In 2014, the Orange High School baseball team went 21-4 overall and won the Big Eight Conference with a perfect 14-0 record.
Despite winning 13 of their last 14 regular-season games, the Panthers bowed out of the N.C. High School Athletics Association playoffs with a second-round loss to a 17-11 Northern Guilford team.
Just imagine what could have happened if the Panthers had its best pitcher available for the last half of the season. Or its own home field to play on.
Sophomore Bryce Wilson, who was named a MaxPreps All-American as a freshman in 2013 with a 11-0 record and an 1.05 ERA, never got the same pitching momentum during his sophomore year because of a shoulder injury. He was relegated to designated hitter duties for the balance of the year.
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“I missed pitching,” said Wilson, also an all Big Eight Conference linebacker in football whose younger brother Peyton will spend the spring playing lacrosse for Orange. “I didn’t get to pitch during the last half of the season and all summer. I’m excited to get back.”
As versatile an athlete as Wilson is, he naturally had plenty of suitors for his services on the gridiron and the diamond. Wake Forest football coach Dave Clawson came calling as soon as he arrived from Bowling Green, but the overtures from UNC baseball coach Mike Fox won out.
Wilson’s father Chad – a lifelong Duke fan who attends as many games in Wallace Wade Stadium and Cameron Indoor Stadium as time allows – took the news well.
“He actually really liked Carolina,” Wilson said about his father, who graduated from Orange High School in 1990.
“He liked the coaches and the campus. He told me he would never truly be a Carolina fan, but he would wear a Carolina shirt whenever I played. He’s proud of me and proud that I’m going to Carolina.”
Wilson and catcher Brad Debo (who committed to South Carolina in 2014) make up the strength of a team that lost starting pitcher Jordan Toney (7-1 with a 1.24 ERA), outfielder Colin Pope (who hit .408 in 20 games), second baseman Adam Gates and utility player Matthew Crabtree to graduation.
“I think it’s going to be a very good season,” said Wilson. “We have the strength of our team coming back.”
Unfortunately, like every other team across the state, Orange had a hard time just getting a field to play on because of the winter weather. Games slated for last week against Heritage and Riverside were postponed because of winter weather. Six inches of snow were still on Orange’s field last weekend.
The total number of practices for the Panthers through the first three weeks of workouts: 1.
“We haven’t even finished tryouts,” said Dease.
As usual, the expectations are high at Orange, especially after the disappointing way 2014 ended.
After being one win away from the state championship series in 2013, the Panthers were eliminated from last year’s state playoffs by Northern Guilford by a 4-3 score, with the game-winning run supplied by a throwing error in the seventh inning.
Now, Orange starts this season as the heavy favorite in the Big Eight with Northwood (11-11 overall in 2014, 9-5 conference) and 2014 runnerup Chapel Hill (14-9, 10-4) expected as the main challengers.