Orange Baseball

Orange’s Connor Nordan and Ryan Honeycutt discuss winning the CCC Tournament

Connor Nordan had his first grand slam since middle school at the right time on Thursday night. It came in the Central Carolina Conference Tournament championship game, where Orange defeated Walter Williams 9-4 in Hillsborough. Nordan had a team-high 36 RBIs this season and is third on the team with 26 hits. Nordan’s grand slam in the first inning erased an early 3-0 deficit for the Panthers. Catcher Ryan Honeycutt finished 3-for-4 with a double. Honeycutt has alternated between catcher and designated hitter this season and is hitting .297 on his first full season at the varsity level. Orange is now 22-2 as it awaits its seeding for the 3A State Playoffs, which will be released on Monday by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. The Panthers are currently seeded #2 in the 3A East Region. They will open at home on Tuesday night in the state playoffs against an opponent to be determined. The Panther senior class, which Nordan is a part of, has now won 52 games over the past four years. They have won four championships, including the tournament title on Thursday.

Orange’s Connor Nordan and Ryan Honeycutt discuss winning CCC Tournament Championship

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Double Crown–Nordan’s grand slam raises Orange past Williams 9-4, wins CCC Tournament title

In the two-game series between Orange and Williams back in March, the two teams split 1-0 victories.

In Burlington on March 21, the Bulldogs prevailed after pitcher Nate Billings threw a two-hitter. Just one Orange batter reached third base.

Three days later, Orange prevailed when the only run scored off a dropped ball in left field. Again, the Panthers were held to two hits, this time in victory.

So when Orange and Walter Williams met for the Central Carolina Conference  Tournament championship on Thursday night in Hillsborough, there was every reason to think the final score would resemble your average soccer game. Especially with Billings starting for Williams.

A funny thing happened on the way to the pitcher’s dual. A slow-pitch softball game broke out.

Despite no noticeable wind, the two teams combined for four home runs in the first two innings. There were 13 overall runs in the opening three innings–only to have both teams go scoreless in the final four frames.

Orange finished with ten hits, its third-highest total of the season, and didn’t trail again after senior Connor Nordan belted a grand slam in the first inning. Senior Ryan Hench put the Panthers ahead for good with a two-run blast in the second as Orange defeated Williams 9-4 to win the CCC Tournament title on Thursday night at Orange High Field.

Orange (22-2) will go into the 3A State Tournament on a 15-game winning streak. While conference tournaments weren’t contested during Orange’s years in the Big 8 Conference and the Carolina 6 (ranging from 2010-2021), this is still the Panthers first conference tournament title since 2006 when they were a 2A team playing in the Mid-State Conference.

With the state tournament still to come, Orange has already won more games than all but three squads in school history dating back to 1987.

The 2008 team, which won the 2A State Championship, holds the school record with a 27-3 record.

Orange’s journey to the tournament title was no joyride. The vehicle they traveled in didn’t arrive at the finish line safely in a pretty and well-defined body on the exterior. Instead, there were bumps and unexpected turns along the way, along with the best power-hitting catcher Orange has faced this season.

Williams had 13 hits, the most conceded by the Panthers in 2023.

Orange won three games in three days, including a victory over crosstown rival Cedar Ridge in the semifinals on Wednesday night that grew heated after a Hench home run in the sixth inning led to angry words being exchanged between opposing players, coaches and fans.

“We saw some adversity last night,” said Orange coach Jason Knapp. “We dealt with some adversity from the opposing dugout and opposing fans. I thought last night made us better. Our hats are off to that team across town that made us better. They made us better going into tonight and moving into next week.”

Williams catcher Dan Mahan took the first pitch of the game and parked it over the left field fence against Orange starter Josiah Gibbs, and the Bulldogs were just getting warmed up. Tate Jones followed with a single to left field and immediately advanced to second on a wild pitch. After Angel Mora grounded out to Gibbs to move Jones to third, Vince Coker nicked a cue shot left of the mound for an infield single, beating out the throw from 3rd baseman Neo Best. Jones scored. Coker stole second, then scored off a fly ball that dropped into centerfield in front of Cameron Guentensberger.

Orange tied its largest deficit of the season at 3-0, but it was wiped away quickly. In the bottom of the first, Jackson Berini ripped a fastball down the right field line all the way into the corner for a stand-up triple. Hench reached on an error on a grounder to the shortstop, but Berini held up at third. Following a walk to Guentensberger, Nordan stepped up and slapped a high fly that sailed over the left field fence. It was his first grand slam since middle school.

“I knew it was gone when it left my bat,” Nordan said. “I just sat there and watched it and took off running.”

But Mahan wasn’t finished yet. In the second, he sent another fastball over the left field wall for his second home run in three swings to tie the game.

