For its first playoff victory since winning the 3A state softball championship in 2017, Orange used the long ball.
Lauren Jackson launched a two-run blast over dead centerfield in the bottom of the fifth inning to break a 1-1 tie as the Lady Panthers defeated Jacksonville 4-1 in the opening round of the NCHSAA 3A State Playoffs on Tuesday night at Panther Softball Field. Orange (14-6), who earned its first win over a nonconference opponent this season, advances to face top-seeded D.H. Conley on Friday night in Greenville. The Vikings rolled past Westover 22-1 in three innings on Tuesday.
The Lady Panthers, coming off a loss to crosstown rival Cedar Ridge on Thursday in a playoff to determine the top seed in the Big 8 Conference, jumped on the Cardinals early. Junior 2nd baseman Maddie Bartlett led off the first inning with a bunt single. 1st baseman Jaden Hurdle tripled on a line drive to right field to plate Bartlett.
The Cardinals (12-9), the 2nd seed out of the Coastal Conference, evened the game in the fourth inning. Kalyn Moore doubled down the left field line, followed by Katie Becker singled to centerfield. Sophomore Meredith Smith popped out to right field on a sacrifice fly to bring in Moore.
Jackson, a freshman who leads Orange with five home runs, came up after Hurdle was hit by a pitch. She lined a 2-1 fastball over the deepest part of the park. Orange never trailed again.
Bartlett added insurance in the sixth inning with a home run to left field to push Orange’s lead to 4-1.
In her playoff debut, Orange freshman pitcher Gracie Walker allowed one run on six hits to improve to 8-4. Walker was aided by several sparking defensive plays.
In the 4th, moments after Jacksonville tied the game, Cardinals junior Kayci Standard lined to right field, giving Becker a chance to score from 2nd. Orange senior Rachel Tilley threw a strike to Jackson, who tagged out Becker at the plate to end the inning and keep the game even.
Walker retired the final nine Cardinals in order.
In the 2nd inning, Standard reached on a two-out infield single. She tried to steal second, but Jackson threw to shortstop Mary Moss Wirt for the tag out to end the inning.
Bartlett finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored. Emma Puckett went 1-for-2 with a double.
The win ended a season’s worth of frustration for Orange in an attempt to beat a nonconference opponent. The Lady Panthers lost to Person, Eastern Alamance and Roxboro Community School during the regular season. However, two of those teams won their respective opening round playoff games on Tuesday night.
The Rockets traveled to Shallote and defeated West Brunswick 1-0. Brunswick reached the state quarterfinals last season after beating Cedar Ridge in the 3rd round. In 2017, the Trojans reached the Eastern Regional Championship series, where they lost to Orange in three games.
Eastern Alamance defeated White Oak 10-1. In the 1A state playoffs, Roxboro Community School starts play in the 1A state playoffs against North Stanly on Friday night.