In 2013, the bottom fell out of Providence High’s proud baseball program.
Head coach Danny Hignight was in his 10th year. In the first nine, the Panthers had an average record of 22-6. In 2012, when Providence was ranked among the nation’s top 10 teams by several polls, the Panthers outscored opponents 174-55. In 2013, Providence scored 125 runs and allowed 106. The Panthers finished with a 15-13 record.
“We had a completely different club,” head coach Danny Hignight said. “We had some issues we had to get rid of and some kids who weren’t back the next year. We kept the kids who wanted to grind.”
Providence went 26-6 in 2014 and is 29-3 and nationally ranked now. The Panthers will play Raleigh Millbrook in the N.C. 4A state championship series. Game 1 of the best-of-three series begins at 8 p.m. Friday at Five County Stadium in Zebulon. Game 2 and Game 3, if needed, are Saturday.
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Another Observer-area team, Union County’s Marvin Ridge High, is the 3A finals. Marvin Ridge (27-5) will make its first trip to the finals and face Pikeville Aycock (23-5). Game 1 of the best-of-three series begins at 5 p.m. Friday at N.C. State’s Doak Field. Marvin Ridge is led by senior left-handed pitcher Max Wotell, the N.C. Gatorade player of the year. Aycock won the 1974 and 2007 state finals.
Providence is back in the finals for the first time since 1997.
Hignight said all the hard work the team has done since 15-13 is paying off now.
“The byproduct of it is you get back-to-back regional championship appearances,” Hignight said, “and now you get a chance to play in the state finals.”
Providence hasn’t won the state title since 1995, when it upset Wilmington New Hanover in two games. But since Hignight arrived 12 years ago, Providence has been a feared state power.
Hignight is 271-75 in his career. His 2014 team outscored opponents 262-54. This year? It’s 295-66.
Hignight said four current players were part of that 2013 team – and a big part of the turnaround: third baseman Jake Holtzapple, left fielder Andrew Moritz, first baseman Trevor Ryan and catcher Andrew Fishel. Fishel (Ohio State), Holtzapple (North Carolina) and Moritz (UNC Greensboro) are college recruits.
Hignight said he was proud of the work those four have done, and of his entire team, as the Panthers have made a return to the top state’s elite. And that’s where Hignight expects his team to be.
“I think they know the expectations,” Hignight said. “There’s a standard here. It’s not a myth or something we beat on our chests. We don’t talk about winning, but everybody knows we do. We talk about playing with each other in our hearts and working our (butts) off. Winning will take care of itself.”
Observer-area NCHSAA baseball championship series
4A: RALEIGH MILLBROOK (20-10) vs. PROVIDENCE (29-3)
At Five County Stadium, Zebulon
Game 1: Friday, June 5 at 8 p.m.
Game 2: Saturday, June 6 at 2 p.m.
Game 3, if necessary: Saturday, June 6 at 8 p.m. (5 p.m. if no third game in 1A)
3A: PIKEVILLE CHARLES B. AYCOCK (23-5) vs. WAXHAW MARVIN RIDGE (27-5)
At N.C. State
Game 1: Friday, June 5 at 5 p.m.
Game 2: Saturday, June 6 at 11 a.m.
Game 3, if necessary: Saturday, June 6 at 5 pm
▪ Get complete NCHSAA championship series pairings at charlotteobserver.com/sports/high-school