While the Orange baseball team has lost six starters from its 2023 Central Conference championship team, its pitching staff has largely returned intact.

In its final dress rehearsals before conference play begins this week, Orange showed off its strengths in two shutout victories.

On Wednesday night, senior Josiah Gibbs tossed six scoreless innings with a career-high nine strikeouts in a 5-0 win over Northwood in Pittsboro. Gibbs led Orange with seven victories last season as he was pressed into the starting rotation following injuries to Ryan Hench (now redshirting at UNC) and Cross Clayton. Against the Chargers, he scattered only two hits and retired the first nine batters he faced before Finn Sullivan singled to start the fourth.

Gibbs has a two-run lead before he even threw a pitch. After freshman Kayden Bradsher drew a leadoff walk in the first at-bat of the game, senior Wyatt Hedrick went opposite field for his first career homer over the right field wall.

Bradsher and Hedrick would pair again in the fifth. Bradsher drew a walk, then stole second and third bases. Hedrick sent a deep fly to centerfield that went over the head of Northwood’s Jake Leighton, allowing Bradsher to score standing up. Senior Cameron Guentensberger lined a single to left field to bring in Hedrick. Clayton, starting at shortstop, increased the Panther lead to 5-0 when he reached off an error on a ground ball to second base, scoring Guentensberger.

Gibbs thwarted any attempt at a comeback. He allowed only two baserunners in six innings, neither of whom touched second base. Coltin Hedrick, who has committed to play at Wake Tech along with his twin brother, tossed a scoreless seventh to complete Orange’s first shutout of the season, strikeout out two.

It was Orange’s seventh straight win over the Chargers, dating back to 2019.

On Thursday night, the Panthers shutout Grimsley 12-0 in Hillsborough, the Panthers first run-rule victory of the season.

Clayton, in his second start of the year, struck out seven in four innings for his first victory of the season and the 14th of his career. The last Orange pitcher to earn 20 wins in his career was Bryse Wilson, now with the Milwaukee Brewers. Wilson graduated in 2016.

Clayton has worked to recover from an injury that ended his junior season prematurely last May and caused him to miss all of travel ball last summer. He made his second start against the Whirlies and appeared in midseason form, retiring the first eight batters and giving up a scant single to Grimsley’s Will Rainwater on a meager dribbler over second base.

It was another game that Bradsher, a freshman, proved his worth as a leadoff batter. He was hit by a pitch by Grimsley starter Levi Ponder. Wyatt Hedrick lined a single to right. Bradsher didn’t skip a beat as he rounded for third base. Guentensberger scored Bradsher on a groundout to Grimsley second baseman Holden Barnwell. Following a walk to Clayton, catcher Ryan Horton laced a line drive to the left field gap that rolled to the fence, scoring Hedrick. Freshman Oliver Van Tiem hit a grounder to first baseman Max Snyder, who tried to throw out Clayton at the plate. Clayton slid under the tag of catcher J.T. Simmons for Orange’s third run.

Orange broke it open with eight runs in the third inning, sending 13 batters to the plate. Wyatt Hedrick started with a single to left field. Later, he would tag a two-run triple down the right field line to score Wren Hash and Bradsher. Van Tiem had a RBI single to score Guentensberger, who walked to conclude a 13-pitch at-bat. Horton walked with the bases-loaded for his second RBI. Hash earned his first career RBI with another bases-loaded walk.

Orange will travel to Western Alamance for its conference opener on Tuesday night.


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