“But being 20-0 would have been nice, too,” he said.
The simultaneous compliment and challenge was Smith’s way of telling his team — the back to-back champions of Area IV’s Eastern Division — that it had accomplished a great deal, but that there’s always room for improvement, especially with the postseason opening.
The Area IV playoffs began this week, though Game 1 of the best-of-five first-round match up between Huntersville and Burke County, the Western Division’s No. 8 team, was postponed Tuesday because of heavy downpours in Huntersville. The game was tentatively moved to Wednesday, with the teams set to play on consecutive days and alternate sites for each series game.
“I think this team will compete,” Smith said Tuesday, from the semi-dry wooden bench inside Huntersville’s dugout as the water collected on North Meck High’s field. “They’re going to get tested … but I think they’re going to compete.”
Last year, Huntersville swept Henderson County 3-0 in the first round. But just as quickly as Post 321 advanced, powerhouse Cherryville showed Huntersville the exit, also in three games. Huntersville’s Adam Venditti, who was also on the team last year, said that playing a series takes some getting used to after playing opponents in single games all season.
“I think (our approach) is different between this year and last year, and we know how to handle it better,” said Venditti.
Behind an offense that features hitters such as Michael Russell, Jared Fortune, Hunter Conley and Mikal Hill, Huntersville has outscored its opponents 223-81 in 18 games (Huntersville won two games by forfeit). That’s an average winning score of 12.4 to 4.5, with Huntersville pitchers earning three shutouts. So Post 321 has shown what it can do.
What was unknown to Smith and Co. entering the playoffs was how the team would respond after a loss. Huntersville’s lone defeat came last Saturday in a 9-8 road game at Charlotte. Smith credited Charlotte for its hitting, and said his team, which beat Pineville 6-5 the night before, made some mistakes it had made throughout the year, including two base-running errors in the ninth inning.
“Eventually it will catch up to you, and it finally did,” said Smith.
Some Huntersville players expressed that the loss might actually do the team some good, especially since it in no way affected the division standings or playoff seedings. Venditti was among those sharing that opinion.
“It’s like the perfect time if you are going to lose one, right before the playoffs, to know we are human, basically,” he said. “Everyone was obviously upset after the game. We’re not used to losing, but I think it will benefit us more than anything.”
Smith loves his ballplayers and respects their baseball minds, but he disagreed.
“It’s never good to go in with a loss — never,” he said. “Although they may be a little more focused, every time you lose, you lose a little more confidence.”
Burke Post 21 entered the playoffs with an 8-10 overall record. The winner of the series will meet the winner of the Gaston Braves (Eastern No. 5) and Hickory (Western No. 4) match-up this week.
• Notes: Huntersville has added former Hopewell High pitcher Hunter May to the roster. May was pitching for the Lake Norman Copperheads team in the Southern Collegiate Baseball League, but left the team. He pitched for Huntersville against Pineville and Charlotte last week. … Third baseman Diego Perez has left Post 321 to take summer school classes.