 15 teams. The Sharks also posted winning margins in both halves of the split-season with a 12-10 record in the first and an 11-9 finish in the second.
After beginning the season on a 0-4 slide, the Sharks struck with a seven-game winning streak including consecutive shutouts, 8-0 over Morehead City on June 3 and an 11-0 shelling of Florence on June 4. Wilmington did not produce another prolonged winning streak until the final four matchups of the season when the club outscored the Holly Springs Salamander and Florence 50-17.
DOUBLE-DIGIT WINS, OUT-DUELING IN ONE-RUN GAMES AND A QUINTET OF SHUTOUTS
Wilmington tallied a 6-0 record (three in June, three in July) in games where the club scored double-digit runs including four such victories over Florence. In total, the Sharks outscored their opponents 80-23 in games where they amassed ten or more runs.
The pitching staff and timely hitting combined to produce five shutouts beginning with an 8-0 victory over Morehead City on Thursday, June 3 in the Sharks first win of the season. The next night an 11-0 win over Florence began Wilmington’s seven-game winning run. Three weeks passed before the Sharks defeated Holly Springs 2-0 in a seven-inning, combined two-hitter effort led by left-hander Joey Kemlage.
The Sharks blanked the Flamingos 5-0 on Friday, July 2. Then, less than two weeks later on Wednesday, July 14 downed Holly Springs 2-0 wherein John Behrends (Belmont University) went 3-for-4 and Nick Logusch (East Carolina) limited the Salamanders to three hits and struck out seven batters in as many innings.
Wilmington completed 13 one-run games and a 7-6 overall record over CPL opponents. The Sharks-Marlins rivalry produced seven one-run finishes with Wilmington owning a 4-3 record. Additionally, the Sharks tallied a 3-0 mark against Florence with finishes of 6-5, 8-7 and 3-2.
“Baseball is a game of inches. Games can come down to one or two pitches. Unfortunately, we lost 5 games in walk-offs,” said Burroughs, “We have to be able to stay locked in and focused on every single pitch. A pitch here and a pitch there or a hit there and a hit here can change that 7-6 record to an 11-3 record.”
PITCHING STAFF SHINES, PLACES TOP-FIVE IN CPL
The 2021 Sharks season produced its first pro prospect just weeks after the conclusion of the season when Kemlage signed a contract to pitch in the San Francisco Giants system. The left-hander finished the season with a 3-1 record, 2.00 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 51 strikeouts in 45 innings pitched. His marks for strikeouts were seventh-best in the CPL as his ERA total placed fourth.
“Words can’t express how excited I am for Joey. He is one of the toughest competitors I have ever had the privilege of coaching. The Giants got a great athlete, but more importantly they added a person with great character to their organization,” Burroughs commended.
Kemlage headed a Wilmington staff that allowed the second-fewest runs in the CPL with 189 for an average of 4.5 total runs per game and 3.85 earned runs per matchup. The staff also finished the 2021 campaign with the third-fewest hits allowed with 320 for an average of 7.62 per game. Only 149 opposing batters drew base-on-balls walks from Sharks pitchers, good for the third-lowest total in the league, while the hurlers tossed the third-lowest total of wild pitches with 38.
The staff allowed the league’s third-lowest Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched with a 1.33 mark and limited opponents to a CPL fourth-best batting average of .237. Additionally, Wilmington’s six shutouts were second in the CPL behind Savannah’s total of nine and the staff posted a CPL third-best ERA of 4.13.
“The game starts and ends with pitching. We were able to control the zone, limit free bases and compete every single pitch. I am a firm believer that pitching is the key to success,” elaborated Burroughs.
Among qualified starters (four starts): Kemlage led the Sharks with eight starts, 45 innings pitched, 34 hits allowed, 51 strikeouts, 15 walks. Logush led Wilmington in win total with four victories in five starts. Gabe Rappa (La Salle) held opponents to a rotation-low three runs and 1.29 ERA in his four starts.
