Success is about time and place, and so is playoff baseball.
Orange and South Johnston’s third-round N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A playoff game was rained out on Tuesday, when all-state-caliber pitcher Bryse Wilson had two days rest after throwing 132 pitches in two wins last week.
The extra day of rest allowed Wilson to start Wednesday night, and the Panthers are moving on to the fourth round of the playoffs largely because of it.
The Panthers scored six runs, four unearned, to defeat South Johnson 6-3 on Tuesday night to advance to the fourth round of the playoffs. Wilson (10-2) threw his eleventh complete game of the year, yielding only one hit in the last five innings. The Panthers will host Topsail on Friday for the right to play in the best-of-three 3A Eastern Regional Final series.
How much of a difference did Tuesday’s rainout make?
“Bryse wouldn’t have started on Tuesday,” coach Dean Dease answered unequivocally. “You would probably have to tie him up to keep him off the mound. With the rain situation, we were fortunate to be able to use him.”
Orange also took advantage of some Trojan miscues in the field. Of the Trojans four errors, three were on double play balls.
“That’s been a sore spot for us,” said South Johnston coach Aaron Parnell. “We had five errors the other day (in a win over C.B. Aycock). You can’t do that against good pitching like Orange has got.”
Like Orange, South Johnson threw its own top starter, Sauyer Roberts, for the third time in the playoffs. He threw two innings before being replaced by Drew Moore.
“You just have to find the right combination at this time of year,” said Parnell. “We didn’t have that going force us early on. (Orange) played well. I’m proud of our season.”
South Johnston came into the game having won eleven of its last 12, including victories against Cardinal Gibbons (top seed in the 4A East playoffs) and Cleveland (top seed in the 3A East playoffs). The Trojans handed the Rams their only conference loss of the year.
The Trojans will graduate a six-player senior class of veteran, long-time contributors: John Cuppett, Kevin Honeycutt, Will Barbour, Joseph Johnson, Zachary Bridges and Nash Johnson.
South Johnston jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Grant Millay laced a two-out double to left field, scoring Nash Johnson and Noah Bridges.
The lead was short-lived.
After Orange’s Jason Slaughter led off the bottom of the first with a single to left, shortstop Cameron Mehl reached on an error. Wilson grounded a double play ball to second, but it eluded the second baseman, scoring Slaughter. Austin Sykes subsequently tied the game with a single to left field, scoring Mehl. Chandler Compton had an RBI groundout to the third baseman Johnson to plate Wilson and give Orange a 3-2 lead.
South Johnston tied the game with two out in the top of the second. Joseph Johnson floated a two-out double to right field, and would tally the final Trojan run off the game off a Noah Johnson single to right.
The Trojans would have only one more hit the rest of the game.
More South fielding miscues would lead to Orange’s winning runs in the second.
Mehl reached a one-out single. After catcher Brad Debo walked, Wilson sent another double play ball to second base. However, Jaydin Poteat (running for Debo) was safe after the shortstop dropped the force out.
Mehl never stopped running and wound up scoring. With two on, Austin Sykes sent another double play ball to shortstop, which wound up in the outfield, leading to Poteat coming home.
Compton wound up with another RBI groundout to score Wilson and Orange led 6-3.
South Johnson only had three batters reach in the final four innings. The Panthers (21-6) won despite leaving eleven men on base.
Now Orange ventures into the fourth round of the playoffs with Wilson out of the pitching equation.
“We’re going to find out what it’s like when he’s not on the mound,” said Dease with a uncertain grin.