Asheboro ZooKeepers cap strange, twisting season

Southwestern Randolph alum Bryce Marsh had a strong season in power numbers for the Asheboro ZooKeepers. (PJ Ward-Brown/Randolph Record)


Marsh’s CPL-best homer count among team’s highlights

ASHEBORO – Things became better for the Asheboro ZooKeepers during the latter part of the Coastal Plain League season.

But not good enough to qualify for the postseason.

A somewhat awkward season came to a close with Saturday night’s 12-8 loss to the visiting Martinsville Mustangs at McCrary Park.

Asheboro’s 14-34 record in CPL games was a league-worst mark in the 14-team circuit. The ZooKeepers were also 2-2 on non-league games.

“It has been hard to get everything working,” said second-year head coach Jeremy Knight, who’s also the team’s co-general manager. “We’ve had so many roster changes. The schedule got so packed for a while. We stay in games and then we don’t have enough to finish.”

At least there were improvements as this season went on. After the ZooKeepers posted a 3-20 record in the CPL’s first half, they improved to 11-14 in the second half. Still, Asheboro shared last place with Martinsville in the second half in the West Division by ending the season on a three-game losing streak.

It was the first collegiate summer league experience in this type of setting for many of the players.

“It’s a nice experience,” said ZooKeepers infielder Michael Zarrillo, a Lafayette College player who’s from Atlanta. “You get to see a lot of different players from different places. Most of them you’re never going to see again.”

There were a few notable accomplishments among ZooKeepers players.

Southwestern Randolph alum Bryce Marsh turned out to be one of the CPL’s top power hitters. The first baseman blasted 13 home runs across 45 CPL games, ranking first in the league in that category. Marsh, who also homered once in three non-league games, smashed a long ball in each of the ZooKeepers’ final three games.

“We look for him to hit the ball hard,” Knight said.

Marsh was the team RBI leader with 35 in CPL play, moving past shortstop Trent Youngblood, who had 33 but only one in the final week. Marsh rated third in the CPL in runs batted in and Youngblood tied for fifth.

Marsh is a May graduate from Division III Pfeiffer with a degree in health and exercise science, though he has another season of eligibility remaining based on the NCAA’s approach because of the pandemic. Marsh homered seven times in 30 games for Pfeiffer this year, stretching his career college total to 21 in 101 games.

Youngblood, who also was used as a relief pitcher, batted a team-best .344, capped by a 3-for-5 effort in the finale. He ranked third in the league in batting. On the Asheboro team, he was the leader in doubles (10), triples (3) and runs (36) to go with his second-best four home runs.

Youngblood was also second on the team in stolen bases with 15 behind Ron Evans’ 18 (tied for fourth in the league).

No Asheboro pitcher had more than two victories. Connor Smith, a college pitcher for High Point, went 2-1 and logged four of the team’s five saves.

The 2021 season produced a 23-21 overall record in CPL play for Asheboro, which was then nicknamed the Copperheads. This year turned out more difficult.

The season had a strange component right from the beginning for the ZooKeepers because of renovations at McCrary Park that weren’t complete in time for the first few scheduled home games. That caused schedule juggling and a busy slate once the city-owned ballpark was available.

The upgrades largely revolved around the field, dugouts and bullpens, leaving limited seating for spectators. Next year, another phase in the renovation project is supposed to be complete in time for the CPL season, and those will be focused on new seating areas and fan amenities.

By Bob Sutton