To Dean Dease, there’s no sentimentality to the upcoming high school baseball season, even if it seems there should be.
This spring will be the senior season for pitcher Bryse Wilson and catcher Brad Debo, two players who already left a mark in the storied history of Orange baseball years ago. They’ve formed the most powerful battery the Panthers have ever known.
As freshmen, Wilson and Debo played on an Orange team that reached the N.C. High School Eastern Regional championship series. They’ve been teammates on two conference championship teams and on summer showcase teams traveling throughout the American Southeast.
By the time they were sophomores, they had already committed to play college baseball: Debo at South Carolina, Wilson at North Carolina.
Wilson, a 6-feet-2, 215-pound southpaw, has gone 23-2 with 13 complete games pitched. Debo has a career batting percentage of .422, with eight home runs and 76 RBIs. Both rated among the best power hitters in the Big 8 Conference last year.
They’re also two of 12 players in Orange baseball history to be named all-state by the N.C. Baseball Coaches Association. (Just about the only all-state team with clout.)
Yet Dease, entering his 28th season as Orange’s head coach, says he doesn’t treat them as superstars. To him, they’re two members of a 10-man senior class on a team where a star system simply doesn’t exist.
“Brad and Bryse are two players at Orange High School,” said Dease. “So is Landon Riley, so is Cameron Mehl and so is Johnny Flynn.
“They’re teammates. I’m going to yell at them just as much as anybody else. Probably more so.”
Before you go making judgments, don’t mistake motivation for being a hothead. Dease is pretty laid back.
He brings to mind Bobby Knight’s stint as the 1984 U.S Basketball coach when Michael Jordan scored 14 points in the half in the Olympic Games against Germany. The Americans had a 18-point halftime lead, but Knight had to yell at Jordan about something. So he scolded him of failing to set good screens (on a team that already had Patrick Ewing and Sam Perkins setting screens near the paint).
What’s there for Dease to yell about to Wilson?
“Just anything,” said Dease with a smile. “If he looks at me wrong, I’m going to yell at him. If he steps on my grass, I’m going to yell at him.”
Having gone 71-13 in the last three seasons, Orange is used to competing for championships, and this year will be no different.
Last season, Orange (22-5) tied with Cardinal Gibbons (23-3) for the Big 8 Conference championship. (With the teams splitting the official championship, Gibbons won a one-game playoff to earn the league’s top berth in the state playoffs). In the NCHSAA’s 3A tournament, the Panthers shut out Triton and won two extra-inning thrillers on the road before losing in the fourth round to Lee County, coached by Dease’s brother-in-law Charlie Spivey.
Wilson, who became the first Orange player since 1987 (and former UNC defensive end J.R. Bolden) to be named to the Associated Press All-State football team in December, obviously will be the top man in the pitching rotation. After the graduation of James Cunningham, who went 6-1 last season, the second spot in the rotation is up for grabs. The main candidates are junior Derek Lindaman and senior Landon Riley, who was the closer last year.
“Derek was out third guy last year,” said Dease. “He’s done a real good job. Landon, when he gets healthy, is perhaps a third starter. We like him as a closer, as well. In high school, once you get into the playoffs, you need two starters because you’re playing twice a week. Everybody else can become middle relief. We’re still searching for our third starter.”
Orange begins the season on March 2 with a home game against Leesville Road. The Panthers travel to face defending PAC-6 champion Northern Durham on March 4.
‘As tough as I can remember’
Once again the Big 8 will play back-to-back series games each week, with each Game 1 on a Tuesday and Game 2 at the other school’s field on a Friday. Chapel Hill will bisect two Big 8 series with a nonconference game on Wednesdays – hosting Garner on March 17, in between its games at Northern Vance on March 15 and at home with the Vikings on March 18, hosting East Chapel Hill on April 6, in between its game at Chapel Hill on April 5 and at home with Chapel Hill on April 8.
In addition to the season-opener with Leesville Road, the Panthers’ non-conference schedule also will include 4A powers Northern Durham (March 4), East Chapel Hill (March 21) and Cardinal Gibbons (April 20).
Orange will also co-host the Hilltop Tournament again this year, with 18 teams participating.
“ I thought we played a good schedule last year, but this schedule is as tough as I can remember. It should prepare us for the post-season. We will face very good teams with quality pitching and offense,” said Coach Dease.