When the season began, Orange High School softball pitcher Kristina Givens had a good feeling about her team and the chance they’d have to play for a state championship.
Beginning on Friday night, Orange will open its best-of-3 N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A state championship series at N.C. State’s Dail Field against Piedmont High, champion of the West Region.
Givens said reaching the final series has been a dream that Orange has been chasing since she’s been on the team.
“We’ve never gotten this far before so it’s really been an adventure for all of us,” Givens said. “We definitely have a pretty solid team, and we’re expecting to go a long way, but it is a nice surprise for all of us.”
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Orange reached the title series after rallying to defeat West Brunswick 2-1 in their best-of-3 East Region championship series. The Panthers dropped the first game at West Brunswick 8-5 last Friday but came back to sweep at doubleheader 7-4 and 5-1 on Saturday to take the series.
Orange coach Eddie Davidson said his team didn’t play smart in first game but did a nice job of bouncing back in the second and third games.
“Kristina pitched really well in our loss down there, but we just had some mental mistakes and errors,” Davidson said. “When we got back to our field with our fans, I felt like we were going do something and we did. It all came together.”
Defensively, Davidson said they play better at home. And their hitting is better, he said. Some of that offensive prowess may be thanks to a new hitting coach.
Henry Horn, who previously coached at Northern, joined Orange’s staff this season as hitting coach. Davidson said that addition has made huge difference this season.
It certainly paid off in the West Brunswick series, and three players other than Mia Davidson, who is the state’s career home run leader, hit home runs.
“He’s really come in and taken our hitting to the next level,” Eddie Davidson said.
Freshman Jaden Hurdle had a three-run home run that gave Orange a brief lead in its Game 1 loss. In Game 2, Olivia Ruff’s first career home run was a first-inning grand slam that gave the Panthers all the momentum they’d need to win. In the decisive Game 3, Alisha Pettiford also hit her first career home run.
“Everyone knows about Mia and she’s not getting many chances,” Eddie Davidson said. “She’s having to take the walks and trust in her teammates to do the job and they have.”
In the previous three seasons, Orange has improved its run in the playoffs. The Panthers advanced one more round each time until making the leap to the finals this season. After losing in the first round in 2014 to East Alamance, the next two seasons ended with losses to C.B. Aycock. This year, Orange got by Aycock in the fourth round to reach the regional series.
“We’ve been trying to build our base,” Eddie Davidson said. “We’ve got a lot of good kids coming in. There are a lot of good rec-ball teams and a lot of kids playing travel ball. They’re more prepared and ready to play. We’re playing to win and it comes down to the players working hard and earning their positions. They players who are going to be the best for the team are the ones who are going to be playing. The girls who aren’t always playing, but are role players, they’ve bought in too and are good teammates.”
Orange (24-3) and Piedmont (24-3) will play the first game at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. The second game will be at 2 p.m. on Saturday. If a decisive third game is needed, it will be played at 5 or at 8 p.m., depending on the outcome of the 1A championship series between Whiteville and North Stanly, which also is being played at N.C. State.