Corinth Holders baseball coach Adam Weaver paused for a minute, his graduating players quietly tearing up nearby while Orange’s team huddle chanted across the field.
“Tonight, we had our shots, we had our chances, but we weren’t lucky enough,” Weaver said.
Indeed, the deciding moment in an intense, back-and-forth marathon game between No. 8 seed Corinth Holders and No. 9 Orange in the second round of the NCHSAA 3A playoffs did come down to a lucky bounce.
Cameron Mehl’s hit up the middle with one out in the 11th inning took a hop and wasn’t fielded cleanly, allowing Johnny Flynn to score what proved to be the winning run in Orange’s 5-4 victory.
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“They bobbled a ball in center field and we were lucky enough to get him in,” said Orange coach Dean Dease.
But the game could well have ended a full hour and four innings earlier if not for a Corinth Holders comeback in the bottom of the 7th inning.
Trailing 4-2 in the final frame in regulation, Bobby Beare, Tyler Barritt and Jake Lewis all singled to load the bases before Nick Peach hit a ball into right field to bring home the two tying runs. The sizable Saturday night crowd at Corinth Holders seemed to anticipate a walk-off in the cards, but Orange pitcher James Cunningham got the final two outs to send the game to extra innings.
“We were just trying to bite, scratch and claw for a run,” said Weaver of the rally. “We’ve got a young group here that’s not been put in this situation many times, but we fought, we fought, we fought.”
Cunningham pitched seven innings for the visiting Panthers, allowing four runs and 11 hits while striking out six. He was replaced from the 8th inning on by Landon Riley, who picked up the win.
On the other side, Lewis pitched nine innings for the Pirates, conceding nine hits but posting 13 strikeouts. Reliever Grant Austin took the loss while striking out four in the 10th and 11th innings.
Corinth Holders opened up a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning, when Tate Proctor drove home the first run with a line drive to right and Austin scored on a wild pitch.
Orange took its first lead of the game in the next inning, however, thanks to a three-run home run by Brad Debo over the 340-foot right field fence. The Panthers then doubled their advantage with an RBI single by Chandler Compton in the 6th inning.
The Pirates had a viable chance to grab the victory in the 10th inning after three walks loaded the bases, but a flyout ended the opportunity.
Barritt went 4-for-6 for Corinth Holders, while Mehl went for 3-for-6 for Orange in the game, which ended after 10 p.m. following a 7 p.m. opening pitch. The contest also featured several coach-umpire disputes and some heated moments both on the diamond and in the stands.
Orange advanced to play top-seeded Terry Sanford on Tuesday, and Dease noted that he knows his team needs to be more focused to get past that challenge.
“Our energy has got to be a little more positive,” Dease said. “I’m going to get on my guys about ... losing their cool a little bit.”
Weaver said the disheartening defeat proved something about his squad.
“We know now that we can play with anybody in the state,” he said. “Hopefully these guys take (this feeling) with them into the offseason and continue to build on it for next year.”