In the past 44 hours, Providence High’s nationally ranked baseball team played three games. The Panthers ended their grueling run through the SoMeck 8 conference tournament with a 3-2 win at rival Ardrey Kell Thursday night in the league championship game.
And at 25-2, the Panthers’ dress rehearsal of a regular-season is over. It’s time for the playoffs, where Providence can become just the third N.C. 4A team to repeat as state champion -- and the first in Mecklenburg County history.
“The first part of our season is complete,” Panthers coach Danny Hignight said Thursday night after the conference tournament win, “and our body of work is what it is. Starting (Friday), everybody is 0-0. And, listen, we’ve had great teams here make four trips to the regional finals and we’ve had great teams go out early (in the playoffs) like everybody else. We’ve got to worry about us and get better (Friday). We’ll see who we match up with. It could be North Meck (and UNC-Pembroke signee) River Ryan, who has struck out 121 this season. That would be a fun match-up, huh?”
Thursday, Providence won the conference tournament by jumping out to a 3-0 lead over their arch rivals from Ardrey Kell. Starting pitcher Timmy Townsend, a sophomore, started and improved to 6-0 for the season. He was throwing to freshman catcher Ray Torres. Townsend went five innings. In the seventh, Cameron Welsh, who pitched relief three times in the 44 hours, came in and got a bases loaded strikeout and a bases loaded pop-up to end a tension-filled game.
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After watching his players leave school at midnight Tuesday and 11:15 p.m. Wednesday, Hignight said the Panthers were emotionally drained -- but happy.
“It was a really, really gutsy performance from our kids,” he said. “We’re in the middle of exams. I’m really proud. No. 1, we beat a quality team, and No. 2, they grinded, man, and regardless of being ranked in the country, we graduated five D1 players (from the 2015 state champion), we’re young in a lot of areas and we’re 25-2. So, like I said, I’m pretty proud of our club.”
Southwestern 4A semifinals
Conference regular-season champion Independence beat Porter Ridge 11-0, getting a double and two RBIs from Justin Williams and two hits each from Cooper Fandell and Brian Comer. Independence scored five runs in the second and pitcher Cooper Devine helped make the early lead standup with nine strikeouts.
Independence advanced to Friday’s championship game against arch rival Butler. Butler beat Myers Park 2-1. Jordan Rumble got the win for the Bulldogs and Tate Pennington had a double.
Butler and Independence will meet Friday at 7 p.m. at East Meck for the conference tournament title.
MECKA championship game
Thursday’s scheduled MECKA championship game between Hough and Hopewell was postponed Thursday. The rivals will meet for the championship Friday at 7 p.m at Kannapolis’ A.L. Brown High School.