A year ago, the Cedar Ridge baseball team found itself in defining moments game after game.

Time and again, they came up on the short end when they needed a big play. It led to a frustrating and choppy season where it was impossible to gain a rhythm because of the pandemic.

Just two games into 2022, there’s already been a reversal of fortune for the Red Wolves, and they have some new faces to thank for it.

On a typical chilly early-season night game, the Red Wolves pulled out a 9-8 decision in eight innings over Chapel Hill on Wednesday night. In his first game in a Red Wolf uniform, freshman Quinn Finnegan earned the win by throwing four-and-two-thirds innings of relief. Finnegan conceded only three hits and two runs with four strikeouts during his first high school appearance.

In the eighth inning, Cedar Ridge manufactured two runs starting when sophomore catcher Efrain Morales lined a two-out single to centerfield. Designated hitter B.J. Thornton walked and right fielder Nick Nolan was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Senior Garrett Ray walked on four pitches to bring in Morales. Cristian Macias was hit by a pitch to plate Thornton.

In the bottom of the frame, the Tigers got within one run when Tyler Stillson knocked in Evan Hansen with a single to left field. With one out, Finnegan calmly struck out senior Taran Coyne Smith. Macias, playing second base, recorded the final out on a grounder hit by Chapel Hill’s Will Epstein to end a game that surpassed three hours with temperatures in the upper-40s by the time it finally ended.

“We know what we have in Quinn,” said Cedar Ridge coach Bryson Massey. “He’s a freshman and one good thing already about this year is we got to do some scrimmages. I got to put him in a situation in a scrimmage where he came in with the bases loaded. We wanted to see what he’s got. I have the most confidence in that kid. I’ve seen him grow up. I’ve seen him in travel ball. I know what he’s about.”

Cedar Ridge jumped out to a 4-0 lead when each of its first six batters got aboard in the first inning. Morales led off the game with the first of a combined 15 walks on the night. Thornton singled, followed by a Nolan walk to load the bases. Garrett Ray, who just finished basketball season, singled to centerfield to score Morales. Macias got a one-run single to bring in Thornton. Mason Cates did the most damage when he reached on an errant throw that led to Ray and Nolan scoring.

“Efrain (Morales) is a lightning bolt,” Massey said. “He brings a lot of energy to this team. Our team feeds off of it. He’s a great guy to have around.”

The Tigers came back to tie the game with four more runs in the second inning, and pulled ahead 6-4 after three frames. Cedar Ridge came back with three runs in the fourth inning. Third baseman Bryan Flores singled to lead of the frame and scored off a throwing error on a ball it by Braedyn Jacobson. Morales evened the game with an RBI single to left field. Carlo Garay put Cedar Ridge into the lead when he scored on a passed ball.

While the Chapel Hill win was a back-and-forth affair, the Red Wolves’ 2-1 win over Bartlett Yancey on Thursday night in Hillsborough was a classic pitcher’s dual. Once again, Macias came up big.

With the game tied 1-1, Macias drew a leadoff walk to start the bottom of the sixth. With Jake Mergenthal at bat, Macias stole second. After two more pitches, Macias raced for third base and ultimately scored when the ensuing throw wound up in left field.

Macias replaced Cates as the pitcher in the seventh inning and earned the save. He surrendered only one hit with a strikeout.

Cates threw six innings to pick up his first varsity win. He surrendered three hits and one run with seven strikeouts and four walks.

Trailing 1-0 going into the fifth, Cedar Ridge tied the game when Garay led off with a double on a line drive to centerfield. After Jacobson advanced the runner on a sacrifice bunt, Morales knocked Garay in with a sacrifice fly to centerfield.

The Red Wolves will play its first Central Carolina Conference game against Willams in Burlington on Tuesday.
“Last year was a year where we couldn’t find a way to win a one-run ballgame,” Massey said. “We lost a lot of those games. The thing about this team is we have a lot of guys who were a part of that team. They remember that. They knew how to win that close game. It comes down to the little things and we talk about that everyday. In the eighth inning, we executed what we had to execute to get those runs.”

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