Clayton’s ten strikeouts, Honeycutt’s RBI single pushes Orange past Cedar Ridge 3-1; Cates strikes out seven for Red Wolves
In a sport predicated on mistakes, there wasn’t much separating Orange and Cedar Ridge on the baseball diamond Thursday night.
There were two excellent pitching performances from two players on opposite ends of the experience spectrum. Orange junior Cross Clayton, still working his way back from an early season injury, made the tenth start of his career.
Cedar Ridge junior Mason Cates started for only the third time, the first time this season. He sure didn’t look it.
Cates survived an early hiccup to allow only three hits over four-and-two-thirds innings with seven strikeouts in a superb performance.
Clayton tossed a two-hit shutout over five innings with ten strikeouts, ultimately earning his second win of the season.
Orange’s defense, whose ability separated them from the rest of the Central Carolina Conference en route to the regular season championship in 2022, once again made the difference in its ninth straight win over their crosstown rival.
The Panthers scored unearned runs in the second and fifth innings, which proved to be enough to win 3-1 on another night where the margin of error was small. Orange won despite being outhit 4-3.
Orange (11-2, 4-2 in the CCC) swept its first CCC opponent in a two-game series this season. The Panthers will go into next week’s two-game set against Person in first place in the CCC. The Rockets, 3-2 in conference play, will host Northwood in Roxboro on Friday night with a chance to tie Orange.
Cedar Ridge (6-6, 3-5) had their chances to make things interesting late after B.J. Thornton lined a single to score Cates in the sixth inning, cutting Orange’s lead to 3-1. Immediately after Cates scored, a Red Wolf courtesy runner tried to advance to third. Orange left fielder Joey Pounds sent a sharp relay throw to cutoff man Jackson Berini, who had the presence of mind to throw to Clayton at second base, trapping the runner. Third baseman Neo Best tagged out the runner to end the threat and the inning.
“I’m proud,” said Cedar Ridge coach Bryson Massey. “I’m proud the way my team carried themselves. That’s what we really talked about after the loss the other night was fighting and competing and being us. We’re going to play the game of baseball and we’re going to do it the right way. I felt like we did that tonight.”
Orange senior David Waitt, who went 3-for-4 with four RBIs on Tuesday night, struck again in the first inning. He grooved a grounder that hopped over the mound into centerfield for a single. After Waitt stole second, Ryan Honeycutt stroked a base hit to left field and Waitt scored for the opening run.
Honeycutt, hitting in the cleanup slot in place of the injured Ryan Hench, had four RBIs in the series.
After that, Cates didn’t surrender another hit until the fourth inning.
Orange’s Wyatt Hedrick drew a leadoff walk to start the second. Hedrick moved to second on a stolen base, but Cates struck out Pounds and Clayton. Best sent a two-out grounder to second, but it was mishandled by the second baseman and Hedrick scored the first of two unearned Orange runs to increase its lead to 2-0.
“We made a few mistakes tonight,” Massey said. “But that’s going to be part of us this year. We’re going to make our mistakes now, but there are some young guys that are getting a lot of experience. Hopefully by the end of the year, we’re going to be hitting our stride. That’s the goal.”
Cedar Ridge’s first threat came in the third when Landon Dalehite reached on a dropped pop-up at first base. Isaac Anderson lined a single for the Red Wolves’ first hit with two outs. Cates sent a fly ball down the line in right. With no wind blowing to push it foul, Waitt was able to chase it down at the chalk and record the third out.
Quinn Finnegan started the fourth with a leadoff single, but Hedrick immediately turned a 4-6-3 double play to squash the Cedar Ridge opportunity.
Orange increased its lead to 3-0 in the fifth. Jackson Berini, who leads Orange with 19 runs, drew a one-out walk, moved to second on a steal and went to third after Waitt grounded out to Grant McGuffey. Connor Nordan sent a grounder to the shortstop, whose throw to first was low. Nordan collided with first baseman B.J. Thornton, which jarred the ball free. Berini scored while Nordan favored his right knee but was able to continue.
After Cates reached his maximum allotment of 105 pitches, Finnegan came in from right field to replace him on the mound. Finnegan quieted the Orange bats, setting down all seven Panthers he faced in order.
Junior Coltin Hedrick, who earned the win last week in relief against Walter Williams, picked up his first career save. He replaced Clayton in the sixth. Cedar Ridge had one more threat in the seventh after McGuffey drew a walk with two outs. Dalehite sent a fly ball to right field that Waitt nearly overran towards the line, but made the catch on his knees for the final out.