High School Sports

Orange downs Cedar Ridge to win Big-8 baseball championship

If you’ve been paying attention over the past four years to the exploits of Bryse Wilson at Orange High, it should come as no surprise how his final at-bat at Panther Field unfolded

Of course he hit a grand slam against his crosstown rival Cedar Ridge Friday night. That’s the finish that Roy Hobbs would have procured in a high school version of “The Natural.” Except Roy Hobbs didn’t play football with the New York Giants in the fall and run for 1,000 yards and lead the team in tackling.

Orange (17-6, 10-2 in the Big 8) went on to defeat the Red Wolves 12-2 to wrap up its fourth consecutive Big-8 regular-season championship. Wilson, who played multiple positions for Orange’s 12-1 football team in the fall, ended his baseball career 8-0 against the Red Wolves.

The win sealed the Big-8’s regular-season championship for Orange, ahead of Chapel Hill and Northwood, which finished tied for second at 9-3.

With 10 seniors, Orange improved to 88-19 since Wilson first started as a freshman.

Another four-year starter, Brad Debo, laced a three-run homer in the first inning. Debo nearly added a grand slam in the second, which was caught five feet from the right field fence by Adam Chnupa, scoring Austin Sykes on a sacrifice fly.

Cedar Ridge led at the end of the first inning after Matthew Benedict singled home Brandon Andrews. Michael Baker had a solo homer in the fourth.

Though anticlimactic, Orange’s win was pivotal. They earned the top seed from the Big 8 Conference for the 3-A state tournament. The Panthers also received a bye in this week’s Big 8 tournament into the semifinals, where they await Northern Vance or Oxford Webb in the semifinals.

For Wilson and Debo, that’s a good starting point to return to a place they haven’t been since they were freshman: the 3-A Eastern Regional championship series. In 2013, Orange faced D.H. Conley in a best-of-three series for a birth in the state championships. Conley captured the deciding game 6-3.

In 2014, Northern Guilford upset Orange 4-3 in the second round of the 3-A playoffs. Last year, Lee County upset Orange 2-1 in the 4th round.

Wilson and Debo, two Division one prospects likely to be selected in the Major League Baseball Draft on June 9, receive their fair share of headlines, but they’re only part of what makes Orange a postseason threat. Senior shortstop Cameron Mehl leads the team in hits (26) and runs (19) while hitting .356.

“I know I’m not a big guy,” said Mehl. “So I just have to put the ball in play and good things will happen. I have to keep a positive mindset.”

With nonconference wins over Northern Durham (tied with Cardinal Gibbons for 1st place in the PAC-6) and Southern Lee (leading the Cape Fear Valley Conference), the biggest test for Orange this postseason will be pitching depth. While Wilson is arguably the most reliable pitcher in the state, the Panthers have been inconsistent with its other starters.

Last week, Cardinal Gibbons scored five runs in the first inning on its way to a 11-0 whitewashing that was stopped after five innings. Two days later, Webb fought back from a four-run deficit in Oxford to pull off a 9-8 upset in eight innings that prolonged the Big 8 championship race into the final week of the regular season.

Junior Derek Lindaman, 3-1 this season as Orange’s Friday starter, will have to be a huge contributor if the Panthers make a deep playoff run.

“Through experience, I’ve gotten more confidence in myself,” said Lindaman. “Coach Dease tells me to relax and do my thing, and that’s what I do.”

As much credit that Wilson receives and deserves, Debo has been every bit as valuable behind the plate. That was proven when he missed seven games because of a broken finger at mid season. Without him, Orange dropped two of the three games in the Hilltop Invitational, as well as a 3-2 loss at Chapel Hill .

“We missed not having him back there,” said Lindaman. “He definitely keeps a lot of balls in front of him.”