Orange seniors Kruse, Cathey, Van Praag, Wolter & Crabtree to play in Tony Cullen Classic

After playing 26 games in the past three months, seniors on the Orange lacrosse team have logged plenty of minutes together.

Later today, they will take their final bow in the most famed lacrosse stadium in North Carolina.

Connor Kruse, Alden Cathey, Sascha Van Praag and Josh Crabtree will suit up in the Tony Cullen Classic All-Star game at Koskinen Stadium at Duke University in Durham tonight.

In addition, Katie Wolter will become the first player from Hillsborough to play in the women’s game, which starts at 3PM. After serving as Orange’s goalkeeper playing against men her entire career, Wolter will play in the women’s game for the Blue team.

The game includes lacrosse seniors from throughout the state and includes ten players who competed in men’s state championship games two weeks ago at Durham County Stadium.

In addition, Orange head coach Chandler Zirkle will serve as a head coach for the first time. Zirkle will coach the White team, which includes Kruse and Cathey. Zirkle, who typically serves in a behind the scenes role for the All-Star game, just led the Panthers to its most successful season in school history with a 24-2 record, capturing the 3A/2A/1A Eastern Regional championship for the first time.

The game is named in honor of Tony Cullen, a former Duke player and head coach who still holds the school record with eight assists in one game. He scored 220 career points and went on to serve as a head coach at Duke from 1982-1990. Afterwards, he served as a college official for 12 years.

Kruse, who will attend Lenoir-Rhyne next fall, is finishing the most accomplished career in Orange lacrosse history and will be the standard that future players will be compared with. He set the single-season school record 75 goals and 213 points as Orange won its fourth consecutive Mid-Carolina Conference championship. On March 25, Kruse tied the national record with 16 assists in a 18-5 win over Southern Alamance in Graham.

Cathey was a part of two regional championship team in men’s cross country in 2021 and 2023. He has been a member of the varsity since the pandemic-shortened season in 2021. This year, he led Orange with 58 turnovers created and 136 ground balls. In his final regular season game against Northwood, Cathey had 13 ground balls, a season-high, as the Panthers won 14-3 in Pittsboro to complete an undefeated regular season.

Van Praag, a native of the Netherlands, joined Cathey, Kale & Jace Womble and Drew Jouannet on a fierce defensive front the past three years. Van Praag was in elementary school with Wolter, Kruse, Josh Cowan and Josh Merill, all of whom are seniors who will graduate next month. This season, Van Praag had 75 ground balls and 49 turnovers created. He was named to the All-Conference team and will join Kruse at Lenoir-Rhyne next sesaon.

Crabtree finished with 38 goals this season and scored the opening goal for Orange against Lake Norman Charter, the Panthers’ first-ever goal in a state championship game. He had five hat tricks this season, including three goals against Carrboro in the state quarterfinals on May 7 at Auman Stadium. Crabtree’s season-high was four goals in a win over Western Alamance on April 23. He will play at Methodist University in Fayetteville next year.

Cathey will join Kruse on the White team, while Van Praag and Crabtree are on the Blue team.

Wolter has been Orange’s main goalkeeper for the past three years. Each season, Orange hosted the Eastern Regional championship game. Katie earned her own fan section for Orange home games. Each time she made a save, her family would raise a banner that reads “Play Like a Girl.” Wolter made over 300 saves in her Orange career, but this afternoon’s game will be the first time she has played against other women. Wolter will play women’s lacrosse at Elon University next February.

The game is a benefit for the Duke Cancer Institute. Donations can be made by going to the bullcityallstarlax.com All-Star game website . 

 

 

Cedar Ridge Red Wolf of the Week: Nikhil Agans

This week’s Cedar Ridge Red Wolf of the Week is senior swimmer Nikhil Agans. In February, Agans finished seventh in the 200 yard freestyle during the 3A State Swimming Championships at the Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary. Agans also finished eighth in the 100 yard freestyle. In January, Agans won two Central Conference Championships at the Orange County Sportsplex. He earned the gold medal in the 100 yard freestyle, setting the school record of 1:51.70. He also teamed with Phillip Cauwels, Jacob Olmstead and Christopher Seawell to win the 200 yard freestyle relay. In 2023, Agans finished fifth in the 100 yard freestyle in the 3A State Championships. In February, Agans finished third in the 200 yard freestyle at the Central Regional Championships in the Greensboro Aquatic Center. He also finished third in the 100 freestyle. Agans has been the most consistent male swimmer for Cedar Ridge swimming the past four years, qualifying for the state championships three times. He has made All-Central Conference each of the past three years. In 2023, Agans won the conference championship in the 200 freestyle He broke two school records during his stint with the Red Wolves. Nikhil will graduate next month during a ceremony at Red Wolves Stadium after making his mark in the swimming pool for four years.

