UCA team members gather after winning the Class 1-A West Region title.
Clutch late-inning work boosts UCA’s baseball team
RAMSEUR – It was pretty much a matter of Uwharrie Charter Academy’s baseball team making the best of tough situations Thursday night.
By doing so, the Eagles are heading to where they want to go.
UCA completed a Class 1-A West Regional finals sweep of Eastern Randolph by winning 8-1 in Game 2, scoring all their runs in the last two innings.
“It still hasn’t sunk in,” UCA senior Ben Medinger said of the chance to play for a state title.
The Eagles (20-10) will play in the state championship series against North Moore or Voyager Academy on June 2-3 in either Burlington or Holly Springs. Game 2 of the East Region finals is set for Friday night, with a possible Game 3 on Saturday.
After a tense series with Eastern Randolph, the Eagles will have a few days to relax. UCA and Eastern Randolph are the Piedmont Athletic Conference’s only Class 1-A teams, and they made it through the bracket for this showdown.
“We just kind of ran out of steam,” Eastern Randolph coach Brent Haynes said.
UCA is now 4-0 vs. the Wildcats (8-19) this season, but it was far from easy.
Eastern Randolph pitcher Stratton Barwick blanked the second-seeded Eagles across the first five innings. UCA coach Rob Shore said the Eagles had trouble solving Barwick, a left-hander, during a 4-3, 10-inning victory more than a month earlier during the regular season.
Meanwhile, UCA had freshman pitcher Jake Hunter up to the task on the mound, though it was taxing for several reasons.
“I haven’t gone seven too often,” he said of the complete game.
There were concerns about him making it that far after he absorbed a line drive off Barwick’s bat for what became the last out of the fifth inning. The liner pelted Hunter in the stomach – and he had a sizable reminder imprinted on his midsection afterward.
Hunter keeled over, while second baseman Troy Carver retrieved the ball and recorded the out with a throw to first.
“It hurt in the beginning,” Hunter said.
“I think it scared him more than anything,” Shore said.
At the time, the Eagles trailed 1-0. They went ahead in the top of the sixth.
Grat Dalton’s one-out single brought in the tying run. Walker Wilkins’ sacrifice fly put UCA ahead.
In the bottom of the inning, No. 21 seed Eastern Randolph put a couple of runners on base without a hit with one out. Hunter responded with two strikeouts to thwart the threat.
In UCA’s six-run seventh, all the scoring came with two outs.
“We showed (relentlessness) with every one of those coming with two outs,” Carver said.
Carver’s two-out single began the scoring outburst. Medinger drove in the next two runs with his first triple of the season. The Eagles piled on more runs courtesy of some fielding blunders and Caleb Stickle’s two-run single.
“We put them up when we needed it,” UCA right fielder Carter Brown said of the runs.
That marked the end of Barwick’s pitching.
Hunter ended up with a three-hitter.
“Jake absolutely shoved,” Carver said.
Throughout the game, the good thing for Hunter was that he had third baseman Landen Zephir making a variety of defensive plays on his behalf. Those were among the reasons that potential Eastern Randolph threats were doused.
“We just could not get that hit,” Haynes said.
The Eagles achieved what they sought in their first road game of the playoffs. It was capped by a typical on-field celebration.
For Brown, a junior, the setting had significance.
“It meant 10 times more to me because this is my home (district),” he said of playing on Eastern Randolph’s field.
Eastern Randolph senior Pierce Leonard was on the flip side. He’s a transfer from UCA. Leonard scored the Wildcats’ only run.
Eastern Randolph doubled its win total during the state playoffs in Haynes’ first season.
“Guys knew they were better than a 4-17 record,” he said. “We just started finishing games. That kind of came back and got us (in this series).”
The Eagles scored nine of their 12 runs in the series in the sixth or seventh innings.
“We were a couple of outs away from being in a state championship,” Haynes said.
UCA also eliminated the Wildcats last year, though that came in a third-round clash.
In Tuesday night’s Game 1 at UCA, the Eagles broke a tie in the sixth inning for a 4-3 victory with Brett Smith and Logun Wilkins providing the pitching. Brown scored two runs and Carver rapped a triple.
Eastern Randolph held a 3-1 lead after posting three runs in the second inning with Alex Kivett’s run-producing double one of the big blows. Samuel Asbill pitched a complete game for the Wildcats.