Orange opens state lacrosse playoffs tonight vs. Terry Sanford; Cedar travels to East CH

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Updated: March 15, 2021

Just days before the corona-versary, there was a reminder of what it was like to live again.

It came at Auman Stadium in the waning moments of the Orange lacrosse team’s thrilling comeback against stingy Chapel Hill, who led 9-4 with 8:54.

In a span of seven minutes and 25 seconds, Orange scored four goals, as many as they had scored in the first three quarters against the Tigers. With Orange in possession on a man advantage, the crowd rose to its feet at Auman Stadium and started to applaud as the Panthers tried to tie the game.

Orange mustered two shots, both of which missed Chapel Hill goalkeeper William Gunderson. The Tigers held on to win 9-8.

Ordinarily, that would have ended the night on a dour note. But not this night.

The Orange crowd, many of whom parents of players who wondered if they would be a season at all, stood and applauded some more. They savored a moment after a desolate, isolated year where moments of true emotion gave way to living in a vacuum.

Coming up tonight, the Orange men’s lacrosse team will look to make another memorable moment when it hosts its first state playoff game since 2017. The Panthers, who clinched the Conference 9 Championship on March 4, will face Terry Sanford in the opening round of the 3A/2A/1A State Playoffs.

Since the program started in 2008, Orange has never won a state playoff game at home. There have been two playoff wins on the road, most recently at Northside-Jacksonville in 2019.

Cedar Ridge also made the field of 32. The Red Wolves will travel to face East Chapel Hill, the champions of Conference 10, at Dave Thaden Stadium. The Red Wolves’ regular season ended with a valiant effort in a 7-3 loss to Chapel Hill at Culton-Peerman Stadium on Thursday.

Orange received a #2 seed in the bracket released on Saturday morning. The winner of Orange/Sanford will face either Northwood or Swansboro on Wednesday. Last Monday, Northwood hammered Orange 17-6 in Pittsboro, the Panthers’ most lopsided loss of the season.

That’s what made the Chapel Hill comeback so important for Orange coach Chandler Zirkle, now in his fourth season. After being drubbed by the Chargers, Zirkle wanted to see if his team could stand toe-to-toe against one of the traditional powers in North Carolina lacrosse.

“I know a lot of the Chapel Hill players and they’re a really good team,” Zirkle said. “We have a really young team with nine seniors who are really talented. Then we have a bunch of freshmen and sophomores who didn’t get to play a junior varsity season. They’re really having to play with us right now at a really have level. Just getting back to this point was really good.”

Of interest for Orange against Terry Sanford is who will be goalkeeper? Last week, Zirkle convinced Chase Hawkins to come out of a self-imposed retirement. Hawkins, who earned the win in net against Northside-Jacksonville two years ago, played admirably against Chapel Hill before getting injured in the third quarter. Malachi Bolton had to finish the game.

Cedar Ridge was tied 3-3 with Chapel Hill at halftime on Thursday night. The Red Wolves leading scorer, junior Roman Oguntoyinbo, scored two goals and assisted on a tally by Holden Neal. But Chapel Hill’s 10-man ride proved to be too much for the Red Wolves to overcome in the second half.

Red Wolves goalkeeper Aiden Kehoe kept the Tigers scoreless in the first quarter, even though Chapel Hill dominated possession.

Cedar Ridge received an #11 seed. The winner of East-Cedar Ridge will face either Jacksonville or Vance Charter. Last week, the Red Wolves defeated Vance Charter on its Senior Night, which clinched 2nd place in Conference 9.

Monday’s game against East Chapel Hill will be Cedar Ridge’s first postseason appearance since 2018, when the Red Wolves traveled to J.H. Rose.

“My guys busted their butts out there,” said Red Wolves Coach Patrick Kavanaugh after the Chapel Hill game on Thursday. “Aiden played a heck of a game. That was one of the best defensive performances we’ve had in the last four or five years. We’ve had some pretty good defensive performances, but we were excellent against Chapel Hill. We can be proud of that. We’ve got some skill, but we got worn down. Nothing we saw from them surprised us. They played to their strengths.”

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