WILSON–For a change, Orange baseball’s ride home from Wilson was a pleasant one.

Games inside Historic Fleming Stadium haven’t simply been loses for Orange. There have been ugly performances. Last year’s 13-0 loss to Perquimans, the eventual 1A State Champions, was so ignominious, it led Coach Jason Knapp and his staff to do some soul searching that eventually led to a conference championship.

This year, Knapp came into Fleming Stadium with a sour taste in his mouth following a tight 4-2 loss to Western Alamance last Thursday. The obstacles going into Saturday were high ones for Orange. It was their third game in five days with their top two pitchers still battling nagging injuries.

Knapp called up a junior varsity hurler to start, used a senior who had never pitched in a varsity game to carry the middle innings, relied on a senior making his first appearance on the mound this season for the final six outs and somehow came away with a victory over the defending Big East Conference champions.

Junior Connor Nordan lined a two-run single to left field to score Elijah Santos and Jackson Berini to carry a three-run fourth inning and the Panthers held on to win 7-6 over South Central. It was a strong all around performance from senior Cameron Guentensberger, who went 2-for-4 at the plate and finished the game with his first career save after he threw two perfect innings in the sixth and seventh.

It would be erroneous to say that there was a joyous Orange dugout afterwards. Neither the Panthers not the Falcons could sit in their respective dugouts because Fleming Stadium in under renovations. Teams were required to sit on benches along the first and third base lines. The grandstand was also blocked off, forcing fans to watch from picnic areas.

It was still a joyous moment for Knapp, who had lost in two previous trips to Wilson.

“I looked at (Jackson) Berini and (Ryan) Hench and Guentensberger and (Ty) Walker and (Ryan) Horton and told them they all did something their older brothers couldn’t do. Get a win here,” Knapp said. “It feels good.”

Joey Berini, Cooper Hench, Colin Guentensberger (who was in attendance on Saturday), Will Walker and Cooper Hench played on Orange’s 2019 team that was thumped by Wilson Fike 6-0 at Fleming Stadium. Davis Horton, now a catcher at Rockingham Community College, was on last year’s team.

It was the first carer win for Walker, a senior threw the second and third innings after the Falcons scored two runs in the opening inning.

South Central (5-4) reached the 3A Eastern Regional Championship series last spring, where they lost to South Brunswick.

Trailing 2-0, Orange loaded the bases in the second inning against South Central starter Nicholas Mayo. Connor Nordan drew a walk while Guentensberger lined a single to left filed. Cross Clayton walked, leading to Ryan Horton lining a single to the game in left field to tie the game. With two out, Jackson Berini smoked a double over the head of shortstop Dalinh Nguyen-Brown to bring in Clayton and Joey Pounds, who was running for Horton, to put Orange ahead 4-2.

Berini, Orange’s leadoff batter, is second on the team with ten RBIs through eight games.

Walker, in his first pitching performance, calmly set down the Falcons in the second courtesy of a strong play by Ryan Honeycutt, making his season debut at first base. With one out, Honeycutt snatched a grounder hit by Falcon designated hitter Jackson Brunch, flipped it to Berini to retire Mayo and threw to Walker covering first for a 3-6-1 double play.

Orange (7-1) pushed its lead to 7-2 with four runs in the fourth inning. Clayton drew a leadoff walk and went to second after a sacrifice bunt by Horton. With two out, Berini reached on an effort. Elijah Santos, batting second, lined a single to left field to score Clayton. Following a walk to David Waitt, Nordon sent a hard grounder to left field for a two-run single.

Nordan has RBIs in seven of Orange’s eight games.

The Panthers had to hold on as the Falcons mounted a comeback. They started with a two-out rally in the fourth when pinch-hitter Marcus Byrd was hit by a pitch. Bunch walked and catcher Josh Britt singled. Nguyen-Brown drew a bases-loaded walk.

In the fifth, Mason Hobbs lined a leadoff single to left against Orange’s Josiah Gibbs. After a strikeout of David Horvath, Brody Stallings lined a single to left. Scooter Waters belted a double that would have left most high school ballparks, but not in Fleming Stadium with a 335-foot right field line. Waters had to settle for a double and Hobbs scored. New pitcher Carter Hale grounded out to Best, which brought in Stallings. Waters then made it a one-run game on a throwing error and the Panthers lead was reduced to 7-6.

Guentensberger came in cold from centerfield to throw the sixth inning, but induced three long flyouts to retire the Falcons in order for the first time all night. Knapp could have gone with Pounds, who replaced Guentensberger in centerfield, to throw the seventh. But he stuck with Guentensberger, who delivered another 1-2-3 inning in the 7th against the heart of the Falcons order.

It was Guentensberger’s first career save.

“He’s got great poise,” Knapp said. “He just seems to be around the strike zone every time we go to him since he was a freshman. He’s mature beyond his years. We weren’t to him in the sixth and things went smoothly. We went right back to him because you don’t want to give that team an opportunity.”

Orange will resume conference action in Burlington tonight to face Walter Williams.

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