After making the state baseball playoffs for the 19th consecutive year, Orange will hit the road to Randolph County.
The Panthers will face Mid-Piedmont Conference co-champion Asheboro in the opening round of the North Carolina School Athletic Association 3A State Playoffs. The preliminary brackets were released at 4:10PM Sunday afternoon.
The Panthers will face the Blue Comets at 6PM on Tuesday night at McCrary Park, also the home of the Asheboro Copperheads of the Coastal Plan League.
Orange, the co-champions of the Big 8 Conference, received a #11 seed in the predetermined brackets released by the NCHSAA. The winner of this game will meet the winner of #3 D.H. Conley vs. #14 Jacksonville in the second round.
It’s a meeting between two teams that shared their respective conference championships. Because of the pandemic, last January the Big 8 Conference’s athletic directors approved a format for all sports where only the first meetings between conference rivals would count in the league standings. Orange clinched a state playoff birth on May 11 when they defeated Chapel Hill 5-0 at Tiger Field. Northern Durham earned the #1 seed from the Big 8 Conference when they shut out the Panthers 4-0 in Hillsborough on May 18 behind a mammoth pitching performance from senior Matthew Lombard, who threw a 3-hit shutout in six-and-two-thirds innings with eleven strikeouts.
It’s a game that hits close to home for Orange Coach Jason Knapp on several levels. Asheboro Head Coach Brett Hoogkamp played on Knapp’s junior varsity baseball team at Southwestern Randolph High School. Hoogkamp was also a quarterback for Southwestern Randolph’s football team.
On top of that, Knapp’s wife, Selina, graduated from Asheboro High. The Knapps celebrated their anniversary last week.
Former Orange High star Joey Berini, who just finished the season with East Carolina in the Super Regionals of the NCAA Baseball Tournament, will spend his summer at McCrary Park. Berini has committed to play with the Asheboro Copperheads of the Coastal Plain League, a summer collegiate wooden-bat league.
This season, Asheboro tied with Southeastern Guilford for the Mid-Piedmont Conference Championship. The Blue Comets are 12-2 overall, 10-2 in the Mid-Piedmont Conference. Asheboro opened the season 1-2 with losses to Southeastern Guilford and Southern Alamance, but concluded with eleven consecutive wins. Last Tuesday, the Blue Comets defeated previously undefeated Randleman, the champions of the 2A PAC-7 Conference. Asheboro ended the regular season with a nonconfence win over Chatham Central.
Asheboro pitcher Caleb Walker, a senior who started against Randleman last Tuesday, has signed with Division II Catawba College. Another senior, Avery Jones, has made eight pitching appearances this season, including the season-ending win over Chatham Central last week. Jones has signed with Bluefield State College in West Virginia.
The 3A State Tournament, paired down from 64 teams to 32 teams because of the pandemic, will start Tuesday. Even though Northern Durham captured the #1 seed from the Big 8 Conference, the Knights will not host a game in the opening round. Instead, the Knights will travel to Wilson to face Hunt. Northern received a #9 seed. The winner of Hunt-Northern will face either top-seeded Northern Guilford, the champions of the Mid-State Conference, or Cape Fear.
Orange ended the regular season with a disappointing 12-8 loss to Northern Durham on Thursday. The Panthers led 5-0 going into the bottom of the third inning. Trailing 8-5, Northern scored seven runs in the sixth inning, going through three Panther pitchers.
Orange senior starter Pierson Kenney had the longest stint of his career against the Knights. Kenney threw four inning and surrendered four runs off six hits. He left the game with Orange leading 6-4.
Orange catcher Davis Horton singled in the sixth inning to conclude the year with a 15-game hitting streak. Horton had a hit in each regular season game this year. Panther second baseman Connor Funk went 3-for-3, including a two-run single in the third inning that brought in David Waitt and Will Walker to push Orange’s lead to 5-0. Funk also scored Orange’s first run after he reached on a bunt single in the 2nd inning. After Jaren Sikes hit a grounder to Northern third baseman Colin Scoggins, Funk scored off a throwing error, along with Joey Pounds.
You can hear Orange-Asheboro on Tuesday night on Hillsboroughsports.com.