Randolph County manager Ronnie Pugh, center, makes a mound visit in extra innings in the Southeast Regional to check on pitcher Hunter Atkins, right. Catcher Caleb Dunn looks on. (PJ Ward-Brown/Randolph Record)
ASHEBORO – Hunter Atkins built a reputation largely as a hitter during high school for Randleman’s baseball team.
But that’s far from his only attribute, something that was on display at times during the American Legion season for Randolph County Post 45.
In what became the season finale, Atkins threw six innings of relief against eventual regional champion Florence (S.C.) Post 1. It came while he labored with calf cramping on the mound shortly after dealing with grip problems at the plate with a slippery, sweaty bat.
His jersey was soaked with perspiration after the game.
Perhaps that was the visual that most defined the Post 45 team in manager Ronnie Pugh’s mind.
“That’s what makes it fun out here, when you’ve got grinders,” Pugh said.
While for the second year in a row Randolph County came up one game short of reaching the final day of the Southeast Regional at McCrary Park, there were numerous memorable moments for Post 45.
The team finished with a 25-8 record. There was a 13-game winning streak during the regular season.
“Obviously, we’ve had a successful season,” Pugh said.
There were tricky components to the season.
Player availability was wavering as some players had summer college classes, particularly affecting their attendance for weeknight games. Pugh said a puzzling stretch when cases of strep throat – seemingly one at time – created havoc with the roster.
Pugh said he was particularly proud of improvements made by several players.
“You can see it,” Pugh said. “We are always proud of that as coaches.”
Atkins, who was set to report to UNC Greensboro a few days after the regional, was one of several Post 45 newcomers who made tremendous impacts.
Pitcher Austin Lemons, another Randleman product, second baseman Pierce Leonard, who played for Eastern Randolph, and outfielder Carter Brown and catcher Grat Dalton, who missed the regional because of a death in the family, arrived to play for the team fresh off a Class 1-A state championship with Uwharrie Charter Academy.
Brown said playing an American Legion season was beneficial.
“I like it, a lot of fun,” he said. “My confidence at the plate, I feel it has improved.”
Atkins and Leonard both batted .455 in the regional. Third baseman/outfielder Tyler Parks checked in at .400.
“First and only year,” Atkins said of the American Legion experience. “It was unbelievable.”