Copperheads see plenty of UNCG influence

ASHEBORO — When something notable happens for the Asheboro Copperheads, there’s a good chance it could have something to do with one of their players from UNC Greensboro.

The time this summer with the Coastal Plain League team has been an ideal proving grounds for the college players.

“It’s top-level competition, really good,” said infielder Matt Kemp, who’s from Randleman. “It’s better than I thought it would be.”

While Kemp is getting back in the swing of things after his freshman season, pitcher Jared Mathewson is trying to tune up for a final go-around at the college level. 

“It has been a lot of fun,” Mathewson said. “Getting to meet a lot of new guys and playing with some of the guys I know. … Next year is my last year playing so this is my last summer playing.”

The Copperheads are stacked with four players from UNCG — outfielder Bradley Bott and catcher Dallas Callahan are the others. Bott hit the game-winning single in a victory last week against Wilmington.

And some of Asheboro’s top competition comes from the High Point-Thomasville HiToms, who have UNCG slugger Hogan Windish in their lineup. Windish is the CPL leader in home runs and runs batted in. The teams have four more meetings across the final two-plus weeks of the regular season.

“It’s fun playing against them,” Kemp said. “I know a ton of guys for the HiToms.”

Kemp has been mostly playing as a shortstop for the Copperheads after playing in a limited role for UNCG, where he was the third baseman.

He’s using the time in the CPL to boost his confidence.

“I really didn’t take advantage of the opportunities I had (during my freshman season),” Kemp said. “The confidence was definitely low this spring. I started out a little slow (with the Copperheads), but I’m mainly getting back in a groove. Just being aggressive.”

Copperheads head coach Jeremy Knight said Kemp has shown good patience at the plate and that has allowed him to heat up the past few weeks.

“Recently he has been tearing it up,” Knight said. “He has a really keen eye at the plate.”

Knight said Kemp’s work in the field has been consistent and that has given the Copperheads stability defensively.

Aside from a key member of Randleman teams, Kemp played on the travel-ball circuit while in high school. Then last year he played with High Point in the Old North State League just to get some time on the field after summer leagues were scrambled because of the pandemic.

So this is just another piece of a solid foundation for Kemp.

“I’ve played with wood bats the past five years,” he said. “It’s more challenging than a mental bat, but it makes you better.” 

Mathewson has made a mark on the mound for the Copperheads. He was a transfer from Mars Hill when he suited up for UNCG.

He had Tommy John surgery in May 2018, so it has been a slow climb back, particularly with the 2020 season interruption.

“This is the strongest I’ve felt,” Mathewson said. “I’ve just been able to build up my confidence on the mound.”

Entering this week, he’s second in the CPL with 34 2/3 innings to go with a 3-0 record and 2.34 earned run average. UNCG coach Billy Godwin told Mathewson to build up his endurance this summer.

“I kind of struggled early on (with UNCG) and I improved and it has carried on into the summer,” Mathewson said. “My goal was to throw as many innings as possible.”

That has worked out well for the Copperheads.

“Jared has done amazing for us,” Knight said. “He’s looking to work into a starting role (for UNCG). He just wanted to get innings.”

Rivals ready for more

The Copperheads and HiToms have a home-and-home set this week, with Friday night’s game at Thomasville’s Finch Field and Saturday night’s matchup at Asheboro’s McCrary Park.

“It makes it a lot of fun,” Mathewson said. “We strap it on with these guys throughout the year and then we get to go compete against each other.”

Windish, a second baseman who finished his redshirt sophomore season in the spring, has been an All-Southern Conference second-team selection in 2019 and 2021. With 11 home runs and 41 RBI through 29 games, his production with the HiToms puts him ahead of his rate of 10 home runs and 51 RBI in 52 games this year for UNCG.

With an abbreviated season with only some teams participating in the 2020 season, Windish was named the CPL Hitter of the Year. He led the league in batting (.447) and RBI (37) in 25 games.

“He did it last year and he’s doing it again,” Kemp said. “It’s nothing new. … Hogan is definitely a threat more than anyone else in the CPL right now. He can put on a show like that. He’s always a threat, especially this summer he has found a groove.”

The Copperheads held Windish in check in some matchups early in the season. But Knight said discussions with staff members from Forest City and Martinsville made it clear that Windish was still a focal point for the HiToms.

“They were asking if he had been doing that to us and I said ‘not yet,’ ” Knight said. “I had a feeling it was coming.”

It did in the most-recent meeting, when Windish homered.

“Every team is having trouble dealing with him this year,” Knight said. “He’s really tough to get out. He’s dialed in so much right now. He’s a pain to deal with.”

Mathewson faced Windish earlier this year and recorded a strikeout and flyout. But he knows he might have dodged trouble.

“It’s fun watching what he does,” Mathewson said. “I like to check the box score every night to see what he does. He’s a great hitter – one of the best we have at UNCG.”

UNCG is also represented on the HiToms roster by outfielder Collin Fowler and pitcher KJ Wells .

“It’s kind of neat for the guys,” Knight said. “This league is really UNCG-heavy. They have a lot of fun with it.”

By Bob Sutton

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