Providence High baseball coach Danny Hignight has been looking forward to Feb. 27.It will be the first time his Panthers team has taken the field since an extra-inning 5-4 loss to Mount Tabor in the first round of the baseball tournament last season.The Panthers came into the tournament 25-2 and were nationally ranked for much of the season. The four other playoff teams from the Southwestern 4A Ardrey Kell, South Mecklenburg, Independence and Butler also lost in the first round. According to Southwestern4Abaseball.com, its the first time thats happened in the Southwestern 4A, often considered one of the best baseball conferences in the state.I think weve all got a chip on our shoulders now, said Myers Park head coach Matt Burnett. In the last season before the conference splits due to realignment, the league seems as wide open as it has in recent years. I think everybodys got stars, Hignight said. A lot of teams have got a chance to win the league this year. Ardrey Kell Coach Hal Bagwell lists all that Ardrey Kell (23-5, 13-1 last year) lost after last season: Starting catcher, first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, left field, center field, right field and their top three pitchers. But this is a coach who has led a six-year-old program to two regular season conference championships, two West Region championships and a 4A state title in 2009. I feel real good about how theyre going to play, Bagwell said. Junior third baseman Doug Norman (Georgia) is the lone returning infielder. Senior Ben Keefer, who Bagwell calls mini vac, will play shortstop and senior second baseman Thomas Nantz comes back to Ardrey Kell after playing for Charlotte Christian last year. Bagwell said outfielder Christian Crenshaw has done an extraordinary job in practices leading up to the season. The Knights return just nine innings of experience on the mound after the graduation of three all-conference pitchers. Brandon Donahue (Wingate) will have a major role on the mound for the Knights. ButlerWeather and wet fields have forced Butler (14-12, 6-8) coach Rick Sambrotto to be creative in finding places to practice. Theyve even used the parking lot. Sambrotto is finding any way he can to teach his team that lost nine seniors last year. Many of his players are coming from last years junior varsity team, which lost just two games. The challenge will be trying to get enough practice (in early games) to get them to be varsity players as quick as we can, Sambrotto said.Senior Malachi Hanes (Catawba College) is the most experienced pitcher for the Bulldogs, throwing 35-40 innings last year. The Bulldogs also bring back all-conference junior shortstop Jacob Whittingham. We need him to have another big year, said Sambrotto. Senior Troy Neal comes back at second base and senior Zack Gross will play first. Sophomore Jordan Huntley came up to the varsity for half of the season last year and will play centerfield. Senior Stefan Montanez rotated in as catcher last year and will return behind the plate this year. East MecklenburgIts been at least 19 years since East Mecklenburg (10-13, 5-9) has won a Southwestern 4A regular season title. Its been 30 years since theyve won the tournament. In the last year before the conference splits, coach Clint Koppe wants to win a championship.To us, it means a little bit to win a title, said Koppe. Were talking about the best of the best. This league has a lot of pride. The Eagles return nine seniors, two who were all-conference last year: pitcher/shortstop Logan Sherer (UNC Charlotte) and outfielder/pitcher David Marvin. Koppe calls the two the heart and soul of the team. If were going to be successful ... theyre going to be a part of it, said Koppe. Senior infielder Justin Strong could have been all-conference if not for a shoulder injury that kept him out much of last season.Senior catcher Austin Parker and senior first baseman/pitcher Rashad Webster will also be key parts for the Eagles, along with sophomore Jordan Belote and junior Ryan Sapp.Hes my spackle, said Koppe about Sapp. He fills a hole. IndependenceIndependence (13-11, 7-7) graduated 10 seniors and seven starters. But the Patriots keep an important piece from last years team: senior all-conference shortstop Nick Salisbury (Liberty). First-year coach Dainel Cooke said Salisbury is a monster in the weight room. He leads by example, but Cooke has challenged him to do more with this years young team. All-conference senior James Hickes returns to the mound for the Patriots. Independence finished fourth in