“It can never be easy with Orange Baseball,” said Dean Dease with a chuckle.
Some might find that statement odd. After all, the Panthers had just defeated Triton 5-0 in the first round of the 3-A state playoffs on Wednesday nightin Hillsborough to improve to 20-4, improving its record to 68-12 since 2013.
Alas, Dease is from the Crash Davis School of Baseball where any good moment is fleeting, especially in the state playoffs. A team may have a perfect conference regular season record, but when facing a unknown opponent from three counties away riding the hand of a hot pitcher in the second round of the postseason, even the recent past can’t help you.
Orange learned that the hard way last year, when expectations were high.
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In 2012, then-freshman Bryce Wilson had gone 11-0 with a 1.05 ERA, while classmate Brad Debo hit .348, and the Panthers went all the way to the Eastern Regional Championship series, where they fell to D.H. Conley in three games.
With Wilson and Debo returning last year, Orange appeared to be a shoo-in for another deep playoff run. A 14-0 run through the Big Eight conference was momentous yet predictable. The second-round loss to Northern Guilford was not. Neither was the way the Panthers lost.
A throwing error in the seventh inning plated the game-winning run in a shocking 4-3 defeat in Hillsborough, ending Orange’s 2014 season at 21-4.
That loss didn’t teach Dease anything new. It was just reaffirming.
“You’re never as good as you think you are because baseball is a humiliating game,” said Dease, now in his 28th year at Orange. “You can be on top of the world on one play and then it can knock you right down again.”
This season, Orange entered the state playoffs 20-4 after tying Cardinal Gibbons for first in the Big 8 Conference. (Gibbons earned the league’s top-seed after winning a one-game playoff over the Panthers).
In the 5-0 win over Triton, Debo’s slammed a two-run homer that cleared the trimmed trees over the right field wall easily in the 5th inning to give Orange a 5-0 lead. Panthers third baseman Braden Weber lined a three-run triple to right center in the third for the first runs of the game.
Even after Debo’s homer, the Hawks didn’t die. Two infield hits and a hit batter loaded the bases in the top of the 6th, but Tyler Vaughn grounded into a 1-2-3 double play when Wilson fielded a sharp grounder and flipped to Debo at the plate. Debo’s throw to first baseman Austin Sykes ended the inning.
It was a good moment, but good moments never last. Dease felt it could have been even better.
“Bryce is a great athlete, but he dropped his elbow on the throw to home,” said Dease. “I stay on him in practice about that all the time because the ball sails when he does that. Brad made a phenomenal play to field the ball, get back to step on the play and make the throw to first. That was a big time play.”
Debo’s 5th inning homer was his second of the year, something that’s proven elusive. In three home games this year, Debo has hit balls to deepest centerfield, only to be caught each time. One such ball against Gibbons was brought back into the park by Brandon Loy.
If there’s one weakness in Debo’s game, Dease says it’s his inability to understand even the best hitters fail 70 percent of the time.
“He just puts pressure on himself,” said Dease. “It’s contrary to baseball. If he doesn’t go 3-for-4 with two doubles and a home run, he’s mad at himself. But you can’t go 3-for-4 ever night. He sets a high standard for himself and I’m glad he got that pitch tonight.”
Carrboro gets rematch with Jordan-Matthews
Carrboro junior Skylar Furey pitched a complete seven innings Tuesday to help the Mid-State champions secure a 6-3 victory over Franklinton in the first round of the state 2A tournament.
Carrboro (15-8) had a 5-0 lead after two innings and made it stand up, although Franklinton (14-8) fought back with a three-run inning in the top of the sixth.
Carrboro junior Collin Andres (2-for-4) led the Jaguars’ hitting with a RBI triple. Sophomore Noah Jones was 1-2 with a double. John Davis (1-2), junior Matthew Junker (1-3), Ethan Foy (1-3) and Nick Wilhelm (1-4) each collected one hit.
Carrboro was scheduled for rematch with Mid-State rival Jordan-Matthews (7-17) in a second-round game Friday night. The Jaguars defeated the Jets 7-0 and 3-2 in their regular-season series, and Jordan-Matthews ended up third in the conference standings behind Carrboro and runner-up Reidsville.
Chapel Hill does ‘the little things’ right in win
Strong pitching from pitcher Andrew Miller and some small ball on the base paths pushed Chapel Hill to a 4-2 win at Clayton Cleveland and into the second round of the NCHSAA 3A tournament. The Tigers (16-8) scored on a double-steal in the first inning, a sacrifice fly in the seventh and a fielder’s choice, while Miller went the distance on the mound.
“I have to give them credit. They did the little things. That was a good high school baseball game,” Cleveland coach Jamie Lee said. “It seemed like when they got runners on they were able to get them in.”
Cleveland finished 14-10, its first winning season in the five-year history of the program.
Chapel Hill tied the game in the fifth on a groundout before Matt Dayton doubled home the go-ahead run in the very next at-bat. The Rams put runners on first and second with nobody out in the sixth but failed to score and the game ended in the seventh with Keenan (.483, 32 RBI) in the on deck circle.
Miller surrendered a first-inning solo home run to Tyler Keenan and an RBI double to Dylan Lee in the second as the Rams took a 2-1 lead. But that would be all. Miller scattered a total of seven hits over seven innings and struck out seven Rams.
Northwood gets a shut out win
At Southern Lee in Sanford, Northwood junior Conner Leinbach hit a solo home run in the fourth inning Wednesday night for the game’s only score in a 1-0 win in the NCHSAA 3A tournament. Sophomore Patrick Szczypinksi pitched for the shutout win — Northwood’s seventh in a row — and junior Brodie Beasley recorded a save.
The win put Northwood into the playoffs’ second round for the first time as a 3A program.
Winners in 10 of their last 12 games, the No. 17-seeded Chargers (15-7) were to play at No. 1 Fayetteville Terry Sanford (25-2) Saturday night.
Southern Lee finished its year at 16-11.
Wildcats done in by Millbrook’s great pitching
Reid Herring threw a complete-game shutout Tuesday at East Chapel Hill, leading Millbrook to a 5-0 upset win in the first round of the NCHSAA 4A baseball playoffs.
Herring (5-4) struck out 11 batters and walked just one, scattering five hits over a full seven innings worked against No. 11-seeded East (15-7). He threw 69 strikes and only 36 balls.
Scott McKeon paced Millbrook (15-9) at the plate by going 3-3 with 2 RBI, while Alex Royalty went 2-3 with 1 RBI and A.J. Rogerson 1-2 with 2 RBI.
Wildcat senior D.J. Recny, hitting a double in his last game at East, was one of five Wildcats to get one hit Tuesday. Senior Walker Hayter and freshman Jeb Byerley both went 1-for-2 at the plate, while junior Austin Shank was 1-3 and senior John Bauman 1-1.
The Sanford Herald and Clay Best of the Clayton News contributed to this report