South Charlotte

Providence High had aces, defense, depth and leadership

Providence High players rush the pitcher’s mound to celebrate with pitcher Austin Leonard following a regional competiton victory on their way to the state title.
Providence High players rush the pitcher’s mound to celebrate with pitcher Austin Leonard following a regional competiton victory on their way to the state title. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

When people look at the Providence High School baseball season and how dominant the Panthers were, a lot of the attention goes to the offense, which averaged more than nine runs per game and scored in double figures 15 times.

What gets lost, however, is how good Providence High was on the mound and in the field, as the Panthers allowed 72 runs in 35 games (2.05 runs/game) and sported a team earned-run average of 1.96.

Head coach Danny Hignight relied on his two aces, seniors Josh Hiatt and Austin Leonard, for much of that success. Hiatt, a University of North Carolina recruit, went 11-2 for the season with a 2.03 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 86 innings pitched, while walking just 17.

Leonard, who will pitch at Davidson next season, also went 11-2, with a 1.89 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 70 innings. In the best-of-three game final series against Millbrook, and with the team having lost game one, Leonard pitched a two-hit shutout.

But with the season on the line and Hiatt and Leonard both used in the first two games, junior Zach Brown stepped up to allow just two runs en route to a 10-2 title-clinching victory.

“Our staff did a great job managing the guys,” Hignight said. “We didn’t allow these guys to over-throw, and because of that none of our guys had tired arms when we needed it most.”

It also helps when managing a pitching staff to have a quality catcher, and Providence High had that in Andrew Fishel.

Fishel, who will play at Ohio State next year, had the game-winning hit in the title game, but it was his leadership and something he did after game one that Hignight says represents how important he was.

“Andrew is the heart and soul of this team,” Hignight said, “and after the first game, he came to me and made a suggestion that we needed to pitch them a little differently. I didn’t hesitate because I trust him, but for a high school senior to be able to make that kind of decision says a lot about his maturity and leadership ability.”

Hignight also points out that this was the best defensive team in his 12 years at Providence High, and that went a long way in allowing his pitching staff to not feel like they had to strike out every batter.

While it’s Hignight’s first state title, and he says he’s heard from more than 400 former players and associates since the victory, this isn’t about him.

“I’m going to coach the same way whether we won or not; it’s not going to change me. What matters to me is that my players know I love them and I’m here for them, and I’m just so proud of them for what they were able to accomplish,” he said.

Matt Kline is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Matt? Email him at Mathew_kline@att.net.

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