Merrill’s six goals leads Orange lax past Cedar Ridge 10-6

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Updated: February 25, 2021

Whenever the Orange lacrosse team holds team reunions years from now, there will always be a certain amount of mystery surrounding the 2020 team.

On paper, it was the most talented team in Orange history with plenty of firepower. In practice, it sure looked that way, too.

The Panthers had senior midfielder Wyatt Jones, the first Orange player in school history to end up playing lacrosse at a Division I school at Mercer. There was also senior attacker Dylan Boyer, now at Division II Queen’s University.

Orange started 2020 with a 6-0 record with wins over 4A teams J.H. Rose and Heritage. Of course, the ending to this story is all too familiar by now. Last March, the pandemic hit, ending the spring sports season two weeks after it started. On March 13, the Orange lacrosse team defeated Roxboro Community School 15-0, but there was a sense of finality apparent when the players dosed Coach Chandler Zirkle with a Gatorade bath after a anticlimactic win at Bulldog Stadium.

It was the last time that Orange team took the field. They never got the chance to see if they were the squad that could beat one of the Chapel Hill superpowers. Or see if a deep run in the 3A/2A/1A State Playoffs was possible.

It was also the last high school sports event for any Hillsborough high school team for eight months.

Jones, Boyer and the rest of the 2020 Orange seniors now hang their hats elsewhere, leaving behind a group of younger Panthers learning on the job.

But Orange’s Ryan Merrill isn’t letting the past get in the way of his senior year.

In likely his final game against crosstown rival Cedar Ridge, Merrill scored six goals as the Panthers defeated Cedar Ridge 10-6 at Auman Stadium on Wednesday night. Merrill opened the game with three goals as he completed the hat trick off an assist from Connor Kruse with 1:14 remaining in the first quarter.

Cedar Ridge junior Roman Oguntoyinbo turned in a six-point night, factoring in on every Red Wolf goal. Oguntoyinbo finished with three goals and three assists to keep Cedar Ridge competitive until Orange ran out the clock in the final minutes.

It was the Panthers (2-1, 1-0 in Conference 9) fourth straight win over the Red Wolves. Cedar Ridge (2-2, 2-1) had its two-game winning streak snapped.

While some players may have spent the interminable hours after the pandemic wondering what might have been in 2020, Zirkle has chosen to let the mystery be.

“Actually, I didn’t think about it at all,” Zirkle said. “It would have been really cool to finish the season, but the thing I really appreciated about the team last year was we did everything we wanted to do the way we wanted to do it. Obviously, I wished we could have finished the season, but I feel proud of what that team did.”

After Merrill’s three goals, Oguntoyinbo broke free in front of the net to score Cedar Ridge’s first goal just 56 seconds into the second quarter. Orange freshman Connor Kruse scored off an assist from sophomore Joe Cady to extend the Panther lead to 4-1, but Cedar Ridge held the Panthers scoreless in the final eight minutes of the first half. Oguntoyinbo scored his second goal with 3:04 remaining in the first half, then assisted on a Holden Neal’s only goal to cut Orange’s lead to 4-3 going to halftime.

Merrill started the second half with two unassisted goals in the opening minute. Kruse added another tally to increase Orange’s lead to 7-3. After Oguntoyinbo completed his hat trick with 8:24 remaining in the third quarter, Merrill registered his sixth goal on a feed from Kruse. Orange’s Duncan Grant widened the Panther advantage to 9-4 off an assist from senior Leif Mahaney.

With regular goalkeeper Ethan Fortner working out for the Panther football team, Malachi Bolton started in net for Orange. Katie Wolter, the younger sister of former Orange goalkeeper Tyson Wolter, played between the pipes in the second and third quarters.

Cedar Ridge’s Alex Castro notched the Red Wolves final goal of the third period. Neal provided the final Cedar Ridge tally in the fourth quarter, his second goal of the night.

The Red Wolves started senior Aiden Kehoe at goalkeeper, but also used junior Joshua Taylor intermittently in the second half.

Orange will travel to Northern Durham on Thursday. Cedar Ridge will travel to Northern Durham on Monday.

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