Cedar Ridge Red Wolf of the Week: Nikhil Agans

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Price scores eight goals to lead Lake Norman Charter past Orange 16-7 to win 3A/2A/1A State Lacrosse Championship; Kruse scores four points in final game

Photo by Jacques Morin 

DURHAM–If the 3A/2A/1A Men’s State Lacrosse game boiled down to crown interest, Orange would have won going away.

Orange fans came out in large numbers to Durham County Stadium on May 18 to watch the Panthers play for the state championship in lacrosse for the first time in school history.

But Orange wasn’t just battling the two-time defending State Champions in Lake Norman Charter. They were trying to overthrow history.

Since the North Carolina High School Athletic Association split the public school state championships into two classifications, the Western region team has won the 3A/2A/1A State Championship eight consecutive times, split between Lake Norman Charter, Weddington (3) and Marvin Ridge (2). In that span, the average margin of victory has been eleven goals.

While Orange had thrilling moments early and even led with 2:10 remaining in the first half, the Knights threw wave after wave of humanity against the Panthers to thwart any hopes of an upset.

Junior Tyler Price scored seven goals, opening the second half with four consecutive goals, as Lake Norman Charter defeated Orange 16-7 to win its third consecutive state championship. Price, who finished with ten points, was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. Senior Jack Dalton added three goals for Lake Norman Charter (15-7), who won three consecutive road games to win the state championship.

Orange’s Connor Kruse, the all-time leading scorer in school history, fittingly scored Orange’s final goal of the greatest season in team history. Sophomore Brandon Williams forced a turnover against Knights’ goalkeeper Noah McGovern. Williams picked the ball off the FieldTurf surface and fed it to Kruse, who fired it into an empty net for his 244th career goal, his 74th of the season, another school record.

“I think it was very possible for us to win today,” said Orange coach Chandler Zirkle, who led the team to a school record 24 wins this season. “Things didn’t go out way when we needed to get a break. They’re goalie played great. We took some shots that kind of dictated some turnovers to them. We don’t normally do that. They are too talented offensively to not score on the opportunities we gave them.”

There was hope early. Despite the Bimbe Music Festival sending thundering bass booms across the street, it didn’t seem to bother the Orange fans who cheered the Panthers every move in the first half. The Knights held Orange scoreless for the opening 4:28 as Dalton and Price opened with tallies to put LNC ahead 2-0.

Then Orange held the Knights without a goal for the subsequent 17 minutes and 24 seconds. Orange senior defenders Sascha Van Praag, Alden Cathey, Jace and Kale Womble all created turnovers. Senior Josh Crabtree scored Orange’s first goal in a state championship game on a simple overhand from 15 yards away following a restart. After LNC’s Landon Foushee was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Kruse tied the game with a man-up goal following a pass from Williams, evening the game at 2-2 with 4:02 remaining in the first quarter.

“Our fans did a remarkable job,” Zirkle said. “I took a picture of them before the game and they were all over the place. It felt like a home game.”

Junior Gray Crabtree gave Orange its only lead of the game with 6:39 remaining in the first half on another man-advantage goal, assisted by Kruse. It came after Dalton was called for offsides. From that point forward, McGovern shut down the Orange offense, making 12 saves. Orange went 18:46 without a goal, not scoring until sophomore faceoff man Matthew Macneir scored off a pass from Brett Clark to open the fourth quarter.

Between those two points, it was mostly Tyler Price. Following a man-up goal by the Knights from Stevie Parker to tie the game, Price put the Knights in the lead with an unassisted tally with 1:23 remaining in the first half. Then LNC scored seven unanswered goals in the third quarter. Price netted the opening four, including three in a span of 2:51. a tidal wave of offense that has been common for the Knights during its run to three straight state titles.

