Pinecrest takes pride in powerful postseason

Pinecrest came up short Saturday in the best of three state 4-A baseball championship at Burlington Athletic Stadium, falling to unbeaten Providence High School in Charlotte. The Panthers, which finished the year at 34-0, won game one Friday 3-0 and took game two Saturday 3-1. Pinecrest, which finished the season at 2-8, was making its first appearance in the title game since 1979 when the Patriots won the championship. (David Sinclair, for North State Journal)

BURLINGTON — Pinecrest couldn’t dent Charlotte Providence’s perfect season, but the Patriots left the Class 3-A baseball state finals with an experience worth savoring.

They’d like to be playing in the final weekend of the season again.

“We’re looking to come back,” junior third baseman/pitcher Colby Wallace said. “We know how this loss felt.”

It was a stinging conclusion to the season for Pinecrest, which pushed Charlotte Providence to 10 innings in Game 2 of the championship series before falling 3-1 on Saturday at Burlington Athletic Stadium.

The Patriots advanced to the finals by winning a regional championship for just the second time – the other was in 1979.

“We’ve kicked the door down,” Pinecrest coach Jeff Hewitt said. “This is what we’re working for. … We can get here (to the finals).”

Charlotte Providence (34-0) won its third state title.

Pinecrest finished with a 25-8 record.

“Our guys, they just didn’t back down,” Hewitt said. “We have just seen kids grow up over the last two, three weeks.”

Wallace had two of Pinecrest’s three hits in Friday’s Game 1 and then went to the mound for Game 2, allowing just one unearned run in eight innings while striking out seven. Lead-off batter Nick DiCarlo had two of the Patriots’ six hits in Game 2.

The Game 2 starter for Charlotte Providence was Michael Forret, who worked 7 2/3 innings and struck out 12 with four walks.

Pinecrest pitchers largely put the Patriots in good shape, just as Hewitt had envisioned.

“We had a plan,” Hewitt said. “We stuck to a plan. We really wanted to get to that third game.”

Yet loading the bases with one out in the fifth inning and failing to score contributed to the shortcomings on offense.

“We were a hit here, a hit there from being right there,” Hewitt said.

After Charlotte Providence scored two runs in the top of the 10th off Noah Arnett, Game 1 starting pitcher Eli Jerzembeck was summoned in the bottom of the inning. Still, Pinecrest loaded the bases before the threat was doused. Pinecrest stranded 13 runners in the game.

Pinecrest led 1-0 in the fourth when Grayson Hudgins’ single drove in Wallace, who had reached on a lead-off walk. Charlotte Providence pulled even in the sixth.

The Patriots, who knocked off 2021 state champion Fuquay-Varina in the East Region finals, were on the verge of pulling off a notable upset in the championship series.

“We just didn’t make the plays when we needed to,” Wallace said. “We needed a big hit.”

Charlotte Providence won its first state title since 2015.

In Friday’s Game 1, Jerzembeck, who a day later was named the Most Valuable Player of the championship series, threw a three-hitter with 10 strikeouts and one walk in a 3-0 decision. The Panthers scored one run in the third and two more in the sixth, when Pinecrest starter Cove Mashburn was lifted. Collin McDougall’s single and Tyler Khanolkar’s triple drove in the last two runs.

Mashburn’s line showed 5 1/3 innings with one hit allowed, but he walked three.

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