High School Sports

Providence baseball coach, players downplay talk of back-to-back state titles

Providence designated hitter Mason Ingle, right, congratulates Brennon Welsh after Welsh scored against Ardrey Kell during a SoMeck 8 baseball game last week. Providence, the reigning 4A state champion, is 11-0 and ranked as high as No. 4 in national high school polls.
Providence designated hitter Mason Ingle, right, congratulates Brennon Welsh after Welsh scored against Ardrey Kell during a SoMeck 8 baseball game last week. Providence, the reigning 4A state champion, is 11-0 and ranked as high as No. 4 in national high school polls.

Providence High’s baseball team won the 4A state championship in 1995. Despite almost annually being a title favorite, it took the Panthers 20 years to win another. Providence beat Raleigh Millbrook to win last spring.

Perhaps that’s why, despite being 11-0 this season and ranked as high as No. 4 nationally, few around the Panthers’ baseball team wants to talk about repeating as 4A champion. And if the Panthers could do that, they’d make history.

No Mecklenburg County 4A team has ever won back-to-back state titles. In fact, only Wilmington New Hanover (1993-94) and Greenville Rose (2003-04) have done it.

“I haven’t even thought about it,” said Panthers coach Danny Hignight, whose team begins play in the Smoothie King/Queen City Classic Easter tournament Saturday. “We’re trying to figure us out. We’ve got to get a lot better.”

Hignight has coached Providence 13 seasons, and in seven of them his teams have been nationally ranked at some point. But he’s also experienced his share of playoff heartbreak:

▪ In 2010, Providence was a No. 1 seed and state title favorite when it was upset by an 11-11 Davie County team at home in the first round.

▪ In 2011, the Panthers were 25-2 and nationally ranked when they were upset by an 18-9 team from Northwest Guilford at home in the playoffs’ second round.

▪ And in 2012, when Hignight might have had his most talented team, the Panthers were 25-2 and ranked as high as No. 8 nationally. They were upset in the first round at home by Mount Tabor.

That heartbreak has taught Hignight an important lesson: Never look ahead.

“For me, you want to be ranked at the end of the year,” Hignight said. “So right now (rankings and repeat state titles), are not a thought for me. Obviously it would be an honor to do those things, but we’re trying to get ready for the next game.”

This Panthers team is strong, having scored 108 runs in 11 games - the third-most in North Carolina - and allowed 34. Providence has shut out four teams.

There’s talent throughout the roster:

▪ Shortstop Logan Davidson, a potential Major League Baseball draft pick, is a preseason All-American who committed to Clemson.

▪ Two-time all-state and preseason All-American third baseman Jake Holtzapple committed to North Carolina.

▪ Centerfielder Tucker Jones was 2015 state finals MVP.

And that’s not including No. 1 pitcher Zach Brown, who has state finals experience, or junior infielders Cole Revels and Satchel Jerzembeck, who have had strong starts to the season. Then there’s freshman catcher Ray Torres, who has already taken unofficial recruiting visits to ACC and SEC schools.

Davidson’s father Mark played at Garinger High, and later won the World Series in 1987 with the Minnesota Twins. Jerzembeck’s father, Mike, played for the Yankees.

So there’s talent and experience -- and strong bloodlines -- on the Panthers. Potentially, there’s also history to make.

“They’re good. They’re legit,” said Mark Mennitt, head coach at Marvin Ridge, which won last year’s 3A state championship.

Providence shut out Mennitt’s team 2-0 at Marvin Ridge three weeks ago.

“But repeating in 4A is really tough to do,” Mennitt said. “You’re going to run into (a hot pitcher) at some point that can turn your lights out real quick.

“But I’ll be honest: Providence is a great program and Danny does as good a job as anybody in the state, but if you’re gonna give me the field against Providence, I’m taking the field 100 percent of the time.

“But I wouldn’t count them out, either. They’re as talented a group of kids and as well coached as anybody in the state.”

The playoffs won’t begin until May. For now, the Panthers say they’re just worried about improving every day -- and not checking on rankings or records.

“We don’t really think about it,” said Davidson, who said he chose Clemson over Wake Forest, North Carolina and East Carolina for college. “We’re not as deep as last year. But everyone has experience of playing in big games.

“I think this season, we’ve surprised ourselves a little bit and played better on offense than we were expecting. But we’ve got a long way to go.”

Holtzapple said that because of the state title, the rankings and talent, he knows Providence will get opponents’ best shot.

But that’s a good thing, he said.

“Everybody’s on the hunt for us,” said Holtzapple. “But I think it will make us better. I know we want it bad. Winning last year was one of my favorite moments in baseball.”

Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr

Mecklenburg Co. Easter Baseball Tournaments

Smoothie King Queen City Classic

Saturday at Providence: Providence vs. Watauga, 11 a.m.; Marvin Ridge vs. Ardrey Kell, 2 p.m.

Saturday at South Mecklenburg: South Meck vs. Weddington, 11 a.m.; Butler vs. Hough, 2 p.m.

Monday at Providence: Providence/Watauga loser vs. Marvin Ridge/Ardrey Kell loser, 2 p.m.; Providence/Watauga winner vs. Marvin Ridge/Ardrey Kell winner, 5 p.m.

Monday at South Meck: South Meck/Weddington loser vs. Butler/Hough loser, 2 p.m.; South Meck/Weddington winner vs. Butler/Hough winner, 5 p.m.

Tuesday at Providence: Pairings TBD

Tuesday at South Meck: Pairings TBD

Jack Sink Spring Break Classic

Monday at Myers Park: Covenant Day vs. Hickory Ridge, 2:30 p.m.; Charlotte Latin vs. Lake Norman Charter, 5 p.m.; Myers Park vs. Charlotte Christian, 7:30 p.m.

Monday at East Meck: Charlotte Catholic vs. North Meck, noon; East Meck vs. Hopewell, 2:30; Providence Day vs. Mallard Creek, 5 p.m.; Country Day vs. Hurricane, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday at Myers Park: Myers Park vs. Hurricane, 2:30; Providence Day vs. North Meck, 5 p.m.; Hopewell vs. Charlotte Latin, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday at East Meck: Lake Norman Charter vs. Charlotte Catholic, noon; Mallard Creek vs. Covenant Day, 2:30; East Meck vs. Country Day, 5; Charlotte Christian vs. Hickory Ridge, 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday at Myers Park: Lake Norman Charter vs. Mallard Creek, noon; Charlotte Latin vs. North Meck, 2:30; Country Day vs. Catholic, 5; Myers Park vs. Providence Day, 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday at East Meck: Hopewell vs. Hickory Ridge, noon; Charlotte Christian vs. Hurricane, 2:30; East Meck vs. Covenant Day, 5 p.m.

Inside Mecklenburg County 4A baseball finals history

No Mecklenburg County team has won the N.C. 4A baseball state finals and returned to the finals the next season.

There have been some strong runs, however: West Mecklenburg reached the finals in 1967, 1969 and 1971, losing all three times; Garinger lost in the ‘76 and ‘79 finals; Providence won in ‘95 and lost in ‘97; and Ardrey Kell lost in the ‘08 finals and won in ‘09.

Mecklenburg County 4A champions: Garinger, 1965; North Mecklenburg, 1966; Myers Park, 1970; Independence, 1984; Harding, 1988; South Mecklenburg, 1989; Providence, 1995; Ardrey Kell, 2009; South Mecklenburg, 2013; Providence, 2015.

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