ZEBULON (By Langston Wertz Jr., The Charlotte Observer) When Providence High's baseball team lost in Game 1 of the N.C. 4A state championship series to underdog Raleigh Millbrook Friday night, Panthers coach Danny Hignight said he felt confident about his team winning two games Saturday to capture a state championship.
"I like my club," Hignight kept saying. "I really do."
Saturday, the Panthers played like a team ranked No. 21 in the nation by MaxPreps – and showed why Hignight felt so good about their chances. Providence beat Millbrook 10-0 and 10-2 in Games 2 and 3 to capture a 4A state title.
Providence, which lost in the 1997 state final, won its first championship since 1995. The Panthers finished the season at 31-4.
In Game 2, Providence overwhelmed Millbrook (21-12), winning via a fifth inning mercy rule. Winning pitcher Austin Leonard threw a two-hitter and never let a Millbrook batter past first. He faced the minimum 15 batters.
That performance forced a deciding Game 3 Saturday night. Providence won 10-2, scoring seven runs in a back-breaking sixth inning that included a two-run inside-the-park homer from Josh Hiatt. Zach Brown was the winning pitcher for the Panthers.
That wild sixth inning saw Providence bring 10 batters to the plate. Hiatt's shot over the centerfielder's head – and mad scramble to get home – punctuated the inning, and the game.
In two games Saturday, Providence had 24 hits. In Friday's loss, the Panthers managed just five against Millbrook, a No. 21 playoff seed that enjoyed a Cinderella run to its first state championship series.
Hignight lamented that his team hit the ball well Friday, but hit it often right at Millbrook defenders.
"We lined out to them seven times, man," he said.
It was the first finals series for Hignight, in his 12th season. His record at Providence is now 273-76.