Horton’s single spurs Orange rally, Panthers beat Cedar Ridge 3-2 in 9-inning state playoff thriller

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Updated: May 11, 2022

If the first-ever meeting between Orange and Cedar Ridge in the state baseball playoffs had been anything less than a classic, it would have been viewed as a disappointment.

Instead, the hundreds of people who gathered in the grandstands, around the fences and along the back row of Auman Stadium beyond centerfield Tuesday night were treated to a game they won’t forget anytime soon.

By the time extra innings rolled around, the only thing for certain was that one team would move on to the round of 32 in the 3A State Playoffs. The other team would have a group of seniors hurting badly after a painful loss.

There was so much to gain for Cedar Ridge. It’s first playoff win since 2018. It’s first win at Orange since 2012. Ending a six-game losing streak to its archival.

All of it was two outs away.

For the second straight year, Orange would find a way to pull an improbable escape in the 7th inning. After the Panthers trailed for most of the game, sophomore Cameron Guentensberger bunted David Waitt home for the game-tying run with one out in the bottom-of-the-seventh inning.

The game eventually went nine innings, the longest for both teams this season. In the ninth, senior Davis Horton lined a bases-loaded single to score Conner Funk and push the Panthers past Cedar Ridge 3-2. It was Orange’s first playoff win since 2018. It was also the first time that Orange won a home playoff game since 2016, when they defeated South Johnson it what turned out to be Bryse Wilson’s final victory before he was drafted by the Atlanta Braves a month later.

Orange (17-8) will host Terry Sanford in Hillsborough in the second round. The game is scheduled for Friday but may be moved to Thursday due to the threat of rain.

Cedar Ridge (13-11) held a 2-1 lead after the third inning off a strong pitching performance by freshman Quinn Finnegan, who scattered only five hits in six innings. Finnegan was replaced by B.J. Thornton in the 7th inning after he reached his maximum allotment of 105 pitches allowed by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

“When I brought him into my office today, I said ‘Hey dude, you’ve earned every bit of this,'” said Cedar Ridge coach Bryson Massey, clearly emotional after a season-ending postgame meeting with his team. “I said ‘You’ve got four years of this, so go get it.’ He earned it. He showed his resilience all year. We had no doubt that he was going to go out there and pitch the way he did.”

Orange had its own redemption story. Last June, Asheboro defeated the Panthers off a walkoff double in the opening round of the 3A State Playoffs at McCrary Park. Horton’s walkoff single gave the Panthers another day as a team after they stared into the abyss of its season ending.

“Going into playoff baseball, anything can happen,” said Orange coach Jason Knapp. “These guys are resilient. Conner Funk has showed that time in and time our, against this team specifically. The guys have a no-quit attitude. They’ve been in these situations a lot this year and they know they can pull them out.”

The dramatic finish came three weeks after the Panthers swept a two-game series from Cedar Ridge by a combined score of 29-5. Anyone who knows anything about high school baseball understands that the regular season bears little resemblance to the postseason, something that the Red Wolves made clear on the very first pitch of the game when senior Aidan McCallister lined a single to left field. McAllister advanced to second after a groundout by B.J. Thornton, went to third on a wild pitch and scored off a groundout by Cristian Macias.

McAllister, in his final game at Cedar Ridge, reached base in all four of his plate appearances.

Guentensberger, whose brother Colin (a walk-on football player at Appalachian State) was among the many faces in the crowd, factored in on both Orange runs in regulation. He led off the second by getting hit by a pitch. Guentensberger went to second base after a single by Connor Nordan. After Horton flew out to centerfielder Garrett Ray, Guentensberger tagged up and went to third. Orange’s Codey Snipes lifted a fly ball to right field that dropped in and evened the game, but not for long.

Cedar Ridge senior Nick Nolan lined a single to centerfield to lead off the third inning. After Braedyn Jacobson moved Nolan to second on a sacrifice bunt, McAllister was hit by a pitch. Thornton sent a grounder through the 5-6 hole into left field to put Cedar Ridge back in the lead at 2-1.

Orange starter Ryan Hench controlled the Red Wolves for the remainder of his stint. In his final four innings, Hench retired the Red Wolves in order three times. In yet another no-decision, Hench allowed only three hits.

Strong defense by Cedar Ridge led to Finnegan getting out of jams in the fourth and sixth innings. Nordan led off the fourth with a standup double. Horton followed with a single, but defensive plays by the Red Wolves’ Carlo Garay and Thornton led to the Red Wolves maintaining its 2-1 lead.

Nordan and Horton started the sixth inning with consecutive walks. This time, Finnegan struck out Snipes while Garay tagged out Neo Best. Left fielder Mason Cates ended the sixth inning with a catch on a Jackson Berini flyout.

Orange’s seventh inning started when Waitt lofted a soft liner to shallow centerfield that went off a glove and fell to the ground. After Hench walked, Thornton replaced Finnegan. Waitt moved to third after Funk grounded to Jacobson on a fielder’s choice, leading to Guentensberger’s bunt single to push across the tying run.

Knapp inserted Cross Clayton, the Panthers’ #2 pitcher who will likely face Terry Sanford, for the eighth inning. Clayton, who got Orange’s first win of the season against Northern Durham on February 28 in relief, earned his team-leading eighth win of the season, also in relief.

In the ninth, Funk got aboard off an error in the infield. Guentensberger lofted a soft liner that floated over first base and landed fair by about three feet along the right field line. After Nordan was intentionally walked, Horton lined the first pitch he saw up the middle to give Orange its first lead of the game and send the Orange reserves flying out of the dugout in jubilation.

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