Providence Day baseball coach Jim Cerbie recalls watching Andrew Pope play shortstop as an eighth-grader on the middle school baseball team, but Pope didn't stand out more than anyone else on the team.
When he tried out for the varsity team the next season, however, he did.
"He did all of the little things you like out of a shortstop," said Cerbie.
Pope made varsity as a freshman and has made an impact on the mound, at shortstop and at the plate for the Chargers (9-5, 4-4 through April 15). The junior has become a leader for a young team trying to stay near the top of the Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association.
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Growing up, Pope enjoyed the competitiveness of sports and played baseball, basketball and soccer through the eighth grade at Providence Day. After middle school, he decided he wanted to focus on baseball.
One reason was his size. At 5-foot-9, 155 pounds, Pope, 17, wasn't built for the basketball court. Another was athleticism: Baseball doesn't require nearly as much running as soccer.
The third reason was determination. Baseball "was something that I kind of had a hard time learning and grasping," he said.
Pope spent a lot of time working at the sport, trying to improve. That work ethic is still there. This summer, he focused on improving his hitting. This year, he's batting .480, with four doubles and three home runs.
"For a little guy he's got a lot of pop," said Cerbie.
The junior has managed to hit that well despite most pitchers trying to pitch around him (he's been walked eight times) or trying to get him to chase off-speed pitches and breaking balls.
Pope has also put in work on the mound. He was the top pitcher as a sophomore and was "lights out in conference" last year, according to Cerbie, helping the Chargers to the second round of the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A tournament.
"Pope's been steady on the mound since he was a freshman," said Cerbie.
He was named all-conference and all-state last year.
"It was awesome to see my name on there," said Pope. "At the same time, it doesn't really change anything."
He knew he had to keep working.
So far this year he's 3-0 with a 1.96 ERA and 24 strikeouts. He's not sure why he has pitched so well. He says he doesn't throw that hard and doesn't have great "stuff."
"It all tends to come together for me at the right times," he said.
Pope doesn't consider himself primarily a shortstop or a pitcher. He'll play wherever he's needed and has been put at second base and centerfield this year.
"I like playing every day," he said.
This year Pope hasn't seen as much time on the mound. He's had problems with his right throwing elbow and has seen limited starting action, something the Chargers have faced all over the field this year. Starting center fielder Tim Mansfield has been out with a wrist injury and left fielder Sam Arine has had a groin injury. Mac Sanders has had to miss the entire season because of a football injury.
Cerbie said he thinks the team could beat anyone if healthy, but the injuries have given younger players a chance to get experience.
This year's young team has forced Pope, who spent the last two years as one of the youngest players on the team, to become a leader.
Colleges are starting to take notice. Pope's received offers from Furman and High Point and interest from several other schools, including Elon, Davidson, Wofford, William and Mary and Virginia Military Institute. Some see him primarily as an infielder, others as a pitcher.
Cerbie is just happy college will have to wait one more year. "He'll be a Division I player someplace. And I'm glad he's a junior," he said.