Danny Hignight said he’d never had a better feeling than on May 6, when he was standing on the top step of the dugout with his father, Dan, to watch Providence High’s final out of the season.
The win, 10-2 against Millbrook High, clinched Hignight’s first 4A state title. But Hignight has had other big wins in his 12-year tenure as coach of the baseball team. He has 271 wins, seven conference championships and six conference titles and has been in three 4A Western Regional finals.
Hignight said that sharing that moment last month with his 74-year-old father, a two-time Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient as a Marine in the Vietnam War, is a memory that will last a lifetime.
“My dad is my hero and my best friend and he’s always been there for me,” Hignight said. “So with two outs in the seventh inning, I told my assistant, Zach McKelvey, to go get my dad (who sits in the dugout with team). When he got to the top step with me, I put my arm around him and I told him he was my hero, and he said some nice things to me.
“Then I said, ‘I want you to watch this last out, because this moment is something you never forget.’
“As we watched the team celebrate, I looked at my dad and thought about how irreplaceable that moment was. I will always have that moment.”
The entire postgame celebration was about family. Hignight shared special moments with his immediate family, including his wife, Anissa; his mother, Rebecca; and his three children, Ansley, Addison and Daniel, as well as current Providence players and their parents and past Panther players and parents.
“For a lot of people outside my family, winning a state championship will validate my career as a baseball coach,” said Hignight, giving credit to assistants Heath Brown, Jordan Christoff, Ben Hurst, McKelvey and Tyler Zupcic. “It was a great feeling and accomplishment, but it’s not what defines me or this program.
“The relationship and the love I have with my family, my players and the entire Providence baseball family far outweighs any trophy I can ever get.”
Hignight’s biggest rivals, including Ardrey Kell coach Hal Bagwell, who Hignight worked under as an assistant from 2000-2003, were happy for his win.
“Danny Hignight is as good as any coach in the state,” said Bagwell, who led Ardrey Kell to the 2009 4A state title. “He’s a grinder, very positive and an unbelievable game manager. He truly deserved to win a championship.”
Hignight enjoyed every minute of what was a record-breaking season.
The Panthers (31-4 overall) won a state-record 31 games, scored a state-record 330 runs and gave up only 72. The team is ranked No. 19 in the nation according to maxpreps.com.
This year’s Providence High team had the program’s second-most doubles in a season (85) and was the fifth-best ever in batting average (.400).
Providence defeated 14 opponents under the mercy rule (a 10-run lead after 4 innings), including a 10-0 win against Millbrook in game two of the 4A state-championship series.
The players have reaped the rewards; at least five will earn All-American status, including seniors Andrew Fishel (who has signed with Ohio State), Josh Hiatt (University of North Carolina), Austin Leonard (Davidson College) and Andrew Moritz (UNC Greensboro), and junior Jake Holtzapple (UNC).
“We’ve had some great teams here at Providence,” said Hignight, who has helped produce more than 50 college players, 10 ACC players and seven players picked in the Major League Baseball draft. “But statistically speaking, this might not only be the best team we’ve had a Providence but one of the best teams the state has even seen.”
While Providence High’s numbers are staggering, Hignight admits the journey was the best part.
After going 23-3 in the regular season, the Panthers lost in the SoMeck8 conference tournament title game to Ardrey Kell (3-2). “Losing in the conference tournament final definitely ticked us off,” Hignight said, “but it also allowed us to refocus.”
As the No. 2 seed from the SoMeck8, Providence was forced to go on the road for most games. They made a magical run, winning 15-3 at T.C. Roberson in the second round before a dramatic 8-7 victory at South Caldwell. The biggest win may have come in the fourth round against North Davidson, when the Panthers scored five runs in the final inning to turn a 3-2 deficit into an 8-3 victory.
The Panthers returned to Charlotte for the 4A West Regional final series, where they swept Butler. They dropped game one of the championship series but stepped up to take the title.
“This whole season was a great journey and it’s all still surreal that we actually got it done,” said Fishel.
“It was incredible to help one of the best coaches in the state finally get that state championship, and we wanted it bad for coach Hignight,” Fishel said.
“It was also cool to win it for his dad.”
Hignight said, “The last thing I told my players on the field that night was that you will do bigger and better things in your life, but you will always have this moment. You will always be a part of the 2015 Providence state champions.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at email@example.com.