For Orange’s eleven seniors who were so instrumental in building the program, their final quarter wasn’t all doom and gloom, though the skies got darker and the rain started to fall as the game wound to a close. The Panthers’ starting goalkeeper, Parker Christie-Pohl, played strong in the first half. He was replaced in the final minutes by Katie Wolter, who made over 300 career saves and earned a win in net over Carrboro in the state quarterfinals.

Josh Cowan scored his final goal, the 29th of his season, with 9:35 remaining to cut the Knights lead down to 12-6. Michael Lindsey and Jacob Carlascio managed the game’s final goals for LNC.

As the hundreds of Orange supporters lingered outside of the home team’s dressing room along the main concourse, a significant portion of Orange’s lacrosse history quietly closed. A group that won four conference championships and put the sport on the map in northern Orange County all took off their Panthers uniforms for the last time.

They were part of Orange going from a team to a program, something that wasn’t lost on Zirkle.

“This was the best senior class we’ve had,” Zirkle said. “We’ve had some really great senior classes, but this group was phenomenal. At this time last year, I talked with this senior class about how to get to the next step and get to this game. It’s really cool to know we did that.”

 

Softball Alumni Update: Dalehite ends career at UNCG in Southern Conference Tournament

Tori Dalehite: UNC Greensboro ended its season one game short of reaching the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans lost to Chattanooga 5-0 in the Southern Conference championship game at UNCG Softball Stadium in Greensboro. In her final game, Dalehite had an RBI off a bases-loaded walk in the fourth inning that narrowed the Mocs lead to 4-2. She also scored in the seventh inning off a single by Brooklyn Maxwell. Dalehite started all four games in the Southern Conference Tournament, including the opener where she scored a run off a bases-loaded walk in the first inning in a 13-5 win over Samford. This season, Dalehite was third on the team with a .302 batting average. She played in 51 games, starting 42. She finished with four home runs and 22 RBIs. Dalehite ends her career with 123 games played, a .250 batting average. Dalehite reached the NCAA Tournament in her freshman year. She will start work at Emerge Orthopedic while applying to physical therapy school next fall.

Mia Davidson-Smith: The all-time leading home run hitter in Southeastern Conference history is in her first season with the Denso Bright Pegasus of Japan’s Diamond Softball League, the most storied professional softball league in the world. Through 12 games, Davidson is hitting .241 with two home runs and six RBIs. Denso is in fifth place in the East District with a 6-8 record. The Pegasus are five games behind the Bic Camera Takasaki Bee Queen for first place. Davidson will also participate in Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby X this summer. The competition will have teams competing in groups of three, with each team featuring a former Major League star, a women’s baseball player or softball player and a local baseball player. Home Run Derby X will start in Fort Wayne, IN on August 10, Alburquerque, NM on August 23, Nashville, TN on August 31, and Durham Athletic Park on September 7th. However, Davidson won’t play on the Durham date because she will return to Japan at that point.

Carson Bradsher: Bradsher was the only former Hillsborough product to reach the NCAA Division I Softball Tournament this year. South Carolina Upstate won the Big South Tournament and was sent to the Tuscaloosa Regional, where the Spartans lost to Alabama and Clemson. This season, Bradsher played in 12 games and went 3-for-4 with six runs scored. South Carolina Upstate went 30-23, 13-5 in the Big South. The Spartans defeated Winthrop to win the Big South championship.

Takia Nichols: North Carolina Central came up just short of winning its second straight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship. Morgan State eliminated the Eagles in an elimination game on May 10 in Norfolk, VA. Central finished the year 20-36, 14-7 in the MEAC. Nichols, a rising junior, played in 40 games. She started 34 and hit .282 with one home run and eight RBIs.

Lauren Jackson: The Lenior-Rhyne Bears reached the Division II Women’s College World Series for the first time ever this season. The Bears’ season came to an end on Wednesday when they fell to the University of Texas-Tyler 5-2 at Soldier’s Creek Park in Longwood, FL. The Bears won the Southeast Regional championship, beating Wingate in three games in a best-of-three series. This season, Jackson played in 32 games, starting 20. She hit .241 with two home runs and nine RBIs.

Ava Lowry: The Division III North Carolina Wesleyan softball team ended the season 22-19, 11-7 in the USA South Conference. After a third place finish in the USA South, the Battling Bishops were eliminated in two games in the conference tournament. In the final game of the season against Greensboro, Lowry went 3-for-3 with a double, but the Pride won 3-0. Lowry hit .302 this season. Starting all 29 games she played, Lowry had one home runs and 16 RBIs.

