Copperheads navigate tricky season, seek playoff spot

Asheboro Copperheads Head coach Jeremy Knight far right , Assistant coach Dustin Haithcox middle, and Assistant coach Chase Hetzel stand in the dugout against Florence RedWolves at McCrary Park in Asheboro, NC on July 15th, 2021. PJ WARD-BROWN/ FOR THE NORTH STATE JOURNAL

ASHEBORO — Closing in on the completion of a full season is an accomplishment in many ways for the Asheboro Copperheads, who are about to wrap up their Coastal Plain League baseball schedule.

For first-year head coach Jeremy Knight, the challenges showed up at just about every turn but he was happy to have the chance to navigate the season.

“Doing stuff like this is a great opportunity for me,” Knight said.

A spot in the CPL postseason seems possible for the Copperheads, who entered the last week of the regular season playing at about a .500 clip for the season.

The home finale comes Thursday night against the Forest City Owls at McCrary Park, with the last games of the regular season Friday at High Point-Thomasville and Saturday at Holly Springs.

The uncertain nature during the period leading up to the season meant putting together a roster became a bit of a curiosity.

“We weren’t sure how many spots we were going to have with host families,” Knight said.

Asheboro finished the CPL’s first half with an 11-11 record for third place in the West Division. The Copperheads have mostly stayed in the middle of the pack in the eight-team division.

“We’ve been playing well lately,” team general manager Dennis Garcia said. “It’s always easier when you’re playing for something (like a potential playoff spot).”

The Copperheads had about 40 players at one point, though that number has declined.

“We’ve got to go to win ball games,” Knight said.

Trying to figure out the pitching staff was a chore at times, particularly with players coming off various types of college seasons.

Other than Cody Benton from UNC Wilmington – a pitcher recovering from an arm ailment so he was limited – there was mostly a good number of innings available for most of the hurlers.

“Managing a pitching staff is the biggest difference,” Knight said. “It’s a big puzzle, but also a lot of fun.”

Three of the players — Wyatt Henseler, Andrew Hernandez and pitcher Danny Heintz – play for Pennsylvania, an Ivy League team that was limited to 14 games in 2021. That was just one of what Knight called oddities of the roster make-up. Henseler was Penn’s leading hitter.

So in many ways, it has come together well under Knight’s direction.

“We’ve had so many hurdles we’ve had to clear this year,” Garcia said. “His knowledge and people he knows has really been big for us. His contacts have been really vital for us.”

Knight was lined up to be an assistant in 2020 under Kevin Ritsche, but that Asheboro season was wiped out by the pandemic. Prior to that, he spent two seasons as an assistant coach for the New Market Rebels in the Valley Baseball League, another summer collegiate circuit.

Knight, who’s an assistant coach at Southern Alamance, said his goal is to be a coach at the collegiate level.

With the revamped high school season moved to later in the spring, that meant for overlap for Knight. It was an extra busy time.

“A whole lot of back and forth and a whole lot of baseball,” he said.

For the Copperheads, they hope there’s a little bit more baseball with a spot in the postseason.

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