Orange’s boys and girls hosted doubleheaders in each of the first three rounds of the N.C. High School Athletic Association basketball playoffs, but couldn’t quite pull off another sweep to set up a fourth.
The girls fell 56-39 to Rockingham County, while the boys defeated Triton 67-57 on Saturday night.
No. 3 seed Orange wasn’t able to overcome a slow start.
Rockingham outscored Orange 20-9 in the first quarter as the Panthers had no answer for Madeline Hardy, who had 10 points (four in the paint, six from the line) in the quarter. Only Kaylen Campbell could get anything to fall for the Panthers, finishing with seven of Orange’s nine points in the quarter.
“We couldn’t find a way to beat the press,” said Orange head coach B.J. Condron. “They were in the right spots all the time. And then we weren’t shooting the ball well.”
The Panthers woke up a bit in the second half as they started to find the bottom of the basket, but still had no answer for Hardy, who finished the first half with 17 points.
Trailing by 11 entering the third quarter, Orange got off to a hot start thanks to the three point shooting of Jazlyn Watson. She knocked down two from downtown as the Panthers cut the lead to six.
That was as close as they would get.
The Cougars would immediately go on a 8-0 run to push the lead back to double digits, and Orange would never recover.
Hardy finished with 35 points, proving herself to be nearly unstoppable in the paint. Condron threw different looks at her, but nothing seemed to slow her down. “She’s a beast. She was was going to get what she was going to get.”
Despite a disappointing end to the season, Condron was extremely proud of how his girls came this year. Last year, the Panthers were 8-17, and two years prior they only won two games.
“It was a great season,” said Condron. “We got a conference championship and a conference tournament championship. A lot of firsts for the girls on the team.”
The loss of star senior Connor Crabtree but a damper on an otherwise perfect evening at Orange.
The Panthers ran Triton off the floor in the first quarter, outscoring them 28-3.
All five starters scored, led by Crabtree’s nine. The highlight of the quarter came following a Crabtree steal. Mitch Portman picked up the ball, threw it off the backboard, and Crabtree came down with a thunderous dunk.
The building was shaking at that point, as Crabtree let out a scream.
Then, disaster struck.
With 20 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Crabtree came down awkwardly looking for a defensive rebound. He immediately clutched his ankle and was helped off the floor. He didn’t return to the game, and came out of the locker room on crutches at halftime.
Head coach Greg Motley didn’t have an update on Crabtree, saying that he’ll see a doctor on Sunday to get the diagnosis.
The mood turned somber, but there was still basketball left to play.
“We just needed to stay focused,” said Motley. “If I panic, they may panic. So I just tried to keep them focused on the game.”
Fellow senior Logan Vosburg stepped up in Crabtree’s absence, finishing with 24 points.
“I just needed to be a leader and keep everyone focused,” said Vosburg. “We just needed to step up on defense. Without our leading scorer, we needed to play better on defense.”
Orange was outscored in the final three quarters, but it didn’t matter after the monster first quarter. Motley thought his team did a good job of remaining focused, something he’s mentioned they’ve struggled with throughout the year, despite the circumstances.
“The young guys did a great job of coming in and making plays,” said Motley. “As a group, whoever we put in, they came in and did a great job of doing what we needed them to do.”
Orange will host Northern Guilford on Tuesday, and Motley knows that he has a lot of work to do these next couple of days as they potentially prepare for life without Crabtree.