Kelsey Tackett: In her first season with N.C. Wesleyan, Tackett played in two games.

Grace Andrews: Carolina University’s season ended in the South Region of the National Christian College Athletic Association South Region Tournament in Augusta, GA on May 9. The University of Fort Lauderdale defeated the Bruins 5-0 to end the season. Andrews started at shortstop in all four games in the regional. In a 9-0 win over Trinity Baptist on May 8, Andrews went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and a double. Andrews hit a home run, which turned out to be the game-winner, in the Bruins 5-4 win over Paine College on May 7. Andrews’ two-run blast in the fifth put Carolina ahead 5-2. Andrews, a junior, hit .356 this season, which was the fourth-highest average on the team. She had two home runs and 19 RBIs. Carolina finished 24-20 this season.

Breezy Foster: The Wake Tech softball team finished the year 15-22, 11-16 in Region X of the National Junior College Athletic Association. Foster played 33 games and had a .149 batting average with five RBIs. The win total was a eight-game improvement from last year, when Wake Tech went 7-27. The 15-22 record was the best mark for Wake Tech since records started being kept by the school in 2016.

Orange Panther of the Week: Caden Robinson

This week’s Orange Panther of the Week is senior pitcher Caden Robinson. In her final game at Orange on Thursday night, Robinson broke the school record for most career strikeouts. She set down ten South Brunswick Cougars in the third round of the 3A State Playoffs. She ended her career with 380 strikeouts, breaking the previous mark of 378 by Kristina Givens. This season, Robinson was also Orange’s leading hitter, posting a .526 batting average. She also led the team with 40 hits, 17 doubles and five home runs. She tied for the team lead with 33 RBIs. A starter since her freshman year, Robinson was a part of a conference championship team in 2021. This year, Orange reached the Round of 16 in the state playoffs for the first time since 2017, when the Lady Panthers won the 3A State Championship. Caden went 14-5 this season with a 2.96 ERA. She ends her career with 27 wins. Robinson also posted a lifetime batting average of .526 with 17 home runs and 98 RBIs. This month, she posted back-to-back shutouts in the state playoffs against C.B. Aycock and South Johnston. This year, Orange won eight consecutive games, including victories at Southern Alamance and Western Alamance. After she graduates next month, she will play college softball at Averett University in Danville, Virginia.

Orange Panther of the Week: Caden Robinson

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Orange lacrosse seniors Katie Wolter, Parker Christie-Pohl, Nate Sorrells & Alden Cathey discuss winning regional title

It’s been a special week for the Orange lacrosse team. On Monday night, they won its first regional championship after beating Croatan 14-9 in front of a jubilant crowd at Auman Stadium. Senior Parker Christie-Pohl earned the win as goalkeeper. This is only the second year that Christie-Pohl has played lacrosse after being raised in Calgary, Alberta, Canada playing hockey as a center. Katie Wolter, who has been on the varsity for four years, completed the game as goalkeeper. She has over 300 saves in her Orange career and will play at Elon University next year. Long-stick midfielder Alden Cathey leads the team with 136 ground balls and had created a team-high 58 turnovers. This is the third regional championship team that Cathey has competed on his in Orange career. In 2021 and 2023, Cathey won a regional championship for the Orange men’s cross country team. This is the first season for defenseman Nate Sorrells playing lacrosse, but he has made an impact. Sorrells has 21 ground balls and played throughout the win over Croatan. Sorrells led the Orange football team in rushing yards last season and will play college football at Mars Hill. Orange will face Lake Norman Charter, the two-time defending 3A/2A/1A State Champions, for the state championship at Durham County Stadium in Saturday afternoon at 2. You can hear the game on Hillsboroughsports.com.

Orange lacrosse seniors Christie-Pohl, Wolter, Sorrells & Cathey talk winning regional title

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Smith homers, Hart strikes out eleven, Terry Sanford ends Orange baseball’s season 4-0 in state playoffs

FAYETTEVILLE–There was already enough going against Orange baseball before they even arrived in Cumberland County on Thursday night.

There was Mother Nature, which caused its third round state playoff game against Terry Sanford to be postponed twice. On Tuesday, the team had driven to Sanford when they got word to turn around because thunderstorms would prevent them from playing. Orange’s bus made it all the way to Fayetteville on Wednesday, only to find the tarp was already on the field with rain falling down. They had no choice but to drive back to Hillsborough and try again on Thursday.

