by Aaron Garcia
It wouldn’t be high school baseball postseason time without south Charlotte teams peppering the state playoff brackets. And, as has become customary, several local teams have excellent shots at bringing home hardware when the dust settles. Here’s a breakdown of area teams entering the Class 4A playoffs on Friday, May 11.
The Panthers sewed up their third consecutive Southwestern 4A conference tournament with a 4-0 win over Ardrey Kell on May 7. The win improved their record to 25-2, 13-1 in the league.
Providence will host Winston-Salem Mount Tabor in the state playoffs on Friday, May 11.
Before their April 30 loss to Ardrey Kell, the Panthers had won 13 consecutive contests, dating back to March 14, when they were edged by Weddington, 7-6. Coach Danny Hignight’s team has scored an average of 6.6 runs per game while only allowing two.
The Panthers seem to have it all. The pitching staff, headlined by starters Ty Buttrey (9-1 record) and Mike Herbert (7-0), has been downright dominant at times, while the potent offense features five players with at least two home runs on the season (Jackson Campana, Andrew MacLatchie, Herbert, Buttrey and Xander Maddox). But will it be enough to propel the Panthers to the finals for the first time since 1997?
The Knights fell in the conference tournament finals after sharing the regular-season title with the Panthers. At 23-4, the Knights should be one of the top teams in the state not to earn a No. 1 seed.
Ardrey Kell will host Pfafftown Reagan on Friday.
Coach Hal Bagwell described his team as “blue-collar.” The Knights won their previous 13 games before dropping the title game and have won 20 of their last 22 games.
“It’s been coming from different people every day,” Bagwell marveled. “We’ve had several people step up when we needed it, and we’re continuing to get it from other people. That’s the sign of a good team.”
Bagwell said lead-off hitter Preston Tiller has set the tone for a grinding offense. The senior has complemented his .355 batting average with an on-base percentage of .579 and 11 stolen bases. Fellow senior Myles Garner, who hits in the No. 2 spot, leads the team with a .356 batting average and 17 stolen bases, a point which further illustrates the Knights’ ability to manufacture runs.
The Knights’ calling card all season, however, has been pitching and defense, exhibited by their team-wide 1.35 ERA. Trent Thornton, the Knights’ top starter and a University of North Carolina commit, is 8-1 as a starter with two saves, a 1.05 ERA, 111 strikeouts and 13 walks in 66 2/3 innings pitched. The No. 2, Brad Stone, is 6-2 with a 1.73 ERA and 85 strikeouts. The Knights’ closer, Justin French, leads the team with six saves and a 0.36 ERA (32 strikeouts, two walks). Bagwell added that Brian Hummel and Logan Beechler have been solid in support.
“I feel very confident,” said Bagwell of his team’s playoff chances. “We’ve put together a pretty good string of wins and our four losses have come against real good competition, and that has battle-tested us.
“I feel good about where we’re at, from my club (as a whole) to our arms to the way we’re playing defense to the way we’re creating runs. I feel really good about it.”
John Tuscan’s squad earned the conference’s third seed after finishing the regular season with a 16-9 record, which included a 9-5 mark in league play. The Sabres have received strong pitching performances all season from Earl Oliver (7-2), Tyler Aiello (4-1) and closer Andrew Maulden. The Sabres also feature a formidable lineup behind hitters Adam Nix, Tyler Braxton, Oliver, Brooks Kennedy and Logan Koch.
The Sabres visit West Forsyth on Friday.
Independence (13-10, 7-7) and Butler (14-11, 6-8) earned the league’s fourth and fifth seeds, respectively. East Mecklenburg (10-13, 5-9) finished outside of the postseason in sixth place, followed by Myers Park, led by first-year coach Matt Burnett. The Mustangs were 7-17 overall and 3-11 in league play.