What was supposed to be a staff day for Orange baseball last week turned into a pleasant surprise.
In his fourth start, sophomore Derek Lindaman tossed four scoreless innings while shortstop Garrett Cloer went 3-for-3 with a triple, double and 2 RBI as the Panthers defeated Wake Forest Heritage 5-1 Wednesday in a battle of conference leaders.
Ranked No. 3 among all teams in the Triangle by the News & Observer, 3A Orange (16-3 overall, 10-1 conference) headed into the weekend locked in a tie for first-place in the Big 8 with top-ranked Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons (17-2, 10-1), which split its home-and-away series with the Panthers.
No. 2 Heritage (17-4, 9-2) is in a three-way tie with Raleigh Millbrook and Leesville Road high schools for the lead in the 4A Cap-8.
Both Orange and Heritage, wanting to concentrate on the home stretch of their respective conference races, could have been forgiven had they opted to forego Wednesday’s game, which was originally slated for March and had been rained out twice. However, their competitive urges won out.
For Orange, hosting Heritage gave the Panthers a good taste of playing a team as good as, if not better than, the ones they’re likely to meet in the NCHSAA state tournament, much like when they played Topsail, the state’s top-ranked 3A squad, in the Hilltop Invitational in April.
“My team wanted this game very badly,” Orange coach Dean Dease said. “I’m sure Heritage wanted to play it. They want to play this kind of competition.
“I didn’t have to say anything to these guys before the game. Normally, there’s some kind of stupid pep talk before the game. Not this time.”
“We knew going in they were going to battle,” said Heritage coach Tony Piercy. “We try to challenge our kids to play at a championship level every day, no matter who it is. Today, we didn’t do that.
“They hit it where we weren’t.”
In a four-run third inning Wednesday, Cloer, a three-sports star, lined a triple to the deepest part of the park in right center to score Cole Campanile and Cameron Mehl. All-conference catcher Brad Debo followed with a single to score Cloer, and courtesy runner Cody Evans (on for Debo) scored after first baseman Bryce Wilson reached on an error in left field
From there, Lindaman, Miles Acosta, Austin Sykes and closer Landon Riley pieced together enough outs for the Panthers to ride out the win over the Wolverines, which could only muster five hits and a solo homer from Brad Mize in the sixth.
With ace starter Wilson (6-2, 0.62 ERA) having thrown a complete game shutout on Tuesday against Oxford Webb, Dease started Lindaman thinking he’d go two innings. After Lindaman retired six of the first eight batters, his stint extended to the third, which ended with Orange up 4-0.
“We got to that third and I thought, ‘Well, he needs to get that fourth inning to earn the win,’” Dease said. “Coach (Richard) Reynolds said, ‘You can give him that win; it don’t matter.’ But I wanted to get him those four innings, because he’s going to have to do that in the future.”
Sure enough, the Wolverines loaded the bases with one out in the fourth after two walks and a hit batter. However, Lindaman (3-0) calmly struck out Harrison Holtz for a second out, and a groundout by Drew Waterman ended the frame.
“They did a good job of executing what we needed to execute,” said Heritage’s Piercy. “I wish we could have given everyone a better shot of who we are.”