By Dennis Garcia
Last summer, the University of Penn duo of shortstop Josh Hood and pitcher Joe Miller enjoyed stellar campaigns for the Asheboro Copperheads, each earning a spot on the Coastal Plain League All-Star roster.
Now the two have the opportunity to earn those honors once again.
The pair will return to Asheboro after the Cape Cod League suspended its season due to the coronavirus.
Hood had one of the most successful seasons in team history, not only garnering All-Star honors, but he was named to the CPL Select Team, which played the USA Collegiate National Team in July. He was among the CPL leaders in numerous categories and his return to Asheboro gives the Copperheads an experienced shortstop with leadership qualities.
"Unbelievably excited," Hood said of returning to Asheboro. "Having the college season cut off where it did was a huge heartbreak. I started feeling hopeless when the Cape called it so early. It was like what am I going to do? Then a light bulb went off in my head and when I found out I had the chance to play for Asheboro again, I was really excited. I contacted Coach (Keith) Ritsche to come back and was so happy when he said yes."
What coach wouldn't want a player like Hood to return? Last summer, Hood hit .333 with 11 home runs, 38 RBIs, 40 runs scored and a slugging percentage of .654, the second best in the CPL. His 40 total hits were tied for 13th in the league and he was tied for fourth with 15 doubles. He also had a pair of triples.
"It was probably some of the best times I ever had playing baseball," said Hood, who is from Vineland, N.J. "It was such a different experience then anything I had ever done before. Being a freshman, it was my first year in summer college ball. Going away, I wasn't sure how I would feel about it, but the experience was amazing. The experience itself made me realize I love playing baseball every day. I'd wake up every day and look forward to going to the field, whether it was to play or practice. I had such a great time and there are great people I met down there. I've been picturing playing at McCrary Park again."
Hood came to the Copperheads last summer after being named the unanimous Ivy League rookie of the year. The first-team All-Ivy shortstop started all 41 games for Penn in his first season. He hit .331, led his team with eight home runs and 25 extra-base hits, and was second on the team with 42 runs scored. He was also second with 42 RBIs. He had 17 multi-hit games, including a five-hit game and four four-hit games.
This season, he was hitting .263 when the season was shut down.
All that came after helping his St. Augustine Prep team to three straight South Jersey Non-Public A Championships while graduating with Presidential Honors.
Hood said he has been hitting off a tee every day and working on his fielding when allowed. He has also put up some workout equipment to stay in baseball condition.
Now he's ready for another exceptional summer.
"I was focusing on baseball every day and not putting pressure on myself," Hood said of his exceptional summer a year ago. "It was a long season and we're literally playing every day. I had a great host family with the Hesketts and I was concentrating on baseball."
Miller, a 5-10, 190-pound left-hander, returns to Asheboro after a solid season last summer. He started seven games, allowing just 25 hits in 38 innings. He finished 2-3 with a 3.08 ERA and he fanned 44.
"I had a great time last year with the guys," said Miller, who had also signed with a team in the Cape Cod League. "From being up North to come down to
Nor th Carolina, everyone in the town was really welcoming. Josh and I stayed with a great family in the Hesketts and I really liked having Coach Ritsche as a coach. He really helped me out and we had guys who played the right way and wanted to win and play hard."
As a freshman at Penn in 2019, Miller made 13 appearances with seven starts, establishing his role as a midweek starter as well as a late reliever during Penn's league battles. He posted a 4-1 record with a 4.76 ERA in 34 innings pitched. He finished with 41 strikeouts.
In this shortened 2020 campaign, he pitched nine innings in his two appearances, sporting a 3.00 ERA.
He fanned seven.
In high school, he was a four-time All-City performer and was a member of the honor roll each year.
Miller, from Hatboro, Penn., said he was really disappointed when Ivy League officials became the first to cancel the remainder of the league season. The Quakers were on the road, preparing to play Florida International when they were told.
"That was tough seeing that happen and have it happen while we were on the field about 20 minutes before the start of a game," Miller said. "It really stung. But being at home, I'm thankful to be with my family and I'm working out at my house and throwing."
Like Hood, Miller said he's anxious to return to Asheboro.
"It was my first summer league experience and being on a schedule where you pitch in a rotation was a big help," Miller said. "The competition is so good and another thing that was awesome was playing with some guys from smaller schools. They showed that there are kids who compete everywhere."
Miller said he could have stayed home this summer and got his work in there, but it wouldn't be the same.
"I want to get innings in, but I want to be there and be in a competitive environment, that's a big thing for me," Miller said. "I can go to a field and throw simulated at-bats and get innings in, but playing for a competitive team, especially like Asheboro, to have a town behind you in such a competitive environment, is really big."
Ritsche said he is thrilled to have the duo returning.
"Having Josh and Joe return to the Copperheads for a second season gives us additional leadership to our ball club," Ritsche said. "Josh had arguably one of the best Copperhead seasons of all-time, leading the team in almost every offensive statistical category. He also played excellent defense while playing the most games out of any player all season. In my opinion, he should have been named CPL offensive player of the year for his all-around performance and consistency all season.
"Joe is a guy who came to us after his freshman year and did not take a day off," Ritsche said. "He works extremely hard between starts on his strength/conditioning, mechanics and his arm care. Joe is an impact guy on the mound with great stuff. He's a competitor and we will value him as a top-of-the-rotation-type guy this summer. Our team will benefit greatly from their experience being former players who were CPL All-stars, but not to mention great kids in general."
"I talked to David and Cole about coming to Asheboro and told them they would have a great time, it's a great experience," Miller said.
Now Miller and Hood will have that experience once again.