CHARLOTTE – The third time was not the charm for the Ardrey Kell baseball team, who dropped to 0-3 on the season against rival Providence in a 13-3 rout on April 30.
For Providence, the win comes on the heels of the Panthers sixth straight conference title, which they wrapped up last week with a win over South Meck.
It was also their fourth straight win and fourth consecutive game with 10 or more runs as Providence improved to 23-3 on the season behind star senior pitcher Noah Hall.
Hall was dominant from the start, going five innings while allowing just four hits and three runs to go with six strikeouts against just one walk.
“I think I try to stay composed out there,” Hall said. “I know that my stuff is good and I try to go out there and do my best. I know that I don’t have to carry the team and I can have trust in my defense. I know if that if they hit a ground ball my guys are going to make the play behind me. It takes some of the pressure off, but I want to work harder for them, too.”
Hall retired eight straight to close the game after giving up a pair of runs in the third and one in the second.
But that was plenty for the Panther bats, which have been on fire of late as they’re averaging 12.5 runs over the past four and 9.4 runs per game during the season.
“We take what we do in practice and we put it on the field,” said senior second baseman JD Yakubinis. “We’re much more prepared and we work so hard in practice that we’re prepared for every situation.”
Ardrey Kell starter Luke Carpenter went unscathed through the first inning, but the Panther bats exploded for big innings in the second, third and fifth before Providence slugger Sam Kagan ended the game with a single in the bottom of the fifth.
Kagan got the big rally in the second inning starting with a lead-off double. Yakubinis followed with a run-scoring double. After a pair of successful sacrifice bunts that went for hits, Sam Fligel, Patrick Bloomingburg, Kagan and Yakubinis all added RBIs as the Panthers scored seven runs after the Knights had scored once in the top of the inning.
After Ardrey Kell struck for two more runs in the top of the third, Fligel, Michael Dansky and Walker Woolf added RBIs to push the Panther lead to 10-3.
It was more of the same in the fifth. Hall led off with a single and Fligel drove him in during the proceeding at-bat. After the Panthers loaded the bases, Kagan delivered the walk-off hit that set off a little celebration on Ardrey Kell’s field.
“We work so hard in practice and it’s awesome to celebrate this win on our rival’s field, but we’re 0-0 and starting the playoffs now,” said Kaga, a senior right fielder. “This is great and we’re going to enjoy it, but we’re going to get back to practice tomorrow and keep working.”
The Panthers stars were plentiful.
Bloomingburg, who was named the conference tournament MVP, went 1-for-2 with two walks and a run scored. Kagan was 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs, Yakubinis had two hits, Hall was on base all three times and scored three runs and Figel was 3-for-3 with three runs scored, two doubles and two runs driven in.
“We’re really tough one through nine in our lineup,” Kagan said. “We have confidence that whoever is at the plate is going to come through.”
Aside from the sixth straight conference title, this is the sixth consecutive season the Panthers have won 20 or more games and the eighth time in the past nine years.
“We put so much time in the offseason preparing for games like this,” Kagan said. “We prepare for every situation and we work so hard to be in this position.”
The Panthers got the No. 2 seed in the NCHSAA 4A playoffs and will get a first-round bye hosting East Forsyth on May 10.
“This is what we play for and especially the seniors,” Yakubinis said. “It’s the grind and to get to this point is great and it’s crazy, but we’re going into the playoffs very confident and ready.”
But no matter who the Panthers play, long-time coach and orchestrator of all of Providence’s success Danny Hignight likes his chances.
“We have a really special group of kids,” Hignight said “They trust me and they trust the staff. They work so hard, and they are one of the closets clubs I’ve had. I’ve had a lot of tight teams, but these guys make it easy on me.”