First baseman Jaden Hurdle has been effective batting cleanup for Orange this year, rolling up a .459 average with three home runs. On Saturday it was the ice in the freshman’s veins in a late-inning leadoff situation that made the difference for the Panthers.
Hurdle was first up in the bottom of the sixth inning and smacked a single. She then scored what turned out to be the winning run to propel East No. 2 seed Orange past powerhouse No. 3 seed C.B. Aycock 3-2.
The Panthers will host No. 4 seed West Brunswick at home Tuesday night in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3A state playoffs. They beat West Brunswick earlier this season.
“I just had to stay focused and do what I had to do,” Hurdle said of facing Falcons pitching ace Taylor Waddell, and getting the pitch she wanted. “I tried to stay calm. It really didn’t have much spin on it. It was low and inside, and I got my hands in and short hit it.”
“We were confident” they were going to emerge the victor, even though the Falcons threatened with a bases-loaded jam in the top of the seventh inning, Hurdle said.
“It’s great,” she said of the win. “It’s the first time we’ve ever been any farther than the third round.”
“This team right here, they find a way,” said Orange coach Cliff Davidson. “We got that third run in the last inning with the bottom of the batting order. A lot of young kids in there that are mature and came through. And what can I say about Kristina Givens. That girl pitched her butt off, she changed speeds, she hit her spots. She’s been automatic for us.”
Givens yielded nine hits, but had five strikeouts. Waddell gave up five hits and struck out four.
“We outhit them,” said Aycock coach Lavon Matthews. “We just didn’t get the hits when we needed them. We just didn’t execute at times we needed to execute. We had runners on base every inning. We had opportunities.”
Matthews said his team never gives up.
“It don’t matter what the score is, what the inning is, they think they’re going to win,” Matthews said.
After extinguishing an Aycock scoring threat in the top of the first inning with runners at the corners, the Panthers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the inning.
Catcher Mia Davidson walked, and raced all the way to third on a perfect bunt down the first base line by shortstop Abby Hamlett. In the ensuing defensive confusion over the throw to first and the catcher out of position, Davidson made a heads-up dash home, ducking under the tag on the attempted put-out throw.
“I saw that no one was covering, the catcher was up, so I thought I would just take advantage of it,” Davidson said. “I knew she was going to bunt so I kind of just got a good jump, a push off, and gained momentum” going from first to third. Davidson said she had no second thoughts when they made a play on her, saying she had to be aggressive and smart.
Givens reached first on a throwing error to second by shortstop Cassandra Lassiter on what appeared to be a sure double-play grounder. Hamlett advanced to third, and later scored on a fielder’s choice by center fielder Alysann Lloyd.
The Falcons cut the score to 2-1 in the third inning, sparked by second baseman Georgia Parnell’s leadoff slap single just past shortstop. Center fielder Connor Vinson moved her to second on a sacrifice bunt, and Lassiter drove Parnell home with an RBI single.
Orange escaped a tense bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning after the Falcons rallied off a one-out infield single to shortstop by right fielder Hannah Vinson. Panthers third baseman Olivia Ruff committed a throwing error to second on a potential double play to put runners at first and second, and pinch hitter Cara Lenzi walked to load the bases. But they stranded all three runners.
In the bottom of the inning first baseman Hurdle led off with a flare single to left, but Lloyd was called out on interference after hit ball hit her coming out of the batter’s box. Designated hitter Alicia Pettiford walked to put runners on first and second. Ruff laced a single to right field to load the bases.
Hurdle scored when left fielder Hayley Funk was hit by a pitch to increase the margin to 3-1.
With their backs to the wall in the final inning, Aycock wasn’t done. Leadoff batter Connor Vinson laid down a bunt single, and third baseman Mookie Powell followed with a slap bunt single.
Both runners moved up on a pass ball, and Vinson scored on a pop single to center by shortstop Cassandra Lassiter to squeeze the deficit to 3-2 with no outs and runners on first and second. Left fielder Allison Shingleton walked to load the bases, but Orange closed the game without any further damage.
Orange 3, C.B. Aycock 2
C.B. Aycock—Taylor Waddell and Taylor Puetz. Orange—Kristina Givens and Mia Davidson. WP—Givens (18-2). LP—Waddell (9-4).
Leading hitters—Aycock, Connor Vinson 2-3, Allison Shingleton 2-3 (W), Mookie Powell 2-4, Cassandra Lassiter 2-4. Orange, Abby Hamlett 2-3, Hayley Funk 1-2, Jaden Hurdle 1-3, Olivia Ruff 1-3.
Records—Aycock 22-4. Orange 22-2.