Randleman Tigers adopt new script, keep on winning in baseball

Randleman’s Hunter Atkins takes a swing during a game earlier this season at Eastern Randolph. (PJ Ward-Brown/Randolph Record)

ASHEBORO – The script looks a bit different, but Randleman’s baseball team has kept the winning formula.

The two-time reigning Class 2-A state champions are cranking out victories on a regular basis.

“We’ve had some tough games that we’ve battled through,” shortstop Hunter Atkins said. “We’ve just been competing. It’s just about competing when it comes down to it. Our team has the grit.”

And Randleman owns an 8-2 overall record. The Tigers have made it halfway through their 12-game Piedmont Athletic Conference schedule with a perfect mark.

“You’re learning all the time,” coach Jake Smith said. “Guys are getting challenged. Just facing adversity. Everything hasn’t gone all hunky-dory. We’ve had to compete and play seven innings.”

The latest success came with Friday night’s 12-5 victory at Southwestern Randolph.

While last year the Tigers frequently had shortened games because of blowouts that resulted in the mercy rule, they’re on the field longer these days.

“It’s something getting used to, playing full seven innings – not going five innings and getting out,” catcher Caleb Dunn said. “Our hard work is going to put us over and we will be able to finish out these games that are longer.”

The past couple of seasons were defined by a roster that included eventual Boston Red Sox draft pick Brooks Brannon at catcher and a roster stacked with college prospects. Now, it’s what Smith calls “back to normal.”

For the Tigers, the good thing is that includes winning games.

“We’ve got the guys this year that need to get the job done,” Atkins said. “Just getting after it. That’s how we roll. We just get after it.”

Randleman’s Austin Lemons threw five innings Friday night. Smith said he liked Lemons’ outing even though the right-hander wasn’t always smooth. He was forced to work out of jams.

“Kind of grew up,” Smith said.

Lemons allowed three runs, but only one was earned. He walked four and struck out seven.

“He had a good night,” Dunn said. “He can do better, though. I know he can.”

Seth Way has been the team’s top starting pitcher. The Tigers are waiting for the return of Drake Purvis, who’s rehabbing from an elbow injury. Purvis said he could be on the mound within a couple of weeks.

Randleman’s results have been nice validation through four weeks of the season.

“We really worked hard in this preseason and I think that really helped us in that way, getting our confidence up,” Dunn said. “Playing great competition as many times as we can a week is really good for us and I think that can really help us out throughout the season.”

The Tigers have remaining PAC series left against Uwharrie Charter Academy, Providence Grove and Trinity.

“Going through the conference undefeated right now is definitely a good feeling,” Atkins said. “Can’t ask for much more.”

Randleman’s five-run first inning came in handy against Southwestern Randolph. Chesney Welch had an RBI double and Seth Way, Shawn Miller and Dunn all drove in runs.

The Cougars scored two runs in the second. Adam Cole’s triple drove in a run in the third, and then Southwestern Randolph loaded the bases with no outs. Lemons struck out the next three batters.

“That was the chance to get back in the game,” Southwestern Randolph coach Ethan Marsh said.

The Tigers were back at it in the fifth, scoring on John Kirkpatrick’s two-out single. Way provided an RBI single in the three-run sixth before Atkins’ two-run home run in the seventh. Atkins scored four runs.

By Bob Sutton