It was a night of magic, mojo, and marvels. And in the frenzied celebration that culminated a formidable display of scoring wizardry on the basepaths and pitching sorcery from the mound, Orange made the history books.
After dropping the opener in the best-of-three N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A East regional finals on Thursday, the No. 2 seed Panthers swept a doubleheader Friday night over a rugged No. 4 seed West Brunswick team, 7-4 and 5-1.
It required some hocus-pocus to pull those 12 runs out of a six-hit night.
Orange advanced to the championship round for the first time in school history. They will face West Region champion Piedmont, the No. 4 seed out of Monroe, next Friday. The two schools faced each other in this year’s 3A dual-team wrestling title.
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“It’s definitely a learning experience for all of us. We’re so excited, and we can’t wait,” said senior Kristina Givens, who twirled a pair of complete game wins to propel the Panthers into the title round.
Orange coach Cliff Davidson was especially pleased with Givens’ performance.
“My pitcher is unbelievable. She’s the best pitcher that’s ever pitched at Orange High School,” Davidson said. “She’s the mentally toughest kid I know.”
He said his team didn’t hit that well, so they relied on good defense and pitching, and had to create runs.
“The two bombs in that first game worked for us,” Davidson said.
Third baseman Olivia Ruff hit her first-ever home run — a first inning grand slam that drove in what turned out to be the game-winning runs. Designated hitter Alicia Pettiford blasted a two-run shot.
“We had a good year, we had a good run, and we got beat by a good team,” said Trojans coach Joe Noble. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t win the states.”
He said Morgan Beeler, who took both losses, didn’t have her best pitches early in the first game and it hurt. But she settled in after that, and only gave up three more hits in the next 11 innings.
“We just couldn’t get the runs in when we needed them,” and made some costly defensive blunders, Noble said.
Game 3: Orange 5, West Brunswick 1
Orange struck first blood in the 5-1 nightcap win with a 3-run outburst in the bottom of the second inning. First baseman Jaden Hurdle ignited the rally with a leadoff double that hit just inches below the top of the fence. Center fielder Alysann Lloyd singled her to third, and Pettiford walked to load the bases.
Ruff walked to force Hurdle home, and left fielder Hayley Funk stung a missile to center that was caught. During the throw back to the infield a momentary bit of confusion allowed Hurdle to race home for the second run. Pettiford later scored from third on a sacrifice bunt by second baseman Grace Andrews.
The Panthers picked up another run to lead 4-0 in the third inning on some sparkling base running by Enzyah Holt, who entered the game as a courtesy runner after Givens walked.
A pickoff throw went wild into right field and Holt ran to second. Davidson waved her to third as the throw from the outfield eluded the shortstop and rolled into left field. Holt rounded third and dashed safely home, narrowly averting a tag.
“It feels great, actually, knowing that we got this far,” said Holt, a speed merchant who scored twice as a courtesy runner in the final game. “We’re not quitting now. We’ve got to take it all the way.”
She said when Davidson waved her home she knew it was going to be a close play, but thought: “I’m scoring now. I just know I had to get dirty for the team.”
Holt weaved her base-running magic again in the fifth inning, coming in to run one more time for Givens, who was hit by a pitch. Holt stole second. Then she stole third. The throw over dribbled into left field, and Holt motored home to score, and widen the lead to 5-0.
“Enzyah Holt, what can I say for her? She’s a weapon,” Davidson said. “We need her to run.”
The Trojans scored their only run in the seventh inning. Daniels singled, went to second on a pass ball, then went to third and home on back-to-back ground outs.
Game 2: Orange 7, West Brunswick 4
In the first game, Davidson got the rally started with a four-pitch walk, and went to second on shortstop Abby Hamlett’s push bunt single towards shortstop. Hurdle walked to load the bases, and Lloyd hit an infield single to score Davidson for a 1-0 lead.
With two outs, and behind on a 2-2 count, Ruff got around on a pitch and clouted a frozen rope over the fence.
“When I first hit it, I was like, ‘Well, if that’s not going out, I know it’s going to the fence,’” Ruff said. “It was wild. I didn’t even know it was a grand slam until I got back in the dugout.”
West Brunswick put together a rally in the top of the third, picking up a first run off an RBI double to center by catcher Haley Long. Right fielder Peyton Daniels, who reached on a fielder’s choice, scored.
The Trojans chipped away at the lead in the fifth inning. Daniels worked a leadoff walk, and second baseman Savannah Branch singled.
Long ripped an RBI single into the outfield, scoring Daniels, and shortstop McKenzie Benton singled up the middle to load the bases with one out. Kayla Miller slashed a follow-up single to the same spot to score Branch and Long, and narrow the score to 5-4.
Pettiford lofted her long, looping, 2-run homer over the center field fence to increase the lead to 7-4 in the sixth inning.
“I had a feeling when I hit it it was out, and then when I looked I knew it was out,” Pettiford said of her second home run this season. “I think this one was better than the other one.”
Orange 7, West Brunswick 4
West Brunswick—Morgan Beeler and Haley Long. Orange—Kristina Givens and Mia Davidson. WP—Givens (19-3). LP—Beeler (19-3).
Leading hitters—W. Brunswick, Morgan Beeler 2-4, Haley Long 2-4 (2B), Isabelle Smeltzer 1-3. Orange, Olivia Ruff 1-2 (GS HR, HBP), Abby Hamlett 1-2, Alysann Lloyd 1-2 (W), Alicia Pettiford 1-3 (HR).
Records—W. Brunswick 25-4. Orange 23-3.
Orange 5, West Brunswick 1
West Brunswick— Morgan Beeler and Haley Long. Orange—Kristina Givens and Mia Davidson. WP—Givens (20-3). LP—Beeler (19-4).
Leading hitters—W. Brunswick, McKenzie Benton 1-2 (2B, W), Morgan Beeler 1-3, Peyton Daniels 1-3, Isabelle Smeltzer 1-3. Orange, Jaden Hurdle 1-3 (2B), Alysann Lloyd 1-3.
Records—W. Brunswick 25-5. Orange 24-3.