Hickory starts the American Legion Area IV playoffs on Wednesday in familiar territory.
Post 48 opens play as the No. 3 seed in the West against Kings Mountain, the East’s sixth-seeded squad.
Coaches from all across Area IV gathered on Monday evening in Cherryville to discuss this year's playoffs, including seeding and rules.
Hickory was expected to play Huntersville, but Area officials decided to award higher seeds to teams that completed all of their division games.
Huntersville played all 16 of its games in the Area IV East, finishing with an 8-8 record.
Kings Mountain finished one game short of a complete divisional slate with an 8-7 record.
Hickory Post 48 head coach Fore Rembert was prepared to face either Kings Mountain or Huntersville in the first round.
“I’ve been going to these meetings long enough to know that things change quickly,” Rembert said. “We had pretty much narrowed it down to three teams with Huntersville and Kings Mountain being the two most likely. We really thought it was going to be Huntersville. Things change. We’ve just got to go where they tell us to go. We did anticipate Huntersville, but we are happy we are in the playoffs.”
Hickory swept the season series against Kings Mountain, winning 13-1 in its season opener at home on May 28 and winning 8-4 on the road June 8.
This is the second-straight year that Hickory faces Kings Mountain as a three-seed in the playoffs. Post 48 swept that series last year, winning game one at home (12-11), game two on the road (11-7) and game three at Henkel-Alley Field (12-10).
“We play them every year in the playoffs it seems like,” Rembert said of Kings Mountain. “They are a well-coached team. They play very hard. They have two very good arms and a couple of other pretty good ones. It’s definitely a very, very tough first round draw for us. We can’t really control who we play as much as going out and playing. You’ve got to play everybody and beat everybody to get to the championship. It doesn’t matter if you play them first series or last. You’ve got to get on it. Everyone is 0-0 right now. What we’ve got to do is get ready to play and ready to go."
Hickory heads into the playoffs with a head of steam, having won four of its last five games of the regular season.
Post 48 tallied 24 runs and 33 hits in a pair of 10-run rule victories against Cherryville (12-2) and Caldwell County (12-2).
“We feel like we’ve fixed some things,” Rembert said. “The kids are playing with a lot of confidence now. They’ve had a whole season to get ready for this playoff run. We’re going to go out there and do what we do. We’re going to be aggressive on the bases and take advantage of running opportunities. We’re going to coach them up to hit good pitches, be aggressive and not over anxious. We’re going to have our pitchers throw strikes.”
Cherryville, the six-time defending Area IV champion, is on the opposite side of the bracket as Hickory as the No. 4 seed in the West.
Cherryville plays against Huntersville in the first round.
No. 2 West team Caldwell County is also on the other side of the bracket from Hickory and plays Gastonia in round one.
Shelby was awarded the top seed in the West and plays fellow West squad Haywood County in round one because of the Carolina Heat and Queen City both declining participation.
Rembert expects Colton Allison to pitch in game one of the series against Kings Mountain with either Colton Chapman or Tyler Pait taking the mound for game two.
As for his prediction in the series, Rembert believes his team will have the play at its best.
“They hit the ball really well and play good defense,” Rembert said of Kings Mountain. “They play very fundamental baseball and are very aggressive on the bases. We’re going to have to play our very best game to get a series win out of this one.”