Green Eggs and Hamlin: Cedar Ridge Senior Faces I’ll Remember

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Updated: June 6, 2021

Just between me and you, I’m happy Bryson Massey, Allen Byrd and Andy Simmons allow me to have the VIP parking spot for Cedar Ridge baseball and softball games. That’s located down the hill near the tennis courts.

There’s a lot of equipment to haul nowadays to get those sound signals through your Internet speaker. There are miles to travel, but they’ve been worth it.

The four-year class that will graduate for Cedar Ridge this week were all freshmen when I started this website. Since then, I’ve traveled to Morehead City to watch the Cedar Ridge softball team beat West Carteret in the second round of the 3A State Playoffs. Tori Dalehite and Takia Nichols both homered that night.

This past January, the drive to Greenville to watch the Cedar Ridge volleyball team battle D.H. Conley wasn’t as far, but it was intense. For the second year in a row, the Red Wolves played a team that won the 3A State Championship. Unlike in 2019 when they stunned Chapel Hill, the Red Wolves would fall a little short, but they did capture the first set. I’m sure that match hasn’t left the minds of Cameron Lloyd, Julie Altieri and Cameron Lanier this spring as they’ve been practicing with Coach Fiona Cunningham.

To the seniors who have been so kind and patient with this website, I truly want to thank them for giving me the honor of covering their games and listening to my dumb questions. I hope they keep up with the website as they move on in life because some of them have left impressions on me.

I’ll remember ShiLi Quade, who doesn’t seem to believe in days off. In the winter, she played volleyball for the Cedar Ridge team that won the Big 8 Championship. When she wasn’t practicing or playing, she had to handle editor duties for the Cedar Ridge Yearbook. She would be on the sidelines shooting photos at men’s and women’s basketball games and was kind enough to share some of her galleries for this website. Keeping my usual overnight hours, I’d be typing away with some album from King’s X blaring in my headphones, and then an email from ShiLi would pop in my inbox at 2AM. In 2025, an employer somewhere will hire someone with a great work ethic.

Alexandria Matthews, Lajoan Stuart, and Emma-Rae Sharp and Quade were part of one of the greatest comebacks I’ve ever seen. For anyone who reads this website, it’s become cliche to bring up Cedar Ridge softball scoring seven runs in the seventh inning to tie Orange 9-9 to send the game into extra innings. Alex, who played 1st base and pitched, jump started the rally with a single up the middle and later scored off a single by Olivia Aitkin. Stuart started in right field that night for Cedar Ridge and Sharp started at 1st base. It was something to remember for everyone in attendance.

I’ll remember Elijah Whitaker, and his dedication to the Cedar Ridge football program. The emotion of the Cedar Ridge players as they walked off the field in their final game against Vance County was unmistakeable. All of those players want to win every game, of course, but there were tears in the eyes of the seniors who had just played their last football game. They want to establish a program. Elijah didn’t plan to be the quarterback this season, but the top starter was injured in the first half of the first game, never to return. Elijah played quarterback for the final five games against a tough Big 8 Conference. Afterwards, he talked about coming back to Cedar Ridge to coach wide receivers because he loved the brotherhood that Coach Cory Lea is developing.

I’ll remember Kyle Long, who rarely got a play off along the interior line for Cedar Ridge. Kyle is going into the Navy now. He’ll be keeping up with Cedar Ridge football on Friday nights, no matter where he is. He may be leaving Cedar Ridge, but Cedar Ridge won’t leave him.

I’ll remember Luke Pagnanelli and Ian Johnson. And their perseverance. It would have been easy to throw in the towel when Orange led Cedar Ridge in men’s basketball 49-31 with 2:34 remaining in the third quarter on January 11. But Luke and Ian wouldn’t let that happen. Instead, they erased that deficit in just five minutes and 53 seconds. Pagnanelli scored the opening four points of overtime and Cedar Ridge won 67-66. A month later, Pagnanelli and Johnson each hit pressure free throws in the final minute to beat Orange again, this time in Panther Gymnasium. Pagnanelli and Johnson labored through a 1-23 season as sophomores, but they each won their last four games against Orange.

I’ll remember A.J. Richmond for his dedication to athletics. He played basketball, football and ran track. I’ll also remember him for a memorable interview last week where he said that his father played basketball against Jerry West. Jerry West?! The logo of the NBA? The man who traded Vlade Divac for Kobe Bryant?! Why didn’t Andre ever tell me about this? Turned out it was David West, who played at Garner when Andre Richmond was at Orange. David went on to play 16 years in the NBA and won two World Championships with Golden State. I’m sure Andre was more impressed with his son’s two victories at Northwood High in the 100 and 200 meters last week.

I’ll remember the versatility of Marlee Rakouskas. She was a starting libero for Cedar Ridge volleyball. She played on two Cedar Ridge softball teams that won the Big 8 Conference Championship. Marlee didn’t always get the headlines, but those teams wouldn’t have been as successful without her. Between playing two sports, she put together an art show for the Orange County Arts Commission. And, like Krzyzewski, I’ve learned how to spell Rakouskas by typing it so often I don’t even need to look it up. (Well, just once for old time sake tonight).

I’ll remember James Rosati-Brown and Daina Pritchard. Like all other senior wrestlers in Hillsborough, they had some of the most cherished annual events in the area taken from them because of the pandemic. James and Daina both love competing in the Jim King/Orange Invitational, the Tiger Holiday Classic and the Red Wolf Invitational. This year, they had to start the season at a time when it would normally be long in the rear view mirror. That hasn’t stood in the way of making progress. Daina is 20-1 this year. James is 19-2, and both of those losses were last week to wrestlers who placed in the state championships last year. Fortunately, they’ll be able to compete for spots in the state championships next week.

I’ll remember the excellence of Emerson Talley, the all-time leading goal scorer in Cedar Ridge women’s soccer history. A reluctant star who prefers to let her playing do the talking, Emerson will be a prime performer for the Lenoir-Rhyne women’s soccer team for years to come and provide plenty of fodder for Alumni Update.

And there are more. There’s Bryce Clark hitting a home run against Orange two weeks ago. There’s Grady Ray, who competes in three different sports and never takes a play off, regardless of what the sport is. There’s Matt Hughes, who will play baseball at Brunswick Community College after his final high school game this week.

To all of them, as they go forward in life, I’ll share with you what Coach Charles Watters told me when I walked away from Auman Stadium on my graduation night around this time 30 years ago.

There are only three things in life that truly matter: what you think about yourself when you wake up and see yourself in the mirror. What you think about yourself when you go to bed at night. And what your loved ones, in their hearts, truly think of you.

Have fun. Be free.

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