Southwest’s Orth signs with Tar Heels

Nov. 15, 2012 @ 03:04 PM

Since even before he arrived at Southwest Guilford, Matt Orth was a very good baseball player. He pushed himself to get better, never satisfied with his past accomplishments.

It’s been a challenge becoming an NCAA Division-I player. But that special combination of seeing what needs to be done and then working to achieve it landed him a commitment as a sophomore and, finally, a signed National Letter of Intent with the University of North Carolina.

“It feels really good,” said Orth, the son of Angie and Keith of High Point, following a ceremony with his family, friends, teammates, coaches and teachers Wednesday in the school library. “I’ve been waiting for it for a long time.”

At 10 years old, Orth, who began playing baseball when he was about 5 or 6, first attended a camp at North Carolina. It was then, although he later looked at schools like Wake Forest, South Carolina and N.C. State, that he already knew in his mind where he wanted to go.

“Ever since that first camp, it’s been my first choice,” said Orth, who has worked with former Tar Heel and major league pitcher Scott Bankhead over the years. “It kind of hooked me.”

That helped put him on the radar for when he attended a prospect camp at North Carolina as a freshman. As a left-handed pitcher who can also hit well and play first base, Orth was a find. Shortly thereafter the Tar Heels offered him a scholarship, which he eagerly accepted.

His standout freshman season, in which he was 9-2 with a 0.89 ERA and 127 strikeouts and earned a unanimous Piedmont Triad All-Conference selection, in addition to what he’d already shown was simply that good. Since then, he’s only matured and gotten better. But he was so focused on what more he could do that he really didn’t expect that door to open.

“I was shocked,” Orth said. “I really didn’t know what to think. It’s a good school, and their interest in me was kind of a mind-blowing opportunity. ... It’s been great. Just know that a lot of people are watching me, that just makes me want to work harder.”

In three years, Orth has been selected all-conference three times, PTC Player of the Year twice and all-state twice. He was also selected for the East Coast Professional Showcase (only the second Southwest player to do so) and has been a key reason for the Cowboys being one of the top area teams.

“Since the very first day, Matt has proven that he belongs among the elite players of the area,” Southwest Guilford coach Reid Holmes said. “He stepped right in as a starter at first base for us and our No. 2 pitcher for us as a freshman. He hit in the 4 hole for us right away. You could tell from the first day he was advanced beyond his years. ...

“He really worked hard growing up. You’ve got to have some talent combined with work ethic. But he’s a better athlete than people realize. He’s very, very competitive. Offensively, he’s got terrific hand-eye coordination. And he has an understanding of things, as a pitcher. He’s knowledgeable. So, when you combine those attributes, you have a special player.”

The goal with the Tar Heels, who went 46-16 last year and was No. 6 nationally to end the year, is to earn playing time right away, Orth said, and contribute to a program that has become a national power in recent years. But, for now, he and his family, friends, coaches and teammates are happy to celebrate what he’s done already and what lies ahead.

“It gives me a lot of joy,” said Orth, who wants to study physical therapy. “I never thought I’d go to a school like this. I never had it in my mind until they started talking to me. But I’m really happy about it and really excited.”