ZooKeepers show signs of breaking through

Jay Dillard had a three-run double and then scored a run for the Asheboro ZooKeepers against Holly Springs on Thursday night. (Photo courtesy of ZooKeepers)

ASHEBORO – The Asheboro ZooKeepers didn’t make a push for the first-half title in the Coastal Plain League’s West Division.

But they did develop momentum and created some good vibes by the midway mark of the season.

Among the highlights was Thursday night’s 5-4, 10-inning victory against visiting Holly Springs Salamanders at McCrary Park.

“We strung a couple of nights like that together,” first-year ZooKeepers coach Korey Dunbar said. “We’re starting to finish games.”

The next night, the ZooKeepers ended the CPL’s first half with a 12-5 loss at Holly Springs. That left Asheboro with an 8-12 record, though that’s washed away with the second half of the split season beginning on the weekend.

“I think we’re starting to figure it out as a team,” first baseman Tyler McPeak said.

The ZooKeepers were in their home ballpark for games for only a week during the season’s first half because of renovations. That created a bunch of road assignments and select home games at UNC Greensboro. There were logistical challenges as the roster continued to evolve.

“It seems like this first half has flown by,” Dunbar said.

McPeak set a Lenoir-Rhyne single-season home run record with 18 this year in his first season since transferring from Campbell. He said the ZooKeepers are starting to develop the right mindset.

“Just getting out here and playing every day,” McPeak said. “You can’t dwell on every game. You move on.”

In the first half’s home finale, the ZooKeepers were one strike away from winning in the top of the ninth. An appeal on a check-swing by Nate Carriere was denied and he took advantage of the chance by singling to left field to drive in two runs.

The Salamanders had runners at first and third with no outs in the 10th but Jacob Halford escaped.

With a runner placed at second base based on the extra-inning rules, Todd Hudson, the first batter for Asheboro in the 10th, drilled a single to right-center field to drive in the winning run.

“It’s fun to do,” Hudson said of the walk-off hit. “You like it for the team.”

That marked the ZooKeepers’ second victory in a row following a doubleheader split with the High Point-Thomasville HiToms on Tuesday night.

Hudson, a rising sophomore for Liberty, said it might have been prior to high school when he had a previous walk-off hit. This might have been just what the ZooKeepers needed.

“We’ve been very close in a lot of games,” Hudson said. “Good to pull one out.”

Asheboro scored four second-inning runs on Jay Dillard’s three-run double and Cole Laskowski’s double.

ZooKeepers pitcher Jacob Dienes of North Carolina State rolled through five innings. Then he beaned Austin Hawke to begin the sixth and that was followed by Win Johns’ home run.

On Friday night, Andrew Grande, who played for Asheboro last year, homered for the Salamanders.

By Bob Sutton