Now this was worth waiting over a pandemic for.
Entering Tuesday night, Cedar Ridge had lost in six consecutive trips to Northwood. Even the most accomplished Cedar Ridge baseball teams had faltered in Pittsboro in recent years. In 2020, the Chargers pounded the young Red Wolves 15-0. The 2018 Cedar Ridge team, which finished 2nd in the Big 8 Conference, started the league slate with a 19-7 loss at Northwood in five innings.
A year removed from playing just three games because of COVID-19, the Red Wolves didn’t let a lack of game experience bother them in Pittsboro this time.
Cedar Ridge charged out to a 2-0 lead and never trailed, beating the Chargers 8-2 at the Ronald Horton Baseball Complex. It was the first time Cedar Ridge won at Northwood since 2014. It was also the first Big 8 Conference win for Cedar Ridge Coach Bryson Massey, who had a lone league game against Northwood last year before the pandemic hit.
“We remember that game last year,” Massey said. “The guys talked about that. I prepared them and I felt like they were prepared to come out tonight and show who they really are. I challenge these guys to get 1% better every day. If you do that, you’ll get to where you want to be at the end of the season.”
Junior Will Berger earned the win on opening night. He gave up only one hit in two-and-two-thirds shutout innings, with five strikeouts and four walks. Among several revelations on the night was junior Christian Macias, who drove in the game’s opening run with a line drive to centerfield to score Aidan McAllister. Macias would replace Berger with two out in the third inning. Macias threw three-and-one-thirds innings and yielded just three hits and one walk. He struck out three.
B.J. Thornton closed out the game in the seventh inning.
After Macias’ single in the first inning, he advanced to third on a throwing error. Tucker Cothren sent a line drive to center field to knock in Macias.
Senior Grady Ray opened the second inning with a bunt single. After Thornton, who started in right field, walked, Braedyn Jacobson looped a single to right field to score Ray. Northwood Coach David Miller put Zach Barnes in to pitch, but Bryce Clark knocked in Thornton with a sacrifice fly to left field to increase Cedar Ridge’s advantage to 4-0.
The Red Wolves added another run in the fifth inning when Thornton hit a one-out single to right. Jacobson advanced Thornton to second base on a fielder’s choice. Clark then got aboard off an infield error, sending Jacobson to the plate.
Luke Smith scored Northwood’s opening run in the fourth inning off a groundout by Nate Ortiz. Smith started he inning with a line drive single to left.
Cothran reached on an error to start the sixth inning, followed by another error that allowed Ray to reach first. With runners at second and third, Thornton squared to bunt for a squeeze play attempt, but Cothan scored anyway off another Northwood miscue for an insurance run. Ray added another tally off a sacrifice fly by Jacobson.
The Chargers, which lost eleven seniors on a 19-player roster last season because of the pandemic, doesn’t have a senior on its current roster. They have nine sophomores with eight juniors and one freshman. The youth was painfully apparent as the Chargers committed seven errors.
Nonetheless, Cedar Ridge has waited years for a breakthrough victory. With the Big 8 Conference counting only the first meetings between conference opponents in the league standings, this was a vital Cedar Ridge win on several levels.
Now, Cedar Ridge will prepare for its home opener against Chapel Hill on Friday night. The Tigers earned a forfeit win over Vance County on Tuesday when the Vipers had COVID precautions.
“It’s always awesome when you come to Northwood,” Massey said. “You know what you’re going to get. I hope on Friday, we can have the same type of intensity. We want our fans to support Cedar Ridge. Our guys deserve that. They’ve really brought in here. We have a great group of seniors here and they took their lumps from Northwood over the years. They knew what they wanted to do when they came out here tonight and I feel like they succeeded in that.”