CHARLOTTE – After going 22-8 in South Meck baseball coach Brian Hoop’s second season last year, the Sabres are proving they are still a team to contend with.
Now, after sweeping Ardrey Kell in a pair of games last week, the Sabres remain tied with nationally ranked Providence in the always tough So. Meck 7.
The Sabres’ climb back to the top has been a gradual one over the past few seasons.
The 22 wins last year were the most of any Sabre team since 2013 when that team rallied behind the health of their coach, Jonathan Tuscan, to win 28 games and come from behind to beat Fuquay Varina in the state championship series.
The Sabres won 20 games in 2014 but hadn’t reached that number again until last season.
In the meantime, the conference has flexed its muscles.
Providence, ranked 10th in USA Today’s national rankings this season, has stayed in the national spotlight since winning it all in 2015.
Ardrey Kell is another team that seems to always be nationally ranked, and last year went up 1-0 in the state finals after winning the western region.
Olympic was unbeaten in league play before Providence polished them off in a two-game series against them that ended April 4.
All three teams will be tough playoff outs, and the Knights (13-4 overall, 6-2 in conference) and Providence (16-1, 8-0) are among the best 4A teams in the state.
But here are the Sabres (14-1, 8-0) once again, more than just in the conversation in what has to be one of the state’s most top-heavy conference’s – although Harding, West Meck and Berry are all 0-8 in league play.
Hoop seems to have figured something out against the Knights, as he has gone 5-2 against them and won four straight after the Sabres had won just two of the past 24 meetings before his arrival.
But the Sabres are doing it collectively and have now won nine straight. They have nine guys batting .300 or better and 11 players have knocked in five or more runs already this season.
It seems everyone has come up with a key hit or play at some time or another, but Will Budnick (.444 and seven RBIs), Bo Davidson (.440, 15 runs scored and 11 RBIs), Matt Hill (.375, 12 stolen bases and seven RBIs), James Johnson (.324, three home runs and 12 RBIs) and Wes Terte (.321, 13 runs scored and seven RBIs) have been the most consistent among a talented group.
In the first game, a 3-1 win over Ardrey Kell on April 3, Johnson hit a home run, Thomas Umphlett went 2-for-4 and Thomas Mills had a pair of hits including a double and drove in a run.
That was enough for senior Jackson Benjamin, who improved to 3-0 on the hill. He tossed a complete game four-hitter, showing great poise and freeing up a pitching staff that’s experienced and deep.
Benjamin (3-0, 1.59 ERA and team-best 26.1 innings pitched) is the ace but fellow senior Max Castro is also 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA. Seth Taylor is 2-0 mostly in relief and has struck out 20 batters over 11 scoreless innings.
In the second win over the Knights the following night, South Meck exploded for six third-inning runs and cruised to an 8-4 win.
Terte, Johnson and Breon Ishmael drove in two runs apiece to power the offense. Castro pitched 4.1 innings, allowing just one earned run and striking out four to get the win. Hoskins went the final 2.2 to preserve the win.
The Sabres will have to wait until April 23 and 26 to face Providence in games that could decide the conference crown and more. But, they have already made their mark and reasserted themselves as one of the state’s best teams.