Friday’s game against Warren County was a bittersweet homecoming for second-year Southeast Raleigh baseball coach Orlando Jones, a former three-sport Eagles standout.
The bitter: It was the first time Jones had stepped on the Warren County diamond since his close friend Donald Moody, whom Jones coached with for the Eagles, passed away in 2008. The memories came flooding back.
The sweet: Jones’s Bulldogs left town with a 14-3, five-inning win, showcasing the kind of program the 1995 Warren County graduate is seeking to build in the capital city.
Baseball flows through the blood of Jones and so does his passion for where he grew up, so much so that the financial representative opened an office on Main Street despite his permanent Raleigh residence.
“This is home,” Jones said. “I love Warrenton. I love Warren County.”
Prior to joining Southeast Raleigh, Jones served as a pitching coach for William Peace University, North Carolina Central and his alma mater St. Augustine’s, where he pitched the Falcons to a CIAA title in 1999.
Playing in a competitive 4A Cap-7 Conference, Southeast Raleigh hasn’t reached the playoffs since the school opened in 1997. But Jones, who lives a short distance from the school, jumped at the chance to lead a team when the position opened.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Jones said, “making sure these kids get better. We still have some work to do, but I love that type of challenge, making sure these kids are getting the fundamentals. I just feel like I’m the perfect person for the job.”
The job is challenging, no doubt. Southeast Raleigh’s conference foes Cardinal Gibbons, Millbrook and Broughton each made it to the second round of the playoffs last season, when the Bulldogs won only once, against Southern Durham in a non-conference tilt.
But before that, Southeast Raleigh hadn’t won a game since 2016.
That’s one reason why Jones, who holds a master’s degree in sports psychology, has emphasized battling through adversity, and other mental aspects of the game.
“He’s built, like a whole club,” said Bulldogs senior right-handed pitcher and college prospect Nassir Ford. “... We work on the field together. We go out together. We’re like a family.”
Southeast Raleigh ventured out of Raleigh only once, to Durham, last season, and Friday’s game marked the only scheduled visit out of the Oak City this campaign. The contest gave the Bulldogs a chance to play in an unfamiliar setting, on Warren County’s all-dirt infield that they came prepared for, as well as a test for the Eagles against a school with about two and a half times their enrollment.
Jones wanted his group to see that baseball is played the same way wherever they go.
Southeast Raleigh played it well against Warren County, scoring 12 runs in the first three innings and taking advantage of six Eagles’ errors.
The young Bulldogs feature three left-handed freshmen outfielders and speed up and down the lineup that left no margin for error for Warren County’s battery combinations that struggled with passed balls, wild pitches and walks.
Semaj Alexander led the Eagles at the plate with two hits, including a two-run triple in the first inning that cut the Southeast Raleigh lead in half.
“We played poorly, and we have got to be better prepared,” said Eagles’ coach Andy Short. “I will have to do a better job.”
“Coach Short coached Louisburg High School when I was playing at Warren County so we’ve battled,” said Jones. “We had some great games. When I found out that he had the job here, I wanted to make sure I reached out and got his contact information to see if we could get something together.”
They’ll get another chance to meet next month when the Eagles make the return trip to Southeast Raleigh April 22.
Warren County started the season March 2 with a 16-0 win in four innings at home over Southeast Halifax.
The Eagles tallied nine hits and earned eight walks while Alexander and Jamel Moss combined on the mound to shut down the Trojans. Alexander allowed one hit in three innings while striking out eight, and Moss fanned five, giving up one hit.
Kellen Tucker and Landis Felts each were 2-for-2 at the plate for Warren County with a pair of RBIs while Cameron Hogan added a double and three stolen bases.
Next up for the Eagles is a 5 p.m. home match today (Wednesday) against rival Vance County. They will host J.F. Webb on March 17.