Then again, the rain has been a problem for Orange since the regular season ended after clinching a share of the Central Conference regular season championship. The Panthers were supposed to face Southern Alamance in a one-game tiebreaker to determine the #1 seed from the Central at Southeast Alamance. If Orange had won, they would have earned the #2 seed in the East Region. That meant no trips to Fayetteville, or anyplace else, if they simply kept winning through the first four rounds.

But that playoff was rained out at Southeast Alamance High. The Patriots got the #1 seed because they swept third-place Williams while Orange split the two-game series with the Bulldogs. That handed Orange a #12 seed instead.

Once the game finally started on Thursday, Orange’s problems were Josh Hart and Brent Smith.

Hart, a junior, struck out eleven over six innings. Smith drove in two runs, including a solo bomb in the fourth inning as Terry Sanford (25-5) defeated Orange 4-0 to advance to the 3A State Quarterfinals.

It was the first time this season that Orange was shutout. The Panthers end the year 19-6.

There was immediately a sense of deja vu for an Orange team that went 15-1 at home this year, but was 4-5 on the road. In each of its road losses, the Panthers gave up runs in the first inning. Sanford’s Josh Mozingo and Ryan Seagroves each reached on infield singles, both hitting balls deep in the 5-6 hole where shortstop Oliver Van Tiem was put through the paces early on a busy night. Orange starter Cross Clayton uncorked a wild pitch to Mason Walker, moving each runner up 90 feet. Walker grounded out to second baseman Kayden Bradsher, scoring Mozingo.

Smith, a senior who has committed to Elon University, started a big night with an RBI single to left field, and the Bulldogs took a 2-0 lead that they would sit on for most of the night.

Though Orange was blanked, they actually had more threats than Sanford. In the second, Orange loaded the bases when Van Tiem was hit by a pitch. Garrett Sawyer grounded a cue shot to third baseman Ethan Nobles, who threw it away, advancing Van Tiem to third. Clayton walked to load the bases, but Elijah Santos pop-up to shallow centerfield was caught by Smith at second base.

Senior Ryan Honeycutt, in his final Orange game, reached on an infield single with two out in the third. Ryan Horton stroked an opposite field liner that landed in front of Walker in right field. Horton and Henry Hoffman, running for Horton, advanced to second and third following a wild pitch. With two out, Hart got a strike out to end the threat.

After the bad start, Orange’s defense settled down. Clayton retired eight straight batters. A surprise bunt attempt by Mozingo to lead off the third was handled sublimely by third baseman Wyatt Hedrick, who threw him out at first. Sanford head coach Sam Guy was so impressed, he bumped fists with Hedrick while coaching third base.

It was Smith who almost single-handily added Sanford’s remaining insurance runs. He started the fourth by launching an 0-1 fastball over the left field wall, and over the adjacent team batting cage with an interlocking “TS” on the front, as well, to increase the Bulldogs lead to 3-0. In the sixth, Smith led off with a single, advanced to second on a groundout, went to third on a wild pitch, and scored off a sacrifice fly from catcher Willis Noon.

Orange had more opportunities. Horton singled to right field to lead off the sixth. Hedrick laid down a sacrifice bunt, but Hart threw the ball away. Hedrick, who collided with the first baseman, remained at first. With one out, Hart continued to hit the right corner of the strike zone like a punching bag, setting down Sawyer and Santos in order to squelch the threat.

Santos singled to left to open the seventh. Immediately, Guy replaced Hart with reliever Jack Reaves. Kayden Bradsher got aboard on an infield hit. Honeycutt sent a dangerous floater to the right that would have loaded the bases if it fell. But once again, Smith was there to chase it down. Horton’s flew out to Benny Whiteaker to end the game.

There were tears and hugs, as you would expect in the postgame in the Orange dugout. It was also the end of an prominent chapter of Orange baseball. Eight seniors who teamed together to win four consecutive conference championships played their final game together.

Cameron Guentensberger, the senior centerfielder, could even boast about being in the starting lineup when Orange beat Terry Sanford in the 2nd round of the state playoffs in 2022. It was head coach Jason Knapp’s most successful class of his six-year tenure.

Together, they dominated the Central Conference for the past three years and compiled a home record of 45-7.

It’s something that not even Mother Nature can take away from them.