A solid second-second place finish in the Big Eight might not be enough for Orange to make the upcoming 3-A state baseball playoffs.
The Panthers have taken care of most of their conference games, posting a 8-3 going into Wednesday's finale at Cedar Ridge. But a lackluster record against non-conference opposition has hurt Orange's winning percentage, which is the main factor the N.C. High School Athletic Association uses to pick teams for the playoffs.
Even if Orange (12-11) defeats Cedar Ridge (15-6, 6-5) again, the Panthers would post the fourth-best overall record. The Red Wolves still would have a better overall record despite finishing fourth in the conference standings. A Cedar Ridge win would knock Orange down to .500 overall, making it more difficult to make the cut for the top 32 teams in the East Region.
Northwood (19-3, 9-1) wrapped up the Big Eight title by beating Chapel Hill 13-3, also on Tuesday. And if Chapel Hill (18-5, 7-4) lost again to Northwood, the Tigers would still be ahead of Orange in overall winning percentage.
Orange coach Dean Dease said he his happy with the way his team has played in the Big Eight but admits they've come up short against outside competition. He is optimistic, though.
"I've scheduled like I normally do, very hard teams," Dease said. "If we get a spot, we will have earned it and it will be a road game against somebody good, probably."
On Tuesday, Orange played like a playoff team as the Panthers defeated Cedar Ridge 9-1 behind a complete game by senior pitcher Derek Lindaman.
Lindaman said he wanted to go out on top with a good performance in his final regular-season start.
"I wanted to throw a complete game on my Senior Night," Lindaman said. "But I also just trying to put my team in the best position to win because this was a big game for us in the conference and in making the playoffs, it could be a factor.
"Every win counts and we're glad we got this one."
After giving up a run in the top of the first, Lindaman settled in and shut out the Red Wolves the rest of the way. He allowed only two hits and struck out five, while walking three.
"Derek is overpowering and I have to remind him that he has to be Greg Maddox out there and not Nolan Ryan," said Dease, who had to make only one trip to the mound during the game. "He's able to throw off-speed pitches in fastball counts. When you can drop a curveball in there for strikes at any time, it helps you."
Cedar Ridge coach Jamie Athas Orange fought a little bit harder to get this win at home.
"There's a lot in this game," Athas said. "It's for conference standings, for playoff seeding. And they're our rival. There's a lot we were fighting for and unfortunately, they fought a little better."
Orange finished with 12 hits, including a 3-for-3 performance by Jaydin Poteat, who also drove in three and scored twice. Caige Clayton was 2 for 4 with a home run, while Dalton Brown was 2 for 3 and Ryan Puckett went 2 for 4 with two doubles.