ASHEBORO — There were no magic words, no special drills or any type of major changes that were implemented about halfway through the Uwharrie Charter Academy varsity baseball season.
Sure, there were some tweaks here or there, like there are for any team in any high school sport. But head coach Rob Shore said not much has changed theoretically since the Eagles opened the season 5-9.
“It was a tough early season schedule and I think that probably had a lot to do with it,” Shore said of the early-season struggles. “It was me trying to figure out the lineup, pitching rotations and them trying to pick up on the mental parts of the game that I preach.
“At no point did I feel there was any type of special formula to figure it out. It just took these guys some time to figure it out.”
Boy, did they figure it out.
The Eagles have won 15 of their last 16 games, including six straight playoff games, to earn a berth into the state 1-A championship. The Eagles will be looking to add a second state title to the one they captured in 2019.
The Eagles advanced to the state finals after disposing of Piedmont Athletic Conference foe Eastern Randolph, which put up a valiant playoff fight after finishing the regular season 4-17. UCA captured 4-3 and 8-1 victories to earn a sweep in the best-of-three West Regional Championship Series.
“We started out (5-9) and got on a run,” Shore said. “We started believing in what we were trying to do. Our thing is ‘All In.’ It’s all about beating adversity. We made a magical run and these guys have been fun and a blast to be around.”
After starting the season 1-4, 2-5, 4-8 and then 5-9, the Eagles have flown high, finishing with an 8-4 record inside the PAC, which was good enough for a tie for second place with Trinity behind Randleman.
Seeded No. 2 in the 1-A playoffs, the Eagles advanced to the state finals with a 12-0 win over No. 31 Queens Grant, a 10-4 win over No. 18 Bishop McGuinness, an 11-4 victory over No. 10 North Stokes and a thrilling 5-4 eight-inning win over No. 3 Draughn. North Stokes and Draughn finished the season with a combined 45-11 record.
That set the Eagles up against the Wildcats. In Game 1, UCA trailed 3-0 before rallying to tie the game and then scoring the winning run in the bottom of the sixth inning for a 4-3 victory. In Game 2 Thursday, ER led 1-0 after five innings, but the Eagles scored twice in the sixth and then six times in the seventh with two outs for an 8-1 win. UCA will take a 20-10 record into the state title series.
“Over spring break, we figured out our pitching rotation and figured out how to hit and ever since then, we’ve been a great team,” senior Ben Medinger said.
Senior Peyton McCollum, who was all over the UCA lineup, was inserted into the leadoff spot with Troy Carver moving to No. 2. That paid big dividends as the offense started gelling.
Freshman Jake Hunter and sophomore Brett Smith reversed their roles as Smith took over the Tuesday night league games and Hunter the late-week battle. That seemed to work well.
“The first half of the season, Brett was my Tuesday starter,” Shore said. “Brett was pitching great but wasn’t getting any run support. During spring break, I switched them and it seemed like both started getting run support. That worked for us.”
With four seniors on the roster, Shore said he knew each one would be important.
“We just try to set a good example,” McCollum said. “We knew coming into the year, we would have a lot of young guys with important roles on this team. We have a lot of fight in us, we never give up. We can be down five runs in the bottom of the last inning and we’re going to show up and fight.”
That they have.