High School Sports

Do the NCHSAA high school baseball playoffs need a major tweak?

Ardrey Kell head baseball coach Hal Bagwell, center, will lead his team into a third round playoff game at rival Providence Tuesday night. Both Bagwell and Providence coach Danny Hignight favor what would be a major N.C. postseason rules change.
Ardrey Kell head baseball coach Hal Bagwell, center, will lead his team into a third round playoff game at rival Providence Tuesday night. Both Bagwell and Providence coach Danny Hignight favor what would be a major N.C. postseason rules change. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Tuesday afternoon, Mecklenburg County high school baseball rivals Ardrey Kell and Providence are scheduled to meet in a third-round N.C. High School Athletic Association playoff game.

But the coaches of both teams wish it wasn't single elimination.

Providence coach Danny Hignight and Ardrey Kell coach Hal Bagwell both think the N.C. playoffs need to be best-of-3 series in each round. Currently, only the regional championship and state final rounds are not single elimination.

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Providence High baseball coach Danny Hignight. DIEDRA LAIRD-dlaird@charlotteobserver.com DIEDRA LAIRD Staff Photographer

"You find the better team" when it's not one-and-done, Hignight said. "In a one-and-done scenario, you can have a bad night and that's a problem. In Round 1, especially, when you have the nerves, funny things can happen. In a series, you find the more developed teams."

In South Carolina, the playoffs are not single elimination. The state uses a formula similar to the NCAA College World Series, with a district round coming first to determine regional and ultimately state championship qualifiers. The state finals are best-of-3.

The S.C. tournament splits the state in two, with 32 teams total in the district whittled down to eight (four Upper-State, four Lower), then two in the finals.

To allow time for such a playoff, S.C. schools do not have conference tournaments, while their N.C. counterparts do. Hignight said he believes a similar policy could help lead to all playoff rounds being best-of-3 in North Carolina.

Part of his plan would be potentially reducing the playoff field — from the current 48-team field in 4A to 32.

"It's really simple," he said. "You eliminate the conference tournaments, which mean nothing now anyway, and you start (the playoffs) as soon as the regular-season is over. And you go back to the days when we had 32 (playoff teams)."

Fewer teams would mean fewer rounds, which would make best-of-3 series possible.

It's a scenario that Bagwell would also like to see.

Bagwell is the president of the N.C. Baseball Coaches Association. He's one of the state's most successful coaches, like Hignight. And like Hignight, a close friend, Bagwell would like to see a playoff rules change.

"I agree 100 percent," Bagwell said. "In double elimination, you're finding out truly who the better team is. Baseball's a little different, remember. With a one-and-done, the way we do it in North Carolina, you get one guy who is truly good on the mound, on one night you can beat anybody. In a best-of-3, you've got to win two of them and it says, 'Let me see your overall team,' and it gets into your pitching staff."

Bagwell will take his team to Providence for Tuesday's 5 p.m. playoff game. Since Ardrey Kell opened in 2006, this will be the fifth time the teams have played in the postseason.

Ardrey Kell, the 2008 N.C. 4A runner-up and 2009 state champ, has won two of the meetings. Providence, the 2015 state champion, has won the most recent two playoff meetings.

This season, Providence (22-3) and Ardrey Kell (22-5) are both allowing just over two runs per game and getting good pitching. Providence from College of Charleston signee Timmy Townsend, Charlotte recruit Will Palinkas and junior Ethan Reese; Ardrey Kell from Trey Tujetsch as well as strong play from UNC recruit Cameron Brantley, an outfielder, and senior infielder Parker Ledford.

"I don't know a whole lot about the other sports, but you find two teams that win 20-plus games every year and win state titles, make regional finals and put out major league draft picks anywhere in this city, I'd like to hear about it," Hignight said. "This is a great rivalry. And they're good, man. I thought they were the best team in the state. We've split with them this year and we'll compete (Tuesday)."

Bagwell has a similar respect for what Hignight has built -- and the rivalry these teams share.

"To get out of the West(ern side of the playoffs), especially lately, you have to go through them," he said. "That's just the facts. They play really well late in seasons and late in games. It's a respectful rivalry. They know us. We know them. We'll be prepared for them, and they’ll surely be prepared for us. It's just a matter of kids making plays."



Staff writer Bret McCormick contributed; Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter:@langstonwertzjr



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