Jason Knapp’s latest state playoff win as Orange baseball coach was unlike any he’s had before.

It wasn’t a first round nail bitter that went nine innings against Cedar Ridge.. It wasn’t decided in the late innings like last year’s thriller against Terry Sanford.

Instead, the Panthers went about business against Croatan thoroughly, efficiently and best of all, quickly.

Orange scored eight runs in the second inning, capped by a three-run blast by junior centerfielder Cameron Guentensberger, en route to an 16-2 win in five innings over Croatan in the opening round of the 3A State Playoffs on Tuesday night in Hillsborough. Orange, the #2 seed in the East Region, advance to host Triton on Friday night.

Triton defeated Scotland County 12-2 in six innings on Tuesday night.

Orange is 23-2, their most wins in a season since 2013, when they reached the 3A Eastern Regional final series with freshman Bryse Wilson.

Ryan Hench threw five innings to earn his third win of the season. Hench, who missed 12 games because of an injury suffered against Grimsley on March 9, struck out eight in only five innings. He allowed just two hits. Both runs he surrendered were unearned.

“Ryan looked great,” Knapp said. “He’s coming right back into form. He commanded the strike zone well. He had them out front with his slider. It looked the same old Ryan we’ve had forever.”

Croatan ends the season 12-13.

Hench finished 3-for-4 with five RBIs and a solo homer that led off the bottom of the fourth, which put Orange ahead 9-2.

Orange took control of the game going station-to-station in the second inning until, before you knew it, they had eight runs. It started when Ryan Honeycutt drilled a double down the left field line. With Ty Walker serving as a courtesy runner, Ryan Horton reached on a booted grounder at third base. Neo Best’s soft liner to right field loaded the bases. Cross Clayton drove in the opening run with a base hit that floated over second base into the outfield. Senior Jackson Berini, who went 2-for-3, lined a single up the middle to bring in Horton.

Senior David Waitt sent his team-leading 31st hit of the season through the 3-4 hole for another RBI single. With Orange leading 3-0, Hench ended a six-pitch at-bat with a liner to left field to score Clayton and Berini, leading to Croatan starter Broderyk Miller getting pulled.

Guentensberger poked a 1-0 pitch over the left field fence, which Knapp labeled”a classic Orange High home run,” for a three-run blast to score Waitt and Joey Pounds. It was the first home run of Guentensberger’s career.

The Cougars fought back with Owen Woodruff scoring off a sacrifice fly in the third inning hit by Nathan Michalowicz. Ben Boyette, who reached on an error in the outfield, reduced Orange’s lead to 8-2 off a squeeze play bunt by Nathan Griffin.

After Hench’s leadoff homer in the fourth, Connor Nordan had a single. Guentensberger was hit by a pitch, and Horton walked to load the bases. Best drove in Nordan and Guentensberger with a sharp liner to left field. Clayton put the game in run-rule territory with a seeing eye grounder that reached right field that brought in Horton. After Berini walked, Waitt knocked in Best with an RBI fielder’s choice where Berini was thrown out at second. Hench drilled a doubled on a ball that just missed getting out of the ballpark, plating Waitt and Clayton. With Pounds running for Hench, Nordan drove in his 37th run of the season with a single to centerfield.

Hench has home runs in three of Orange’s last four games.

It was Orange’s first run-rule victory since they defeated Cedar Ridge 12-2 on March 28.

“The guys were loose and focused,” Knapp said. “I have a lot of these guys in my weight training class and I saw it early today. They were feeling good and it came out right on the field. It was a lot different than last year.”

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