the conference last year after finishing seventh the year before.Cooke played for Independence when they last went to the state final in 2004 and was an assistant coach for the Patriots two years ago. The first thing he did when he became head coach was try to spruce up the facilities.I have a lot of pride in the program, he said. I want them to be proud of this. Myers ParkMyers Park (7-17, 3-11) won just three games in the conference last year, but second-year head coach Burnett said the record is misleading. The Mustangs (6-16, 3-12) played close games against the top teams in the league, including losing twice to Ardrey Kell by one run.. I think we were very, very close in a lot of games last season, said Burnett. The Mustangs return senior pitcher Alex Fink as their top arm, but the competition behind him is open to 10 players. The pitchers will have a strong defense behind them; the Mustang infield committed just 19 errors all last season.The core of Myers Parks batting order will be returning all-conference senior infielders Ross Groome and Ryan Ahlum. We cant keep them out of the (batting) cages, and thats good, Burnett said. Providence HighIn nine years, Hignight has had seven All-Americans and six players drafted either in high school or college. Providence High (25-3, 13-1) may not have the big names that it had last year pitcher Ty Buttrey (drafted by the Boston Red Sox) and infielder Jackson Campana (freshman at Clemson), to name two but that doesnt mean they lack talent. I really like the core of this team, said Hignight. Theyre hungry.Hignight said this team is as inexperienced as any since 2005. That team went 25-5, won the conference and made a run in the state playoffs. This year, theyll be led on the mound by senior Jimmy Doolittle (Wingate), who Hignight said only pitched 10-12 innings last year. Senior Josh Black (Furman) will anchor the outfield. Two junior infielders, Austin Proehl and Tommy DeJuneas (N.C. State), played some last year but will have bigger roles for the Panthers this year. Providence has won four-straight regular season conference titles (they shared it with Ardrey Kell last year). Rocky RiverRocky River has yet to win a conference game in two seasons since the school opened. Coach Shawn Schmitt thinks this is the year. Schmitt said playing in the SW4A has forced his team to improve quickly. The Ravens (5-19, 0-14) went from one win in their first year to five last year.The Ravens lost five seniors from their first graduating class last year, but return a group of juniors and seniors that have been important parts of the program from the beginning. Juniors Devryn Galloway (centerfielder and pitcher), Danny Dunning (all-conference shortstop and pitcher) and catcher Matt Ritch have played since freshman year. Seniors Kyle Anderson, a pitcher, right fielder Pat Faragher and third basemen Jalen Best have also played key roles during the past two seasons. Theyre the ones that have really pushed us forward, said Schmitt. South MecklenburgSouth Mecklenburg (16-10, 9-5) coach Jon Tuscan has been rebuilding the Sabre program for four years. This could be his best shot to win a conference title. The Sabres return their entire infield: senior Earl Oliver and junior Harris Yett splitting time at first, senior Luke Miller at second, junior Brooks Kennedy (UNC Charlotte) at short and all-conference junior Michael Smith at third. They also return all-conference senior catcher Logan Koch (South Carolina) and senior outfielder McKay Wrenn.Weve got a lot of experience, said Tuscan. A lot of guys know the system. The one inexperienced position is at pitcher. Oliver is the top returning pitcher and sophomore Max Bazin will also see time on the mound. South Meck hasnt won a regular season championship since 2004. Tuscan knows his team has the parts to do it. It just has to prove it. Preseason is preseason, he said. Theres a reason youre going to go play the games.
Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013
Charlotte baseball teams look for redemption this season
South Mecklenburg baseball returns one of the most experienced lineups in the Southwestern 4A, including shortstop Brooks Kennedy, left. ROBERT LAHSER - email@example.com
Providence High junior infielder Tommy DeJuneas will have a bigger role for the Panthers this year after the graduation of several key players.
South Mecklenburg baseball returns one of the most experienced lineups in the Southwestern 4A, including catcher Logan Koch, right. DIEDRA LAIRD - firstname.lastname@example.org