Butler High’s baseball team has come rolling through the 2015 N.C. 4A playoffs as a No. 10 seed, full of diversity, belief and confidence. Tuesday night, the Bulldogs (20-6) play at Mecklenburg County rival Providence (27-3) in Game 1 of the N.C. 4A Western Regional championship game.
The best-of-3 series will send the winner to next week’s N.C. 4A state championship series in Raleigh or Zebulon. Butler fourth-year coach Rick Sambrotto knows his team, which has never reached the state championship round, is a big underdog. Providence, which has home field advantage and is a 1995 state champ, is ranked No. 25 nationally by MaxPreps and recently won the 40th postseason game in school history. Entering the 2015 postseason, only 19 other N.C. public schools had ever won that many.
And when Providence played at Butler in April, the Panthers won 13-0.
“When you look at them,” Sambrotto said, “they’ve got, like, six Division I players. We’ve got a couple of small college guys. There’s a lot of talent over there and it takes a certain type of skill to coach that kind of team. We played them earlier this year, on a makeup day in the rain and our kids didn’t handle the conditions very well. But we played them well over there (in 2014, a 5-4 loss at Providence). We’ve got a good game plan for them and we’re ready to play.”
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Butler is 8-1 since losing that game to Providence this year, falling 7-1 to Myers Park in the Southwestern 4A tournament championship game. In the playoffs, the Bulldogs have outscored teams 24-9. Sophomore Kobe Phillips (.486 BA, 31 RBIs) is among the team’s most deadly hitters.
Sambrotto, a longtime assistant on Butler’s powerhouse football team, believes having some of those football players – and their winning attitudes – on the team has helped, too. Two of them, left fielder Jordan Huntley, and catcher Jarett Norman, are multi-year starters. A third, football noseguard Jalen Cousar, came back to the team this season and has wound up as a designated hitter and first baseman.
Cousar’s home run in fifth inning against East Forsyth last week helped propel Butler to the western regional championship round.
And Cousar is part of a very diverse team.
Cousar, Huntley, Kameron Stinson, Dean Looney and Chase Revier are African-American. Senior pitcher Alis Almonte and his brother, Alex, are from the Dominican Republic. Sambrotto notes, too, that his team is academically diverse. Grant Tatich sports a perfect math score on his SATs and Ryan Debo is part of the school’s Dream Team, which visits neighboring elementary schools to teach drug and alcohol awareness and to address the importance of a good education.
“I think we’re a reflection of our school community,” Sambrotto said, “which I think is how it should be.”
Sambrotto thinks this group is ready to make school history -- and advance to the championship round.
“Our guys have been relaxed and having fun,” he said, “and they’ve been loud and bringing energy to the dugout. I’ve felt they’ve definitely been having fun playing.”
Butler will have to be at its best to beat Providence, however.
The Panthers have outscored opponents 282-62 this season and went to Hudson and beat a South Caldwell team that was unbeaten and ranked No. 5 in the nation during its playoff run. Providence has scored eight or more runs in each of its four playoff wins and is hunting its first championship berth since 1997.
“I think most people would probably say we’re a big underdog,” Sambrotto said. “Most people, if they’re honest, wouldn’t expect us to be here. But this is fourth regional final. If you just matched up our rosters, just on baseball background or baseball future, we’re underdogs. But I don’t think our guys feel like that at all. They feel like they belong be in this round as much as anybody else does.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr