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Providence opens regional baseball series against West Forsyth

By Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

Why is Providence High’s baseball team in Tuesday’s N.C. 4A Western Regional championship, a couple of wins from its first state championship appearance in 17 years?

“I think they believe in each other, that’s where it starts,” said Panthers coach Danny Hignight. “They all believe they’re a big part of what we do and that’s hard to get kids to buy into that. I think they believe that, though. They realize together they can do really good things.”

The Panthers (26-4) will play a best-of-3 regional series against West Forsyth (25-5). Game 1 will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Providence. Game 2 will be at 7 Wednesday night at West Forsyth. Game 3, if needed, would be Friday, back at Providence. The Panthers, who won the 1995 N.C. 4A championship, are looking for their first visit back to the final series since 1997.

Hignight said his team will have its hand full with West Forsyth, which beat Winston-Salem Reynolds in its regional semifinal last week. In four playoff wins, West Forsyth has allowed two runs. Its past three wins are by shutout.

“They’ve got a really good club,” Hignight said. “They’ve got seven signed guys, plus two real good arms and there’s nobody playing this time of year that’s not a really good club.”

Providence has won four games in a row since losing 2-1 at home to Ardrey Kell in the SoMeck 8 4A tournament championship game. The Panthers avenged that loss with last week’s 3-0 state quarterfinal win at Ardrey Kell in front of a standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,200. Matt Ball tossed a one-hit shutout against what was the state’s top-ranked team.

That win, Hignight said, is why he’s not giving any weight to the fact that a potential Game 3 in this regional series would be played at Providence.

“When we beat South Caldwell in 2008 and they were No. 1 in the country, there were 3,000 people there yelling and screaming,” Hignight said. “None of that is relevant. You’ve got to do your job. And this year, Ardrey Kell beat us twice at home. We beat them twice at their place. I think our fans will come out and (West Forsyth’s) fans will come out. It’s not about (anything else). It’s literally about showing up and doing your job.”

Providence has four players signed to play in college: left-handed pitcher Addison Jones (Sewanee), outfielder Shaun McConoughey (Catawba), shortstop Tommy Dejuneas (N.C. State), and Ball (U.S. Military Academy). But Hignight said this isn’t the typical star-laden Panthers club he has coached in the past.

Hignight has averaged more than 22 wins during his career at Providence and coached more than 50 college players in 11 seasons, including seven professional draft picks and six high school All-Americans.

“We don’t have the 15 signed and committed players. We’ve had a ton in the past,” Hignight said, “and it doesn’t look like we’ve got all the All-Americans. We’re just a bunch of grinders, and they play like the grinders they are.”

Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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