Providence High’s nationally ranked baseball team has a lot of star players.
Josh Hiatt (.468), Satchel Jerzembeck (.482) and Jake Holtzapple (.455) all hit over .400. Hiatt finished the season with nine home runs and a slugging percentage of .915. Hiatt was 11-2 as a pitcher with a 1.84 ERA. Austin Leonard was 11-2 with a 2.04 ERA.
The team is full of college signees, too: guys like catcher Andrew Fishel (Ohio State), third baseman Holtzapple (North Carolina) and shortstop Andrew Moritz (UNC Greensboro).
But the MVP of the N.C. 4A state championship series, the one where Providence beat Raleigh Millbrook and won its first state title in 20 years? That was junior Tucker Jones, who hits ninth in the rotation. The irony that the guy who hits last in the lineup turned out to be a major player in the title run wasn’t lost on Panthers coach Danny Hignight, who preaches team-first play.
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“Man, our No. 9 hole hitter is MVP for the state finals,” he said. “Think we play as a team?”
Jones, a 6-foot, 170-pound junior, came into the finals hitting .284 with 10 RBI. He walked twice in Friday’s 4-3 loss to Millbrook, but on Saturday, when Providence had to have it, Jones was as good as any of his more highly touted teammates.
In Game 2, a 10-0 win, Jones was 3-for-3 with an RBI. He scored twice. In Game 3, he knocked in a run with a triple in the third inning to start the game’s scoring. He scored in the same inning. Providence went on to win 10-2 and clinch the state title.
“All the coaches helped me out and gave me good (hitting) plans,” Jones said. “My teammates also got on base and gave me some opportunities.”
Jones said after the Game 1 loss, the Panthers got together and basically decided – as a team – to simply play harder. That led to a special performance from the Panthers in Saturday’s two deciding games.
“At first,” he said, “we were a little disappointed when we got back on the bus (after Game 1). But we had some pizza and we said, ‘We’re good.’ We believe in ourselves and as long as we do that, we’re good. We just weren’t in the moment Friday and we weren’t focused to be honest.”
Jones and Providence were completely focused Saturday – and both games were devoid of much drama. And Jones polished off a pretty good playoff run for a No. 9 hole hitter. He was an unanimous pick for the MVP.
“He was huge,” Hignight said of Jones. “People don’t realize, he had a huge hit at South Caldwell (in the third round of the playoffs over a previously unbeaten nationally ranked team) that ended up giving us a win. He had a huge hit at North Davidson (in the fourth round) that ended up extending the game and giving us a win. If he is not one of the best juniors in North Carolina, I’d like to see who they are.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr