It was business as usual for recent Providence High School graduate Matt Ball when he pitched a complete game one-hit shutout against rival Ardrey Kell (29-3) in the fourth round of the Class 4A state playoffs. It was one of the biggest games of his career when the two teams met on May 23, but Ball wasn’t deterred. His stellar performance carried the Panthers to a 3-0 win against the Knights, who were ranked the No. 1 team in the state and No. 12 team in the nation at the time according to MaxPreps.com. Ball finished the game with six strikeouts behind a defense that only made one error.
Ball’s talent is undeniable. He closed his junior season with a 5-2 record on the mound, 1.37 ERA and 61 strikeouts while limiting opposing batters to an average of .161. But even with Ball’s consistency, the Panthers finished the season 15-12 and lost in the first round of the playoffs – a down year for coach Danny Hignight’s storied program that’s otherwise gone 133-35 since 2008.
Ball came back for his senior campaign more determined than ever to get his Panther teammates back on track. And his dedication paid off – Ball was 11-0 from the circle with one save, a one-hitter and two-hitter against Ardrey Kell, an ERA of 0.79 and finished the year with 105 strikeouts.
And Ball never bowed to the pressure of having to pitch the Panthers back to the top of the state’s elite with phenomenal performances all season.
The Panthers were up 4-3 in the sixth inning of a May 20 third round playoff game against South Meck when they found themselves in a bases-loaded jam that could’ve cost them the game and their season. But a calm and collected Ball pitched them out of it and the Panthers advanced to the next round with the win.
Ball and his team ended their season as the Class 4A state semifinalists with a 26-6 record and finished in MaxPreps Final Xcellent 50 National Baseball Rankings – a far cry from where they ended last year.
And their resurgence to the top was largely due to Ball’s performances. He was named to the So. Meck 8 all-conference team, regional team and 2014 N.C. Coaches Association all-state team after one of the best pitching performances in the state. The senior standout also was named a Louisville Slugger second-team All-American, committed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and now he’s the 2014 South Charlotte Weekly Baseball Player of the Year.
But for coach Hignight, Ball’s senior season and the recognitions that have followed are no surprise.
“Matt was a huge influence on the team,” Hignight said. “He’s very business-like. He goes about his job every day. Yeah, he’ll joke around and have fun with the guys but when it’s time to work, he puts in the effort.”
Hignight said that even though Ball is one of the most talented pitchers in the state, it’s his work ethic and attitude that have carried him to where he is now.
“I look back on when we got him as a 14-year-old and he’s grown tremendously since then,” Hignight said. “His determination and work ethic made all the difference. Everything he’s accomplished and every recognition he’s had are because he was willing to work for it.”
But it wasn’t just the baseball field where Ball made an impact. The baseball prodigy put 100 percent into everything and it showed in the classroom, as well, where he was equally as successful. He graduated in the top five of his class of more than 500 students with a GPA of 5.0 and was named to the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society.
“I can’t say enough about his attitude and his work ethic,” Hignight said. “You’re talking about a kid who was top five in his class at Providence. He could’ve gone to any Ivy League school he wanted. He was a phenomenal student, a phenomenal baseball player and a phenomenal young man and he worked for every bit of it.”
Ball reported to West Point last week where he plans to pursue a degree in engineering. After graduation, he’ll be enrolled in the United States Army for five years.
“He could’ve had his pick of schools,” Hignight said. “But he knew how great of an honor it is to go to West Point. The challenges that West Point present are right up his alley. He loves working hard. He was really excited because he knows that he’ll be pushed there.
“He’s going to have a tremendous future on the mound at West Point. Whether or not he pursues baseball professionally after that, we’ll see. But he’s going to work hard that’s for sure. He doesn’t take anything for granted and he’ll be successful whatever he decides to do – baseball, engineering, anything – he’ll be successful.”