UCA alum, ZooKeepers pitcher Hill finds new college home

ASHEBORO – Hunter Hill arrived to play summer baseball with the Asheboro ZooKeepers while representing North Carolina Wesleyan.

When he leaves, he’ll be heading to another college.

Hill, a former Uwharrie Charter Academy pitcher, is transferring to Division II Belmont Abbey.

“I’m excited about it,” he said. “I was happy to move up the ladder.”

Hill pitched for two seasons for Division III N.C. Wesleyan without a loss on his record. The time in his first season with the ZooKeepers in the Coastal Plain League has given him confidence that he can be successful at a higher level.

“It’s a good test,” he said. “Trying to be competitive and see what I got.”

Hill posted a 7-0 record with a 5.05 earned run average in 14 appearances as a sophomore for N.C. Wesleyan, which had a 36-10 record and won the USA South Conference regular-season and tournament titles to reach the Division III NCAA Tournament. That followed Hill’s freshman season when he was 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA.

ZooKeepers coach Korey Dunbar, who was aware of Hill during recruiting when he was on the staff of Division II Barton, said the pitcher has become a more powerful pitcher.

“Hunter has changed his body completely since high school,” Dunbar said.

The transfer process was a challenge because Division III regulations differ from the higher levels. That meant it was up to Hill to spread the word in the form of self-promotion.

“It was kind of a headache,” he said.

Hill, a right-hander, said he had interest from a few Division II teams.

Hill, a former player for Randolph County Post 45, said he was hoping to play in 2022 with the ZooKeepers, but he didn’t make those arrangements in time to be considered for a roster spot.

“This year, I took it as soon as I could.” he said. “I’ve loved it here.”

Hill was a starting pitcher for N.C. Wesleyan, but mostly has been logging bullpen innings for Asheboro.

“I was on an innings count for the summer,” he said.

Dunbar said Hill has fit in on the pitching staff. He entered this week with a 1-0 record and 10 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings.

“Division II, Division III, for me, that kind of goes out the door,” Dunbar said. “It doesn’t matter where they’re from.”

There has been a pressure situation in an unusual form for Hill on the mound at McCrary Park. That came in a June game against the Holly Springs Salamanders.

The ZooKeepers held a 4-2 lead when Hill pitched the eighth inning. With two Salamanders on the base, team general manager Melissa Godwin, in an effort to rile up the crowd, announced on the public address system that a strikeout of Holly Spring’s Nolan Watson would ignite 10 T-shirts being thrown into the stands as a giveaway.

Hill came through with the strikeout.

“I can’t let everybody down,” Hill said of his thoughts. “That’s one of the coolest strikeouts I’ve had.”

By Bob Sutton