The term “staff game” is a relative term for Orange baseball this year.
Most seasons, a “staff game” features two or more inexperienced pitchers trying to piece together a win against a non-conference opponent. The regular starters wait their turn in the rotation for the next conference game. It usually winds up with a lot of runs on the board, upwards of seven pitchers during a game that lasts over two-and-a-half hours.
That’s sort of how Monday night’s game against Jordan started. Orange’s top two starters, Cross Clayton and Ryan Hench, were position players but didn’t pitch. Yet it ended in a surprising pitcher’s dual that included a staff that may be even deeper than Panthers coach Jason Knapp anticipated and a few free bases that made all the difference in the world.
Orange’s Mark Pounds, Colin Hedrick and Josiah Gibbs combined on a four-hitter as Orange held off the Falcons 2-1 at Panther Field. Pounds, a senior who committed to Barton College in Wilson earlier this winter, earned his first win of the season. The revelation of the night was Hedrick, who threw four innings and allowed just one run in only his second varsity appearance.
“We know we have a lot of good arms on this team,” Knapp said. “We’re confident in who we have out there and I wanted to see how much our younger players could handle themselves in a tough situation. I’m happy to get the win because Jordan’s a really good team. I’m also happy how we grew tonight.”
Orange (3-0) scored all of its runs in the first inning. Senior shortstop Jackson Berini opened with an infield hit. With Ryan Hench at bat, Berini advanced to second on a wild pitch, then moved to third after an errant throw to second wound up in centerfield. After Hench walked, Connor Nordan grounded a single though the 5-6 hole to drive in Berini. With the bases loaded after Cameron Guentensberger walked, junior designated hitter Ryan Honeycutt sent a fly ball that dropped in right field to plate Hench.
The bases were still loaded with one out, but Jordan centerfielder Andrew Davis caught a fly ball from Ryan Horton that kept Nordan from scoring. Davis ended the inning with a flyout by Cross Clayton.
For the rest of the night, Jordan’s combination of Alex Mooring (who started) and Elijah Crowley ruled the roost, retiring the final ten Panthers that came to the plate. Orange only mustered one hit and two baserunners in the final six innings. Crowley, who replaced Mooring to start the fourth, threw three perfect innings.
Through the opening three games, Orange’s defense has singled itself out as the strength of the team. It thwarted one attempt after another by Jordan to push across the tying runs.
On two occasions, Berini made key plays at shortstop. In the first, the Falcons loaded the bases with two outs against Pounds. Left fielder Carter Liverman grounded a ball towards the hole, but Berini raced under it and threw out Miller Young at third base to shut down the threat.
Jordan’s Logan Lowe and Ian Bailey reached with one out in the third, but Berini positioned himself perfectly on top of second base and waited for the ball to turn an easy 6-3 double play.
Davis led off the fourth inning with a double down the third base line, but was stranded at third after Hedrick induced three straight pop-ups, the final one caught by Berini.
Jordan finally pushed across a run in the fifth when catcher Nick Reed reached on an error. Miles Newsome laid down a bunt down the third base line for another single. Ian Bailey lined a fastball to left field to score courtesy runner Kai Hale, who beat out a throw by Hench. It appeared the Falcons were set to add more when Bailey advanced to second on the throw and Newsome at third base with one out, but Young popped out to Best and Hedrick struck out Davis.
Knapp left Hedrick in to throw the sixth, his fourth inning of relief. Hedrick set down the Falcons in order, including two strikeouts. It was the first time that the Falcons went down in order all night.
Junior Josiah Gibbs earned his first career save with another 1-2-3 inning, ending when right fielder David Waitt caught a fly ball from Logan Lowe for the final out.