Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ardrey Kell: A winning 'tradition'

Ardrey Kell has never played baseball like a fledgling.

The second-year Knights have led ultra-competitive Southwestern 4A all season, and can clinch the conference title with a victory at South Mecklenburg at 7 p.m. Friday.

Ardrey Kell (18-3) beat three teams in the Observer Sweet 16 in the past six days - Myers Park, Providence and Olympic.

Coach Hal Bagwell downplayed the team’s No. 3 preseason ranking in a state 4A poll. Smart move, not wanting to put too much pressure on a young team (three of nine starters against Providence on Tuesday were seniors).

But, turns out the pollsters were correct.

Bagwell drills Ardrey Kell the same demanding way he did as coach at South Mecklenburg, which he turned into a state contender.

“We’re probably the hardest-working team in Charlotte,” shortstop Jonny Eaker said. “Coach Bagwell definitely works us hard. Last year I think we surprised a lot of people (with a playoff berth). This year, we knew it could be special coming back after last season.”

Ardrey Kell won its first five games last season. It shocked many fans, but wasn’t a fluke. The Knights finished 18-10, earned the conference’s fifth playoff spot and beat West Mecklenburg in the first round.

This season, they’re playing good defense, riding strong pitching from Jordan Darnell (7-1) and hitting from Eaker (.397 batting average), Ryan Stetson (.415, six home runs, 24 RBIs) and Andrew Miller (12 RBIs).

Darnell also has four home runs and 17 RBIs.

Pitchers Blake Parsley, Alex Wood and Ryan Butler have three victories apiece, which means Darnell isn’t overworked.

After clinching a share of the conference title in the home win against Providence on Tuesday, the Knights weren’t particularly giddy. They shook hands in ordinary fashion, and grabbed rakes and hoses for postgame field maintenance.

They’re accustomed to winning. In two seasons, that’s their legacy.

-- Cliff Mehrtens