With the bases loaded and one out Monday night, Peninsula Pilots center fielder Bill Cullen hit a slow roller to shortstop. The Morehead City Marlins converted the routine force-out at second, but Cullen beat the relay to avoid an inning-ending double play.
His reward: 2 RBIs.
Yes, not only did Garrett Brooks score from third on the play, but Patrick Grady sprinted home from second, as well.
"That," coach Hank Morgan said emphatically, "is the kind of stuff that fires me up."
That fourth-inning sequence, part of a 9-2 victory, also embodies the small-ball aggressiveness that has carried the Pilots to their best regular season since the franchise joined the Coastal Plain League in 2000.
Naturally, calculating such a statistic jinxed Morgan's squad immediately as they dropped the opening game of Tuesday's doubleheader at Petersburg. The 3-1 loss snapped Peninsula's six-game winning streak and came against the league's worst team.
But the Pilots rebounded with a 13-3 rout — Danny Grauer, in only his second official at-bat this season, hit a seventh-inning grand slam — to claim Game 2, improving their record to 32-18. That's a .640 winning percentage, on pace to better the team record of .625 established in 2009, when Peninsula was 35-21.
Moreover, the Pilots are a sterling 18-5 in the second half of the season, and Monday's victory assured them a berth in the CPL playoffs for the eighth consecutive year.
"My overriding thought on this summer is that it's a fantastic group of kids," Morgan said Tuesday evening as the team bus rumbled home from Petersburg. "They make it an absolute joy to be at the ballpark every day."
With 12 of 15 position players rising college seniors, it's also an experienced group, one that pays attention to the nuances that can determine games.
Evidence of the Pilots' fundamental soundness: They lead the 14-team CPL in walks and sacrifice bunts and rank second in stolen bases.
Rising Old Dominion senior Jordan Negrini hits a league-best .352 but has a modest two home runs in 125 at-bats. His bases-loaded double drove in three runs and kickstarted Monday's rout of Morehead City.
The Pilots aren't long-ball sexy, but they are productive. Peninsula averages 5.1 runs per game, second only to the Edenton Steamers' 5.8.
Ah, Edenton. As good as the Pilots have been during the second half, the East Division rival Steamers, a probable second-round playoff foe, have been a virtual match.
Entering play Tuesday night, Edenton was 15-4 in the second half, 35-10 overall. The Pilots are 3-6 against the Steamers, but 2-1 since July 1. Three of Peninsula's five remaining regular-season games are against Edenton, including the finale Aug. 5 on the road.
The playoffs begin two days later, with eight teams competing in three rounds of best-of-three series. Peninsula has never won the CPL's championship trophy, the Petitt Cup.
Ending that drought hinges on a roster that's as modest — nine players hail from non-Division I schools, with only one, Georgia Tech pitcher Josh Heddinger, from a perennial power — as the Pilots' style.
Bradon Reitano, their top base-stealer, is from Mount Olive College, a Division II school in North Carolina. Similarly, Grady, the league-leader in walks, plays at Lander University in South Carolina, while shortstop Josh Silver, whom Morgan calls the best defensive player he's coached, attends Lee University in Tennessee.
"I don't have to watch 'Web Gems' on ESPN," Morgan said. "I see it every night (with Silver)."
Not to ignore the pitching staff.
Longwood University and former Warwick High left-hander Brandon Vick improved to 3-0 and lowered his ERA to 1.20 with five shutout innings Monday; Jared Lyons from Liberty University and Tabb High is 5-1 with a 1.46 ERA.
Morgan credits pitching coach Chris Ochsenfeld with adopting an unusual approach advocated most prominently by former Major League pitcher Tom House.
Rather than deploy the traditional, five-man starting rotation, the Pilots have divided 10 starters into five tandems. A tandem is assigned a game, with the ideal result having each work 4-5 innings and throw 60-65 pitches.
The result is less arm strain, more consistent appearances and enhanced command.
"I believe, from what I've seen, that House is onto something," Morgan said. "I'm fascinated by it."
A lifetime baseball rat who, full disclosure, is married to my wife's cousin, Morgan understands the Pilots' fortunes "could turn in a heartbeat" or a sprained ankle. But with a leadership foundation led by Reitano, Grady, Silver and Grauer, a Liberty University pitcher drafted in the 38th round by the Cincinnati Reds, Morgan is confident the team is prepared for postseason.
"I don't know that we're going to win this thing," he said. "But I like our chances. … I believe that in my heart."