The Southwestern 4A baseball conference has long been one of the top leagues in the state. Last year, for the first time in more than a decade (since Providence won it in 1995), the 4A state champion emerged from the SW4A, as Ardrey Kell won its first state title.
"I think when we (Providence and Ardrey Kell) get on the field together, everyone expects something exciting to happen because both teams have so much talent," said Providence coach Danny Hignight, who says the rivalry involves 10 or more college-bound players. "We both want to win so bad, that anything can happen when we play."
This season, Ardrey Kell and Providence are fighting for conference supremacy again, but they aren't alone. East Mecklenburg and South Mecklenburg are right on their heels.
Providence (13-6, 6-2) - vs. East Meck (April 30), at Ardrey Kell (May 3)
For most of the last two decades, Providence has been the class of SW4A baseball. In the last three seasons, Ardrey Kell has given the Panthers more than a run for their money, knocking them out of the playoffs twice. This year, Providence is looking to return the favor with their youngest team in some time.
The Panthers, who beat Ardrey Kell 4-1 at home earlier this month, have a lot of talent, including N.C. State recruits Jake Finchner and Brett Austin and can go toe-to-toe with the Knights.
Ardrey Kell (13-6, 6-3) - at Hopewell (April 29), vs. Providence (May 3)
The defending 4A state champion Knights are absolutely loaded with talent including seven players who will go onto play college baseball in the next two years and top-notch coach Hal Bagwell.
Seniors Jack Reinheimer (East Carolina) and Ryan Butler (Marshall) and junior Logan Ratledge (N.C. State) headline a team that could repeat as state champions. But first, Ardrey Kell will have to survive its own conference, where they currently sit in second place behind Providence.
East Meck (14-5, 5-4) - at Providence (April 30), vs. South Meck (May 3)
After struggling for years to compete in the SW4A, East Meck has emerged as one of tougher teams in the league this season. The Eagles have a senior-laden team that has already beaten both Providence and South Meck, and given Ardrey Kell everything they could handle in a 1-0 loss.
Brothers David and Leighton Daniels lead a strong batting order that also features senior Olen Little. How well Little and senior Lou Trosch hold up the pitching staff could tell the story for the Eagles.
The Eagles should have a chance to be a factor in the 4A playoffs.
South Meck, Myers Park and Butler will be a huge factor in the conference standings and all three could qualify for the playoffs if they get hot in the final two weeks of the season. All three teams have the talent to do so.
Independence will have to settle for the spoiler role, after putting itself in too deep of a hole to recover.