RAMSEUR — When Ben Medinger was in the eighth grade, he followed the Uwharrie Charter Academy’s run to the state 1-A baseball championship. Medinger said he has always thought about having the opportunity to capture a state title of his own.
After beating Eastern Randolph 8-1 last Thursday night for a sweep of the best-of-three West Regional Championship Series, Medinger and the Eagles will have that opportunity.
After being shut out for five innings Thursday night, the Eagles erupted for a pair of runs in the sixth and six two-out runs in the seventh for the Game 2 victory. Combined with last Tuesday night’s come-from-behind 4-3 win, UCA is heading back to the state title series.
Freshman Jake Hunter gave up an unearned run in the first inning then finished with a complete-game three-hitter as UCA won for the 16th time in their last 17 games. The Eagles are 20-10 overall.
“We watched our seniors as eighth graders win the state championship and we wanted it for us and now we have a chance,” Medinger said just moments after delivering a clutch two-run triple in the big seventh inning. “Coach (Rob) Shore teaches us not to fall to adversity and we stayed strong.”
That they did even after ER’s Stratton Barwick had hurled five shutout innings. UCA recorded just two hits in the first five innings as Barwick retired 11 in a row at one point. The Eagles then scored all eight runs on six hits in the final two innings.
“Scoring runs early was something we did in the first four rounds, but we didn’t quite do that tonight,” said Shore, who is in his first season as head coach after a year as an assistant at UCA. “I figured the third time through, we might get our timing down.
“(Barwick) is an absolute competitor. We knew we were going to have to swing the bat. We were able to hit late and continue hitting. That kept building confidence seeing the guys in front of you getting hits.”
ER, which entered the state tournament with a 4-17 record, ripped off four straight playoff road wins to advance to the regional finals.
Needing a win Thursday to force a third game, the Wildcats scored first as Pierce Leonard reached first on a wild pitch after striking out. WIth one out, Ethan Frye singled and Barwick’s grounder looked like a possible double play, but the throw to first after the forceout at second was wild and Leonard scored.
Although ER would threaten on a number of occasions, stranding eight runners in all, it could never get another runner across the plate.
“It was a fun run,” said ER first-year head coach Brent Haynes. “Hate it had to come to an end, but the story has to come to an end at some point. We just ran out of gas.
“These kids just believed in themselves. They knew we were better than the record shows.”
Trailing 1-0, UCA took the lead in the sixth when with one out, Troy Carver singled, Medinger walked and Grat Dalton singled to tie the game. Walker Wilkins’ deep sacrifice fly to center put the Eagles in the lead for good.
After Hunter stranded two runners in the bottom of the sixth, UCA sent 10 batters to the plate to score six times. With one out, Hunter singled and he was sacrificed to second by Caleb McDaniel. McCollum was hit by a pitch, Carver’s third hit of the game produced a run and Medinger followed with his big two-run triple. An error and wild pitch preceded a two-run hit from Caleb Stickle.
Hunter did the rest, retiring the side in order to close out the game.
“He is such a competitor and he doesn't like to lose,” Shore said of Hunter. “You guys don't get to see him in practice, he’s a bit of a goofball. He’s a completely different kid out here. He's a beast and a competitor. There was some frustration with calls tonight and I had to go out and calm him down and he went right back to work.”
Hunter wouldn’t let the early run phase him. He walked four and fanned four in the win.
“I just go out and throw strikes and throw it to the batter and hope they hit it to my defenders.” Hunter said. “I was trying to get a lot of strikeouts, but that didn’t work.
“After the first inning, I just knew I had to keep my team in the game and they would get some runs and we would take the lead, which is what happened.”
And because of it, the Eagles have the opportunity for a second state championship. Just as Medinger had hoped for all those years ago.