By Dennis Garcia
Copperheads General Manager
UNCG has become an upper-tier baseball program in the Division I ranks, having earned an average of 37 wins in four seasons prior to last year’s 11-5 campaign that was cut short due to the pandemic.
Quality programs draw quality players and the Asheboro Copperheads are thrilled three Spartans will be joining the team this summer as the local Coastal Plain League team vies for a league championship.
Randleman High School graduate Matt Kemp is among the trio. Kemp had an incredible high school career at RHS, helping the Tigers to a 77-19 record during his three-plus seasons. The Tigers advanced to the state championship series once and the fourth round twice while Kemp was a Tiger. RHS was 4-0 when the season ended last March due to the virus.
Kemp, an infielder, will be joined by UNCG teammates Dallas Callahan, a redshirt sophomore catcher from Duncan, S.C., and Bradley Bott, a redshirt freshman outfielder from Fort Mill, S.C.
“We have had some players from UNC-Greensboro in the past, but not on a consistent basis,” Copperheads head coach and co-General Manager Keith Ritsche said. “With that school being so close by, it makes complete sense to consistently bring multiple players to Asheboro each year. We are glad to have the relationship we do with a great program and coaching staff over there. We look forward to all three guys playing a large role in our success next summer.”
Kemp was a standout pitcher and infielder for Randleman, which has one of the top programs in the entire state. As a junior, he was 7-1 on the mound, surrendering just 36 hits in 67 ⅓ innings. Offensively, he was just as impressive with a .366 batting average with five home runs and 37 RBIs. Although he had an incredible prep pitching career, he said he wants to concentrate on being a position player.
“I came to UNCG as a position player, not a pitcher,” said Kemp, who just finished fall workouts and the Fall World Series at UNCG. “Pitching isn’t what I wanted to do at the next level. I kind of wanted to focus on the infield in college. I had fun pitching in high school, but going to college I wanted to do what I wanted to do,”
Kemp, who can play shortstop, second base and third base, originally planned on going to N.C. State, but after the pandemic hit and senior players were allowed to come back for another season, it was agreed upon that Kemp would play elsewhere. He had his options, but one call from UNCG Coach Billy Godwin sealed the deal.
“I was sitting on a boat on a pond fishing when he called me,” Kemp said of the UNCG head coach. “He made me feel more valued in that one 10-minute conversation than I ever did. He made me feel wanted.”
Kemp joins fellow RHS standouts Caleb Webster, a former Copperhead performer who was one of the top players to ever play at UNCG, and Easton Welch, another star player for the Tigers, as RHS players who chose to become Spartans after graduating from high school.
“It was a big adjustment baseball-wise, didn’t go real well early on, but you make adjustments and you catch on as you go,” Kemp said. “Coach (Jake) Smith did a great job of preparing us for college, making us feel we belonged there.”
“With Matt being a standout high school player in the area, it was an easy decision to sign him,” Ritsche said. “Having local talent is always something the Copperheads are looking for, so our fans can relate to them.”
Bott comes to the Copperheads with summer experience. He hit .313 for the Carolina Venom last year in the Southern Collegiate Baseball League. Perhaps it’s only logical he goes from the Venom to the Copperheads.
“Our coach was asking us our plans for the summer and with me living in an ap artment just off campus, he talked about the Copperheads and I did some research and thought it would be great to play there.” Bott said.
Bott, who is coming off a back injury, said he feels fine and is ready to go.
“I am just trying to get my strength back and am feeling better every day,” he said.
As a freshman at UNCG, Bott made eight appearances, mostly as a defensive replacement for the Spartans. He made his first plate appearance against North Carolina, drawing a walk, and his first hit was a double against Maryland-Eastern Shore.
His time in the SCBL should certainly be a benefit when the 2021 CPL season rolls around.
“I really wasn’t sure how the competition was going to be, but with Covid, we got a lot of players from the CPL and the Valley League,” Bott said. “I saw a lot of arms that helped me prepare me for the season and for summer ball.”
Bott said he is looking forward to the summer,
“First off, I am a team-guy,” he said. “No matter if you’re playing or on the bench, you contribute any way you can to help your team win. Defense is primary for me. I am definitely looking forward to playing baseball. Hopefully, we get a spring season in and get back to a little normalcy. I want to play the game I love again.”
Callahan, 6-0 and 195, transferred to UNCG after a season at Coastal Carolina. There, he played in 19 games his freshman season, making four starts. He hit .276 with a double, two RBIs and one run scored in 29 at-bats. He had a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage behind the plate.
“One of the main attractions was the mentality of getting after it,” Callahan said of his move to UNCG. “At Coastal, you are supposed to know everything. This was a change of pace for me. I get to learn the game.”
Callahan brings some CPL experience with him. He played part of the 2019 season in Wilmington and finished last summer with the Hi- Toms.
“I see myself as a people person, try and connect with the pitchers as much as I can,” Callahan said. “It’s like my coach told me, you always want to make that guy (pitcher) look better. I think this summer will be fun.”
In high school, Callahan was a four-year letter winner at Byrnes. He was rated as the No. 2 catcher and the No. 17 overall prospect in the state of South Carolina for the class of 2018 by Perfect Game. He was named to the 2018 Class 5A All-State team by the South Carolina Baseball Coaches Association and earned All-State recognition in 2017 as a junior. He played with Team USA and competed at the East Coast Pro Event in 2017
“The additions of Bradley and Dallas will bring previous summer baseball experience to the Copperheads,” Ritsche said. “Bradley played well in the Southern Collegiate Baseball League in 2020 while Dallas split time in the Old North State League and the Coastal Plain League. Having that experience already using a wood bat against college pitchers will be valuable to our team.”