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Orange Lutheran Wins Back-To-Back NHSI Titles

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CARY, N.C.—The energy was palpable as Orange (Calif.) Lutheran and Green Hope (Cary, N.C.) took the field, giving just a taste of what was in store over the next seven innings.

The intensity, hard work and performance on display represented the skill that encapsulated the two teams—both of which played nearly-flawless baseball in reaching this stage of the 2018 NHSI.

But in the end, it was Orange Lutheran that defeated Green Hope, 9-3, at USA Baseball’s National Training Complex Saturday afternoon, giving the school its second consecutive NHSI championship.

It was a phenomenal feat that capped a extraordinary week for the Lancers, all of which speaks volumes to the culture of success head coach Eric Borba has brought to the program.

“I just think (it’s an) awesome experience being here,” Borba said. “USA Baseball does a tremendous job with this event and to be able to take home this trophy for a second year is just an awesome feeling. I can’t even describe it.”

The championship game got off to a slow start, with both teams remaining scoreless until the fourth inning. After getting the first out of the fourth, Green Hope righthander Elmo Arimurti walked Lancers right fielder Jasiah Dixon and was lifted for reliever Kohl Abrams.

Then, in the matter of seemingly seconds, the floodgates opened for Orange Lutheran. Cole Winn, who provided two hits and scored a run in Friday’s semifinal, lined a double to left-center field, driving in Dixon for a 1-0 lead.

Winn, who is better known as a righthanded pitcher from a draft perspective, finished the championship game with two hits and three RBIs. In the first game of the tournament, Winn struck out nine and allowed only one hit—an infield single—in six innings on the mound.

“I was just trying to stay through the middle,” Winn explained, when asked about his approach at the plate during the championship game. “I felt like the first two games I was trying to do too much so I felt like the last couple I just relaxed and put good swings on it.”

Second baseman Max Rajcic followed Winn and was hit by a pitch. Orange Lutheran left fielder Evan Adolphus then came through with an RBI single to left field. An error on the play also allowed Rajcic to score, pushing the Lancers’ lead to 3-0.

Then pinch hitter Carl Lawson joined the hit parade, lifting a bloop single into the outfield that scored Adolphus. The inning mercifully ended, but not before Orange Lutheran added a fifth run when designated hitter Caleb Rickets hit an RBI single of his own.

Green Hope responded with a minor rally of its own in the fifth, led by an RBI double from left fielder Jonathan Ankner. Two batters later, second baseman Kevin Pitarra slapped a ball into left field that scored a second run, just one play before Ankner came around to score on a fielder’s choice.

Three runs would be all Green Hope could muster, however, as Orange Lutheran’s lead proved to be too big to overcome. The deficit meant the Falcons’ Cinderella story was finished, closing the book on a historic tournament run.

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Despite the defeat, Green Hope became the first North Carolina-based team to ever reach either the semifinals or finals of the Cary-based NHSI, which is now in its seventh-year of existence.

In addition to their in-state record, the Falcons also became just the second non-California team to play in the NHSI championship game, joining The First Academy (Orlando, Fla.), which won the tournament in 2014.

Orange Lutheran, meanwhile, becomes just the second team to win multiple NHSI championships, joining fellow Southern California powerhouse Mater Dei (Santa Anna, Calif.), which went back-to-back in 2012 and 2013. This week, the Lancers outscored its four opponents by a 23-6 margin.

“It starts with the pitching,” Borba said. “We were able to minimize, shutdown some very good offenses and some good teams. We have a lot of confidence in our pitching staff. They did what they needed to do, throwing strikes and using their stuff and the defense behind them was tremendous, so I think it starts there.”

The Orange Lutheran players and coaches will now return to California with the confidence of winning yet another NHSI title, while also looking forward to bringing home one more piece of hardware—a state title—before the season's end.

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