Everything the Orange softball team has earned this year, they’ve taken the hard way.
The Lady Panthers are waging battle in a Central Carolina Conference so steep with talent, it might as well be called the PAC-12 East. There’s Eastern Alamance, the defending 3A State Champions, who lost starting pitcher Kenna Raye Dark to UNC after graduation last summer and is still a threat to win the league. Western Alamance has Taylor Apple, an East Carolina commitment who is one of the best all-around players in the state.
Last year, the Warriors lost in the third round of the state playoffs to Person, who return another top pitcher in Delaney Glover, a commitment to Binghamton University. The Rockets would eventually reach the state quarterfinals, where they fell to the Eagles 4-3 despite taking an early 2-0 lead against Dark.
In 2022, six of the seven CCC teams made the state playoffs. It would happen again now if the season ended today.
For Orange, a week that started in disappointment amid frigid temperatures against the top team in the league ended with their second straight come-from-behind win in Roxboro on a 70-degree day last Friday, nearly breaking a century-old record.
Sophomore first baseman Rhiley Crabtree lined a single down the right field line to score Savannah Wynn in the top of the sixth inning to pull Orange into the lead, while pitcher Caden Robinson added insurance with a solo blast in the seventh inning to push the Lady Panthers past Person 4-2 on Friday in Roxboro.
Robinson earned her fourth win of the season in the circle with eleven strikeouts. She allowed only four hits. After Person’s Liberty Jones drilled a two-run homer in the bottom of the third for the night’s opening runs, Robinson only allowed one more baserunner for the rest of the game. No Rocket touched second base after the third inning.
Going into spring break, Orange is tied with Person for third place in the CCC with a 3-2 league mark. The Lady Panthers will travel to Eastern Alamance on Tuesday.
For new Orange softball coach Rachel Peel, she’s had to deal with several spinning plates in her first months on the job. A former Orange player who went on to suit up at Furman and Meredith College, Peel has blended new starters like freshman Katie Carden and Crabtree with seniors like Carson Bradsher, Serenity McPherson, Kelsey Tackett and Wynn while dealing with the challenging CCC slate.
“We have so much competition at first base in general,” Peel said. “We have three players we could play there who have shown up. Rhiley has played well, but she can’t afford to let down because she has several people breathing down her neck. We have Mia Leathers and Natalie Roberson ready to step in. Mia had a great hit tonight. They’re all showing up and competing. That competition is breeding excellence.”
Trailing 2-0 going into the fifth inning, Crabtree led off the inning by getting hit by a pitch. With Brianne Foster at the plate, Crabtree advanced to second on a wild pitch. McPherson laced a line drive to the left field fence, which brought in Crabtree and cut Person’s lead in half. Glover ended Orange’s threat when she retired Bradsher and Robinson on consecutive infield pop-ups.
Orange quickly built another threat in the sixth when Sadie Cecil led off with a single to left field. Delaney Shaffer laid down a bunt to move Cecil to second. Wynn sent a screamer to left field, scoring Cecil and tying the game at 2. Crabtree followed with the game-winning hit on a single that dropped in front of right fielder Kaiden Hawkins to plate Wynn and give Orange its first lead of the night.
In the seventh, Robinson padded Orange’s lead with a laser to centerfield that cleared the fence. It was her fourth home run of the season.
Person still had six outs to mount a comeback, but Robinson wouldn’t allow them to even get a baserunner. She retired the final 12 Rockets she faced, including a strikeout to Allie Carden to end the game.
Orange (6-2) will host Falls Lake on Monday at 6PM at Orange Softball Field. Following the trip to Eastern Alamance, the Lady Panthers will play Northern Durham on Thursday at 6 PM in Hillsborough.