It was almost perfect.
Blue skies were filled with Apache helicopter flyovers and a Black Daggers parachuting demonstration. A sold-out crowd of over 6,000 people gathered to enjoy music, food and beer. With a display of fireworks to cap off the evening, only one thing was missing from Thursday night’s festivities. And as Jonathan Arauz’s double tied the game up at 5-5, it looked like the Fayetteville Woodpeckers might get the fairytale comeback win in their home opener.
But the Woodpeckers couldn’t quite get the job done, falling to the Carolina Mudcats 7-5. For some, Tristen Lutz’s game-winning two-run homer in the top of the ninth may have been enough to spoil a good evening. But most of the fans filing out of Segra Stadium were smiling and having a good time. And while most of that crowd was representing Fayetteville, there were plenty who could be spotted sporting Buies Creek gear.
Prior to the construction of Segra Stadium, Campbell University’s Jim Perry Stadium was the home of the Houston Astros’ Class A-Advanced affiliate for two seasons. And while Minor League baseball may no longer be in Harnett County, the Buies Creek Astros will always be tied to the Woodpeckers.
“It’s been an incredible experience, and we’re so thankful Campbell allowed us to play here for a couple of years,” said then Buies Creek manager Morgan Ensberg after the Astros won the Carolina League Championship in their final home game. “I’m a huge, huge Campbell fan now.”
It may never quite be the same for local fans, but Fayetteville is not a far trip. And the Woodpeckers have gone above and beyond to make sure the experience is worth the 30-plus-minute drive. Between the wide variety of food and drink options, the mid-inning entertainment, the ample playing area in the Kidz Zone and the unique scenery, there’s something for everybody at Segra Stadium. And the baseball is pretty good, too.
The Woodpeckers have been streaky early on. After winning the season opener 15-0, they followed that up with three straight losses. Then they won seven out of eight before dropping three straight games, including Thursday night’s loss to bring them to 8-7. There are several players who starred on last year’s Buies Creek championship squad.
Arauz drove in the final run in the Astros’ title-clinching walkoff win on an 11th-inning sacrifice fly in Buies Creek. Seth Beer, the Astros’ No. 10 prospect and last year’s 28th overall pick in the MLB Draft out of Clemson, hit the Woodpeckers’ first home run at Segra Stadium. Last season he hit .262 with five homers and 19 RBIs in 27 games at Buies Creek. Enoli Paredes got the start on the mound for the Woodpeckers and struck out nine batters in three and one-third innings. He went 4-1 last season with a 1.35 ERA in Buies Creek.
Bryan De La Cruz, also a Buies Creek veteran, recorded the first hit in Segra Stadium with a single up the middle. But the Mudcats struck first, scoring the first run in Segra Stadium history on a homer by Payton Henry in the top of the second. Buies Creek pulled back ahead on Beer’s homer and a two-out RBI double by Jacob Meyers in the fourth, but the Mudcats got hot in fifth and sixth innings, scoring two runs in each frame to go up 5-2.
Fayetteville was not quite ready to give up on the dream night though. Morgan Shaver, another Buies Creek veteran, led off the seventh with a solo shot, and Miguelangel Sierra drove in another run with a single to make it 5-4. Arauz’s RBI double in the eighth tied the game at 5-5 before Lutz’s two-run homer gave the Mudcats the final 7-5 margin.