Orange squandered a three-run home run by freshman first baseman Jaden Hurdle that gave the Panthers the lead as West Brunswick came back to win 8-5 in the first game of their three-game playoff series in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A softball playoffs.
The teams will play at Orange today at 5 p.m. with the Panthers needing a win to stay alive. If Orange prevails in that game, the decisive third game will follow immediately.
Orange (22-3) played from behind for almost the entire game, save for taking a brief 5-3 lead in the top of the fourth on Hurdle’s homer before handing it back over in the bottom half of the inning.
Orange coach Eddie Davidson said his team lost focus and patience at some critical times in the opening-game loss.
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"We just had some things that just didn't go our way," Davidson said. "We had some mental mistakes. We got behind but we got back into it. Later, we got runners into position to score but we didn't get them in."
Orange fell behind 3-0 in the second inning as West Brunswick took advantage of a pair of walks issued by starting pitcher Kristina Givens. West Brunswick then was able to execute a sacrifice bunt followed by a couple of singles to score their first three runs.
Had it not been for the nifty glove work by Hurdle at first, West Brunswick might have added more runs. Hurdle recorded all three outs. First, she gobbled up a bouncer her way and turned it into an unassisted double play with by tagging the runner and then stepping on the base. Two batters later, she ended the West Brunswick threat by stabbing another sharply hit ball and stepping on the for the final out.
The Panthers got on the scoreboard in the top of the third as West Brunswick starter Morgan Beeler gave up a pair of walks. Hurdle followed with a single and then Alysann Lloyd followed with an RBI single that made it 3-1. Alisha Pettiford then hit a sacrifice fly to score Enzyah Holt, who had entered to run for Givens. But Beeler buckled down and struck out Olivia Ruff and Hayley Funk looking to stop Orange's momentum.
Givens also settled down in the circle and retired three of the four batters she faced in West Brunswick's third. Orange seemed to get a lift from her as they took the lead in the subsequent at-bat.
After Grace Andrews struck out, Mia Davidson was hit by a pitch and Abigail Hamlett drew a walk. Givens also struck out, which brought up Hurdle. She drove a pitch of the fence in left center and that put the Panthers up 5-3.
But Givens, who took the loss, could not hold off West Brunswick, which rallied for three more runs of its own in response to make it 6-5. They went on to add two more in the bottom of the sixth. Taylor Pigott got the win for West Brunswick after entering following Hurdles' home run and finished out the game.
Orange managed to load the bases in the top of the seventh but the Panthers failed to score.
"We had the opportunities to win but they didn't make the mistakes and we did," Davidson said. "We've just got to regroup and come back ready to play."
The Panthers, who suffered only their third loss of the season, surrendered the most runs in a game since losing 13-0 to Oxford Webb. They had beaten West Brunswick 2-0 earlier in the regular season.