It wasn’t even for long. Berini lead off with a walk. Hench belted his second home run in as many nights, this one over the centerfield wall that landed just a few feet away from fans watching Orange’s State Playoff Lacrosse game from adjacent Auman Stadium.

Gibbs threw five innings and didn’t surrender another run to earn his team-best seventh win of the season. He now has ten win in his career.

“Josiah was nervous,” Knapp said. “I love that kid. He was nervous, but he finally settled in. He got his nerves calm after the first inning. He didn’t have his best stuff, but that’s part of pitching. Getting through those outings when you don’t have you best stuff. And he just battled and grinned. That’s who he is.”

Cross Clayton drew a walk to lead off the third. Elijah Santos tried to move Clayton over on a sacrifice bunt, but the throw by the pitcher was offline. With runners at first and second and one out, Waitt smashed a single to left to load the bases. Hench grounded to second, where there was another misguided throw. Clayton and Santos scored, while Waitt raced to third. Guentensberger delivered a perfectly executed squeeze play to bring in Waitt and increased the Orange lead to 9-4.

Then the slow-pitch softball game ended and the regularly scheduled pitcher’s dual finally emerged. The Bulldogs had their chances, loading the bases in the third with Mahan up at bat. Again, he pulled the ball to left field, but this one landed a few feet shy of the fence and into Santos’ glove.

Williams loaded the bases in the fifth, but Santos retired Ethan George to quell the threat. Williams left 14 runners on base.

Trace Hicks, who relieved Billings in the second inning, struck out eight in four innings of middle relief.

The nine Orange seniors have now won four championships: the 2021 co-Big 8 Conference title, the 2022 and 2023 CCC regular season championships and the tournament title.

The field of 64 for the 3A State Tournament will be released on Monday morning.



Orange’s Ryan Hench and David Waitt discuss baseball win over Cedar Ridge

The Orange baseball team will play for the Central Carolina Conference Tournament championship on Thursday night. The Panthers defeated Cedar Ridge 8-5 in the CCC semifinals behind a three-run homer from senior Ryan Hench in the sixth inning. Hench also earned the win on the mound, his first victory since March 8, when he suffered an injury against Grimsley in Greensboro. Hench threw four-plus innings and yielded just two runs off two hits. Senior right fielder David Waitt went 2-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to six games, which leads the team. Waitt had an RBI single during a 5-run second inning. Waitt also scored in the sixth when Hench launched a three-run homer. It was Hench’s third homer this season and his first in Hillsborough. The Panthers are now 21-2 as they gear up to face Walter Williams on Thursday night in Hillsborough. Orange has won 14 in a row. The Bulldogs handed the Panthers its last loss on March 21, a 1-0 defeat in Burlington. On March 24, Orange defeated Williams 1-0. The Panthers have won ten straight games against CCC opponents. The nine Orange seniors will be playing for its fourth championship on Thursday night. They won a share of the 2021 Big 8 Conference regular season championship, and captured the 2022 and 2023 CCC regular season championships.

Orange’s Ryan Hench and David Waitt discuss baseball win over Cedar Ridge

The Orange baseball team will play for the Central Carolina Conference Tournament championship on Thursday night. The Panthers defeated Cedar Ridge 8-5 in the CCC semifinals behind a three-run homer from senior Ryan Hench in the sixth inning. Hench also earned the win on the mound, his first victory since March 8, when he suffered an injury against Grimsley in Greensboro.

Orange advances to CCC Tourny final after beating Cedar Ridge behind Hench’s 3-run homer; Finnegan homers for Red Wolves

The contrasts between Orange and Cedar Ridge’s baseball teams were apparent in their third and final matchup of the season on Wednesday night.

Orange, after winning the Central Carolina Conference regular season championship for the second straight year last week, is a team with nine seniors and eight starters back from last year. Cedar Ridge has just three seniors and three starters back from a squad that nearly eliminated its crosstown rival in the opening round of the state playoffs last May.

Even when Orange hasn’t been healthy, they’ve had the right combination of power, pitching and defensive prowess that has turned them into champions.

For all of Cedar Ridge’s inexperience, their grittiness has led them to a winning season, tied for 2nd in the CCC and back into the state playoffs for the second straight year.

The better sides of both teams were on display in the Central Carolina Conference Tournament semifinal on Wednesday night, but it was an Orange senior who has missed most of the season that had the biggest statement in several ways.

Ryan Hench launched a three-run homer in the sixth inning which proved to be the margin of victory as Orange held on to defeat Cedar Ridge 8-5 at Panther Field. Orange (21-2) will face Walter Williams in the CCC Tournament championship game on Thursday night at 6PM in Hillsborough.

