Ben Medinger has been a key hitter for Uwharrie Charter Academy’s baseball team this year. (PJ Ward-Brown/Randolph Record)
ASHEBORO – It wasn’t all great for Uwharrie Charter Academy’s baseball team this season.
But the Eagles have good timing.
That’s why they still have games to play entering June.
UCA will compete for a state championship.
“We started out a little slow and we found a rhythm,” senior left fielder Peyton McCollum said. “We felt like we had the potential.”
The Eagles (20-10) take on North Moore (22-8) in the best-of-3 Class 1-A state championship series beginning Friday at Ting Stadium in Holly Springs. Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 3 will be held Saturday.
“We knew we had it in us to get here,” UCA outfielder Carter Brown said. “It was a matter if we wanted it enough.”
For Rob Shore, who’s in his first season as the team’s head coach after one year as an assistant, months ago he tried to plant the idea that the Eagles could play on the last weekend of the season.
“I told our guys back in like November that we could do something like this,” Shore said. “We were getting so much back (from the 2022 team), I knew we had a chance. If you can put that in their heads early, and we just kept preaching it.”
It didn’t look so bright across the first few weeks of the season. The Eagles entered April with a 4-8 record.
A week later, they lost 15-0 to visiting Central Davidson.
“We were all crushed after that game because we knew we should have never lost that bad,” McCollum said.
It also marked a turning point. UCA won its next nine games.
The Eagles insist they’re not surprised to be playing at this stage of the season.
“Absolutely not,” second baseman Troy Carver said. “We knew that once playoffs got here, we’d be better.”
Navigating the Piedmont Athletic Conference certainly helped. The Eagles tied for second place in the league, which is comprised mostly of Class 2-A teams.
“They are young, but I’ve told people all year that the conference we’re in has been preparing us to be on the stage that we’re on,” Shore said. “With some of the teams we played in non-conference and playing in those games a step above us, that has completely prepared our young guys.”
So at times the Eagles were knocked around, but they weren’t knocked out.
“I think our biggest thing is we just don’t back down,” McCollum said.
UCA swept Eastern Randolph in the West Region finals, which ended Thursday night.
The East Region finals was extended to Monday because Saturday’s scheduled Game 3 was rained out. North Moore edged host Voyager Academy 5-4 in Durham in the decisive game, sending the Mustangs to their first state finals.
A compelling clash
The matchup with North Moore pits two schools about 25 miles apart. These players have crossed paths on the youth circuit, and both schools had entries in a fall league at Asheboro’s McCrary Park.
UCA won the 2019 state title. That postseason march included a victory against North Moore in the first round when the teams were in the same conference and thus in the same region.
This year, Eastern Randolph defeated North Moore 13-5 in an early April meeting during spring break at Southwestern Randolph, so they have a common opponent.
North Moore is also part of a split conference.
Shore has experience in a championship series when he was on the 2018 coaching staff at Ledford, which reached the Class 2-A state finals.
“I kind of know what to expect,” Shore said.
Many of the underclassmen who UCA depends on might not have such a clear picture.
Sophomore Brett Smith and freshman Jake Hunter figure to be the starting pitchers for UCA, with sophomore Logun Wilkins available for that role as well.
“I feel confident in our pitching,” Shore said.
Along with the youth, there are four seniors, including leading hitter Ben Medinger, on the roster.
“We’re trying to give them one last chance,” said Carver, a junior.
Indeed, the Eagles are still playing.