Plenty of Brian Nelson and lots of solid defense was enough for Cardinal Gibbons to end Orange’s 23-game conference winning streak.
Nelson tossed a four-hitter as the Crusaders (10-1, 4-1) defeated Orange 3-1 on Wednesday night in Hillsborough, avenging a 6-2 loss to the Panthers (7-3, 2-1) on March 24. It was the first time the Panthers lost a conference game since March 26, 2013, also a loss to Gibbons.
Of more immediate concern, Gibbons, Orange and Chapel Hill are now tied for first in the loss column of the Big 8 Conference.
Crusaders leftfielder Stephen Scott slammed a two-run homer into the trees in right field to put Gibbons ahead 2-0 in the first inning. While Gibbons tallied seven hits against Orange ace Bryce Wilson in five innings and 10 overall, the Panthers struggled against Nelson. Orange never had more than one baserunner in an inning, and its only run came from pinch-hitter Alex Lozano in the sixth.
Orange’s biggest threat came on consecutive at bats from all-Big 8 catcher Brad Debo, who sent a fly ball to the edge of the fence in the first inning that was brought back into the park by centerfielder Brandon Loy. In the fourth, Debo hit another warning track out to right fielder Logan Washle.
Nelson threw a complete game on 76 pitches, striking out three. He received plenty of help from his middle infielders. Second baseman Jimmy Russo and shortstop Noah Campbell combined to retire 12 Panthers.
“That might have been the finest defensive game for an infield I’ve ever seen in 18 years here,” Gibbons coach Jim Liebler said. “Brian was great. He was throwing strikes, which is what you have to do. It’s a little bit of both. You need those guys flashing leather because Orange can hit the ball.”
Gibbons added insurance in the sixth when Campbell’s grounder crawled into right field to score Chris Thornburn.
Scott, Thornburn and Cam McNabb all finished with two hits.
Orange plays consecutive games against Southern Durham Thursday and Friday.