“We had some walks and errors and that was uncharacteristic of us,” said Orange coach Jason Knapp. “We gave them a lot of free bases. They made us pay. If they don’t have one base running mistake out there in the fifth, it could have been a lot different. They’re a scrappy bunch and they’re going to give teams fits in the playoffs.”

Hench’s homer put Orange ahead 8-2, but Cedar Ridge’s scrappy nature wouldn’t let them go quietly. Sophomore Quinn Finnegan blasted a three-run homer to dead centerfield in the seventh. The Red Wolves rallied to put the tying run at the plate after B.J. Thornton and Grant McGuffey each drew walks. Orange junior Coltin Hedrick struck out Landon Dalehite and Ian McGuffey to end the game.

Orange, playing for the second time in two nights, struck for five runs in the second inning. After Ryan Horton and Cross Clayton drew walks. Neo Best laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance each runner 90 feet. Elijah Santos lofted a tricky soft pop-up that landed on the edge of the infield grass along second base that landed for a base hit to score Ty Walker, a courtesy runner for Horton. With David Waitt at bat, Clayton came in to score off a wild pitch to increase the Orange lead to 2-0. Waitt smashed a single straight up the middle to knock in Santos.

After Hench was hit by a pitch, Cameron Guentensberger smoked a worm burner up the third base line into the left field corner. Waitt jogged home while Hench sprinted in from first to increase Orange’s lead to 5-0.

Hench, making his fourth pitching start of the season after missing 12 games because of an injury suffered in Greensboro on March 8, earned his third win of the season.

Cedar Ridge fought back in the fifth. Nicholas Aitkin walked while Will Tippin was hit by a pitch, leading to Hedrick entering the game on the mound. Senior Issac Anderson took a 2-2 fastball and laid it into left field to load the bases. Mason Cates was hit on the hand to score Aitkin. Tippin scored when a Hedrick fastball got away from catcher Ryan Horton to the backstop.

Even after scoring two runs, Cedar Ridge still may have left some money on the table. With runners at second and third and the tying run at the plate with just one out, Finnegan lined out to Cross Clayton at second base. Clayton threw to Jackson Berini to double up Cates at second to end the inning.

The Red Wolves had a chance to draw closer in the sixth after a rare Orange miscue in the infield. Thornton drew a leadoff walk. Grant McGuffey sent a bouncing ball to second base, which appeared to be a potential double play. Somehow the ball bounced through Clayton’s arms and into centerfield. Thornton streaked over to third as the subsequent, errant throw from the outfield slammed against the fence beside the Cedar Ridge dugout.

With Thornton at third, McGuffey on second and no outs, Hedrick struck out three straight batters to retire the side and keep Orange ahead 5-2.

After Orange left the bases loaded in the fifth, they quickly mounted a threat in the sixth. Jackson Berini lined a single to left field, while Waitt walked. Hench belted his third homer of the season to left centerfield, which triggered an exchange of hostile words between the two benches after he trotted down the third base line.

Despite being down 8-2, the towel stayed in Cedar Ridge’s corner. Anderson led off with a single while Cates walked. Finnegan laid into the first pitch he saw from Hedrick and took it well over the centerfield wall.

Cedar Ridge was ranked #19 in the 3A East RPI rankings on Wednesday morning, making them a shoo-in for the state playoffs, which start Tuesday.


Orange baseball seniors discuss winning 20th game vs. Eastern Alamance

The Orange Baseball team has completed a 20-win season in the regular season for the first time in nine years. On Tuesday night, the Panthers officially completed the regular season with a 6-1 win over Eastern Alamance. Orange, the CCC Regular Season Champions, end the regular season 20-2 overall, 10-2 in the CCC. The Panthers won its last nine regular season games. Senior Connor Nordan, Jackson Berini, Joey Pounds, Ryan Hench, David Waitt, Neo Best, Ty Walker, Kent Melvin and Ryan Doherty were all honored in a pregame ceremony. Pounds earned the win on his senior night, his third of the season. Pounds threw five innings and allowed only one run off four hits. Berini had two doubles and added scored three runs, bringing his team-high total to 33. Waitt drove in the first run in the third inning with a single to centerfield. Cameron Guentensberger drove in Waitt with a groundout to third base. Best drove a single to left field in the fourth inning and circled the bases. He went to second off a groundout by Elijah Santos, advanced to third on a passed ball and scored off a wild pitch to put Orange ahead 3-1. Berini doubled and scored off an error. Orange has no time for rest. They will start play in the CCC Tournament on Wednesday night. The Panthers will host crosstown rival Cedar Ridge at 6PM.

Orange baseball seniors discuss 20th win of the season vs. Eastern Alamance

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