Senior leaves his mark behind for Ragin' Bulls

Hickory Ridge's baseball program has had a mere four years to establish any kind of winning tradition. Next month, Zach Andrews will walk the stage at graduation knowing he was a big part of it.

The senior, who's a member of the first graduating class to only attend Hickory Ridge, will take a couple of all-conference nods with him and several benchmark moments that made the Ragin' Bulls a contender in the South Piedmont Conference in just a few short years.

They didn't know it at the time but some of Hickory Ridge's first baseball players were members of the same AAU team when they were in elementary school. Andrews played the Carolina Big Dogs with current Bulls Jarrod Brown, Tyler Graham, Travis Baucom and Josh Cox.

In middle school at C.C. Griffin, Andrews was proud he and Graham were able to start as seventh graders. They were the double-play duo with Andrews at shortstop and Graham at second base.

Andrews grew up pitching and in the infield, where he continued to play as he arrived at Hickory Ridge. He played on the junior varsity team his first year and was directed by current varsity coach Branden Knapp.

Andrews was a mainstay at third base as a freshman and as a sophomore, when he got promoted to the varsity team and batted .468 and had 24 RBIs.

One of his highlight moments occurred in a game against Monroe Sun Valley, when Andrews scored the game-winning run from first base on a triple in the bottom of the seventh.

Hickory Ridge was slowly becoming a threat in the SPC, finishing 8-8 during its second season and 11-13 overall. The Bulls advanced to the championship game of the Intimidator Classic that season.

Knapp was promoted to varsity coach last year and Andrews was projected to be the team's everyday shortstop as a junior. But competition pushed Andrews to left field a quarter of the way into the season.

Andrews went through an adjustment, playing his third position in as many years.

"A fly ball, you have to see it off the bat and get a good read on it," he said. "If not, you don't have a chance of catching it. And that was probably the most difficult thing to get used to."

Andrews was again named all-conference despite the transition. He batted .423, stole 18 bases and also established himself as one of the league's top pitchers.

As a pitcher, Andrews became known for his command of his pitches and being a hard thrower, consistently reaching the high 80s with his fastball. He recorded an ERA of 1.83 and was on the mound for Hickory Ridge's first state playoff win in school history.

Playing at Harding in the first round, Andrews twirled a one-hitter in an 8-0 victory. Coming off its first winning season (13-12, 9-5 in the SPC), this year's senior class was poised to make a run for a conference title.

With a 10-4 conference mark this year, Hickory Ridge finished two games behind SPC champs Northwest Cabarrus in the regular season. One could say they were one run shy of tying for the championship because a 2-1 loss to the Trojans on April 1 was a back-breaker for them in the SPC race.

During the last two seasons, Andrews has drawn the attention of scouts and attended off-season camps hoping to be recruited.

"East Carolina, Appalachian State was definitely looking at him," said Knapp. "He's even had a couple of pro scouts show up just to watch him work out. It's great for him and great for our program because it's finally getting us some exposure."

On May 21, Andrews was scheduled to sign to play at Brunswick Community College, near Wilmington. He hopes to use that as a springboard to playing Division I or II baseball in the future.