Conley bumps Orange in 3-A regional final
For the first half of Saturday, Hillsborough Orange had Greenville’s D.H. Conley seeing red. But the Vikings summoned some late strength and vaulted themselves past the Panthers and into next weekend’s state 3-A baseball championship.
Orange deadlocked the Eastern Regional best-of-three series with a 1-0 shutout of Conley in the opening game, then took an early 2-0 lead in the series finale.
That’s when Vikings pitcher Davis Kirkpatrick began to tighten the screws, and the Conley offense offered its first output of the afternoon.
The Vikings (27-3) tagged Orange, which technically were the home team, for two runs in the second inning, two more in the third and a pair of insurance runs in the seventh to seal a 6-3 victory and the series win.
“It was a roller coaster day,” said Conley coach Jason Mills, whose team missed a chance to tie the first game when a runner was tagged out at home plate to set up the winner-take-all finale. “We had to use Davis today and we were unsure about how long he could go, but I thought he got better as it went. It was a great win.”
Kirkpatrick went the distance on the mound, allowing three runs on six hits while striking out seven.
With his team leading 4-2, Kirkpatrick gave up a solo home run to Orange’s Nick Debo to lead off the fifth, trimming the lead to 4-3.
Still clinging to that one-run edge in the sixth, Kirkpatrick gave up a two-out single to Collin Pope, then walked Joe Piscitelli and hit Jon Evans with a pitch to load the bases with Debo striding back to the plate.
Mills had made a brief mound visit before the hit batsman, during which Kirkpatrick told his coach, “I’ve got this.” Kirkpatrick coaxed an inning-ending grounder from Debo, and the Vikings went on to get two more runs on Mike Fuller’s RBI infield single and Stephen Becker’s RBI groundout in the seventh.
“I said, ‘Don’t walk this guy or hit him because the next guy is the one who hit the bomb,’” Mills said of his terse meeting with Kirkpatrick in the sixth. “But he got the groundout. Davis is outstanding, and he did a great job of getting that win for us today.”
Orange starter Andrew Toney flared an RBI single into right field and Debo charged home on a two-base Conley throwing error to stake the Panthers (27-4) a 2-0 edge in the first inning.
Bryant Packard ripped an RBI single to center to put the Vikings on the board in the third, and Ryan Maness’ RBI grounder knotted the game 2-2. Packard then drew a bases-loaded walk in the fourth to put the Vikes ahead for good, and an RBI fielder’s choice by Matt Boyd later in the inning upped the lead to 4-2.
The bottom four of the Panthers’ batting order managed just one single in the game. Orange reliever Jonah Neville suffered the loss.
Orange 1, Conley 0
Down 1-0 since the third inning of the opener, Conley rallied in the seventh and sent the tying run right at Orange catcher Joe Vance with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. But Vance coolly tagged out DHC pinch runner Cory Lambert sliding into home to end the game.
With one out in the seventh, Fuller belted a double to right field and stole third with Becker at the plate. After Becker struck out, Garrett stepped in and bounced a bunt to the left side, and Orange reliever Evans scrambled off the mound, collected the ball and flung it to Vance just in time.
Evans’ RBI single with two outs in the third inning proved to be the only run. Panthers’ lefty starter Jordan Toney tossed 6.1 shutout innings to help deadlock the series and force Game 3.
Conley managed six hits in the opening game, including a pair of singles by Packard.