Among qualified relievers (eight innings, one start or less): Austin Skipper (William Peace) led the bullpen in appearances with 16, innings with 26.1, strikeouts with 20, wins with two and ERA with a 2.39 mark. Grant Lohmeier (Belmont Abbey) held opposing teams to a bullpen-low of three runs while Nate Nabholz (Towson) walked just three batters in his ten appearances. Jacob Grzbinski (Georgetown) led the club in saves with two in eight appearances.
Price King (William Peace) and Ryan Obrecht (Wayne State College) were both 2-0 when starting in exhibitions. King carried a 0.93 ERA over 19.1 innings pitched in five appearances with three starts, striking out 21 batters. Obrecht posted a 1.00 ERA in six games with two starts with 18 strikeouts in as many innings.
SHARKS STEADILY IMPROVE OFFENSIVE OUTPUT, SWIPE DIVISION-LEADING 99 BASES
The Wilmington offense scored 248 total runs in 2021 for the fourth-best in the eastern division and an average of 5.90 runs per game. The lineup tied for sixth in the CPL and third in the division producing 362 hits at an average of 8.62 per game. The Sharks’ 63 doubles placed the club in a tie for fifth in the category.
Remaining in the middle of the pack in terms of extra-base hits and power-hitting, the Sharks posted a CPL fourth-lowest strikeout total of 347 and were top-four in sacrifice hits with seven. The club was one stolen base away from completing the season with a three-digit swipe total, finishing with 99 for the best in the division and second in the league only to Savannah’s 116. The Sharks averaged 2.36 stolen bags per game and posted a successful steal rate of .818 percent in 121 attempts.
Wilmington bats compiled a .265 batting average through the course of the season with three Sharks batting .300 or higher in Andrew Ciufo (Georgetown), John Behrends (Belmont) and Taber Mongero (UNC-Wilmington). Additionally, a dozen Sharks completed the season with double-digit hit totals.
David Smith (Connecticut) averaged a home run in every 17 at-bats to lead the club, followed closely by Behrends who averaged a longball every 20 at-bats. Behrends also led the Sharks in the sabermetric category of Runs Created with a total of 30.868 or 12.4 percent of the team’s total run output.
Among qualified batters (50 at-bats): Zach Budzik (UNC-Greensboro) led the Sharks in at-bats with 151, hits with 43 and stolen bases with 21. Smith posted leading totals in home runs with seven and runs scored with 27. Ciufo led the team in batting average hitting at a .352 clip while Behrends tied for the team-lead in doubles with eight, plated 31 RBIs and drew 27 walks.
“We had a great group of hitters this year. They competed their tails off every at-bat. Timely hitting, speed on the basepaths, and having a high baseball IQ made it really fun to watch our offense go to work,” said Burroughs.
Five batters who appeared in more than half of Wilmington’s exhibition contests batted over .300 led by Norman Kelly (Mount Olive) and his mark of .385 in eight games including 10 hits and six RBI. Brett Carson (Muskingum) appeared in all 12 exhibition games batting .282 with 11 hits, five doubles, one triple and nine RBI.
Defensively, the Sharks fielded at a .970 percentage, good for third best in the CPL with a league second-highest total of 363 assists and a league second-lowest 43 total errors.
CPL LISTS FOUR SHARKS IN POST-SEASON HONORS
The Coastal Plain League and managers of all 15 league member clubs recognized four Sharks in the All-CPL First and Second Teams announced on Wednesday, August 25.
Kemlage earned First Team honors alongside ten other pitchers including four from league champion Savannah. The Wilmington lefty and lone representatives from Holly Springs and Peninsula were the only three hailing from CPL East Division clubs.
Andrew Ciufo, Behrends and Max Alba took second-team commendations. The CPL listed Ciufo, having settled into the Sharks’ starting shortstop role in the latter half of the season, as a designated hitter and utility player. Behrends, Wilmington’s primary right fielder, was listed among six other outfielders on the second squad. Alba, who finished the season with a 2-1 record and 1.82 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings, was listed amongst ten additional second-team pitchers honored.
The Wilmington Sharks are a proud founding member of the Coastal Plain League of summer collegiate baseball. All media inquiries may be directed to the Wilmington Sharks front office at 910-342-5621 or by email a [email protected].