GREENSBORO–In its final games before the Central Carolina Conference opener, the Orange baseball team is using the week to explore in several ways.
On Wednesday night, they journeyed to First National Bank Park, the home of the Greensboro Grasshoppers. For now, it’s the home of the Grimsley Whirlies, who were basically vacated from their longtime home field due to the opening of a new middle school.
Both teams had to feel likeLilliputians from Gulliver’s Travels playing with tall buildings surrounding them as the Greensboro skyline faded to darkness after first pitch. With the ACC Tournament a stone’s throw away at the Greensboro Coliseum, Orange jumped out to an early lead and tried out some new pitching arms along the way in a decisive win.
Catcher Ryan Honeycutt went 2-for-3 with three RBIs as the Panthers scored five runs in the opening inning to prevail 15-7. For the second time in five years, the Panthers are off to a 4-0 start.
Orange’s early runs prevented the Whirlies from seriously challenging for the lead despite some uncommon sloppiness from the Panther defense in the middle innings. Orange had a season-high three errors which accounted for three unearned runs.
Senior Ryan Hench earned his second win in two starts. He struck out six over three innings. Hench, gearing up to play in ballparks as big as the one he was in on Wednesday night, stroked a double in the first inning down the left field line to score David Waitt. Jackson Berini drew a leadoff walk and scored when Waitt lined a 1-2 fastball to left field, allowing Berini to score from second.
Cameron Guentensberger reached on an error, moving Hench to third. Honeycutt leveled the hardest hit ball of the night to the left field power alley for the Panthers’ first triple of the season, easily scoring Guentensberger and Hench. Cross Clayton knocked in Honeycutt on a fly ball to left field, the first of five sacrifice flies for Orange on the night.
Hench only allowed two hits over three innings. Grimsley’s Sebastian Rodriguez got a one-out double in the second, but was stranded at third when Hench struck out Levi Ponder to end the inning. Guentensberger replaced Hench after three innings.
Orange’s sacrifice parade resumed in the fourth when Clayton opened with a walk. With Joey Pounds at bat, Clayton went to second base on a wild pitch. Pounds bunted Clayton over to third, and Berini knocked him in on a fly ball to right field.
The Whirlies scored three runs in the fourth. Tai Richmond and Eli Coll each singled, while Rodriguez walked to load the bases. Chase Gurner grounded out to Clayton, which scored Richmond. Ponder reached on a throwing error with two out that scored Coll and Rodriguez to cut Orange’s six-run lead in half.
In the fifth, Clayton got his own sacrifice fly RBI when he scored Guentensberger, who reached on a one-out walk. Orange led 7-3.
The Whirlies scored another run when Clay Rosser reached on a one-out throwing error. Richmond knocked him in with a single to centerfield. Grimsley had runners at first and second with one out and Orange’s lead down to 7-4, but Honeycutt threw out J.T. Simmons at third base on a steal attempt to shut down the threat.
The Panthers added four more runs in the sixth. With Richmond on the mound, Neo Best hit a leadoff single. Berini also singled to right field and Best took third following a throwing error. Waitt walked to load the bases, and Connor Nordan scored Best off another sacrifice fly to right field. Nordan has an RBI in each of Orange’s four games.
Waitt came in off a wild pitch. Elijah Santos, who replaced Hench, walked and eventually scored off a sacrifice fly by Honeycutt.
In the seventh inning, Nordan laced a bases-loaded double down the third base line to score Berini, Waitt and Santos. Pounds started the frame with a leadoff walk and came in off a Berini single. Of Orange’s nine starters, eight scored runs. Berini has a team-high ten runs in four games.