Midway through the Big 8 regular season, there’s one thing clear: the road to the regular season championship in boys and girls basketball runs through Orange High. At least, for now.

For each of the next two weeks, both Orange squads will play in three games in four days. On Tuesday, the Panthers travel to Northern Vance (tripleheader with the girls playing at 6, boys at 7:30). On Wednesday, the Panthers host Jordan for another tripleheader (5:30 girls, 7PM boys). Then on Friday, the Orange boys host Southern Durham in a showdown for 1st place at 7. The Lady Panthers travel to Southern for a 7 PM tip.

On Saturday, B.J. Condron’s Lady Panthers took over sole possession of first place in the Big 8 with a 61-49 victory over Northwood in Pittsboro. The win kept Orange undefeated at 16-0 overall, 6-0 in the Big 8.

Orange has had balanced scoring in many of its wins, but Saturday was different. Sophomore guard Lauren Cates came off the bench to score 30 points, including eight 3-pointers which vaulted Orange to a 23-11 lead in the second quarter. The Lady Panthers’ leading scorer, Kaylen Campbell, finished with 15. No one else had more than four.

“We’ve always known that Lauren had the ability to do that,” said Condron. “She shoots the ball really well in practice and workouts. It was a matter of when. For it to happen in a big game like this was huge.”

“The threes were just going in today,” said Cates. “We were kicking the ball out a lot. So I feel that we knew what we had to do today and we did it.’

After tying Chapel Hill for the regular season championship last season, Northwood was the odds-on favorite to win the Big 8 title this year. Incredibly, the Chargers suffered season-ending injuries to  three of its top returning players within 24 hours in November. All of them seniors returning from a squad that made the 3rd round of the 3A state playoffs last year.

In the season opener at Northern Durham November 21, point guard Jazanaie Billings suffered a torn ACL. The following night in the home opener against Western Alamance, shooting guard Bryn Aydt and forward Erika Nettles also suffered torn ACLs.

Chargers Coach Cam Vernon has refused to use that as an excuse for this season. Northwood is still 6-1, only a game behind Orange with a rematch in Hillsborough set for next Friday.

“In the four years I’ve been here, Northwood has been a really good team,” said Condron. “To get over those jitters and play our game, it took a little while today to get into our game and do what we like to do.”

Wednesday’s home game against Jordan wasn’t officially scheduled until three weeks ago after a MLK Day event at the Durham School of the Arts was cancelled. It poses among the toughest threats to Orange’s undefeated record. Hailing from the 4A PAC-6 Conference, the Falcons are 12-4. They started the season with a win at Panther Creek in Cary. They carried a six-game winning streak into Raleigh to face Cardinal Gibbons on December 21, when they lost to the Crusaders 50-45.

The Jordan boys squad, coached by Kim Annas, is 10-6, 3-4 in the PAC-6.

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