The same way that Ted Williams hit a home run in his final game at Fenway Park with the Boston Red Sox, the greatest power hitter in Cedar Ridge softball history went out in style on Wednesday night. In her final game at Cedar Ridge Softball Field, Take Nichols hit a home run that sailed well beyond the fence into left field. Nichols added a double and went 3-for-3 as the Red Wolves defeated Williams 21-2. It was the final game at Cedar Ridge for Nichols, centerfielder Olivia Aitkin and shortstop Ava Lowry. Aitkin, who has signed to play at Amherst University, finished 2-for-3 with three RBIs. Lowry, who committed to North Carolina Wesleyan, went 3-for-4 with a double and a triple. This group of Ceda Ridge seniors won the 2019 Big 8 Conference Championship and won two games in the 3A State Playoffs. Nichols will graduate in June as the all-time leading home run hitter in Cedar Ridge history with 32 home runs. She has 109 carer RBIs, also a school record. Nichols and Lowry has played on the left side of the infield for the past four years. Lowry is hitting .444 this season. She is a career .450 hitter over 55 games. Aitkin is one of the most versatile athletes in Cedar Ridge history. She was also a member of Cedar Ridge’s 3A State Championship Volleyball team. Aitkin is one of the most versatile athletes in school history. She has qualified for the 3A Central Regional Golf Championships. She also is a member of the 4×200 swimming relay team that set the school record last winter, and also qualified for the 3A Central Regionals.
One for the Road; Nichols homers in final home game vs. Williams, Cedar Ridge softball faces Orange in CCC Tournament tonight
With an array of Division I softball prospects spread across the various Alamance County schools within the Central Carolina Conference, it’s been easy to overlook the Hillsborough teams this season.
Orange did win the 2021 Big 8 Conference Championship after an undefeated regular season. Cedar Ridge won back-to-back conference titles in 2018 & 2019, reaching the Round of 16 in the 3A State Playoffs both times.
It speaks volumes about Cedar Ridge’s strength of schedule that, even with a current 9-11 overall record, the Red Wolves are still seeded #22 in the 3A East Rankings, according to MaxPreps. Four of the teams ahead of Cedar Ridge are from the Central Carolina Conference.
Nonetheless, Cedar Ridge coach Allen Byrd, who became a grandfather over the weekend, doesn’t want a repeat of last season.
The 2021 3A Softball state playoffs was narrowed down to 32 teams instead of the standard 64 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. At season’s end, the Red Wolves were ranked #59 by MaxPreps, which likely would have put them in the postseason in a standard year. Of course, 2021 was anything but standard. Seven Cedar Ridge seniors, many of whom were members of the 2018 team that won the first softball conference championship in school history, ended their careers without one final trip to the playoffs.
While Cedar Ridge’s chances of returning to the postseason are strong this year, there was no denying a sense of finality last Wednesday. It was the final home game for Red Wolves seniors Takia Nichols, Olivia Aitkin and Ava Lowry. They have all signed to play college softball across the East Coast.
In her farewell game at Cedar Ridge against Walter Williams, Nichols hit one last home run in easily the most pitcher-friendly ballpark in the Central Carolina Conference, possibly the state (it is 220 feet down the left and right field lines to the wall at Cedar Ridge Softball Field. For comparison’s sake, at Duke Softball Stadium, it is 195 feet each way). Leading off the bottom of the second inning, Nichols drilled an 0-1 pitch well beyond the left field wall for her school record 32nd career home run. She finished the night 3-for-3 with two RBIs as the Red Wolves cruised 21-2 in five innings. Nichols, who has committed to play at North Carolina Central, now has 109 career RBIs, also a school record.
While Nichols is prepared to move on to play with the Eagles, she will have at least two more games alongside Lowry. The two have shared the left side of the infield for the past two seasons, but it should have been longer.
Perhaps the perfect play that sums up the pairing came against Orange on April 15, 2021. In the seventh inning, Orange’s Serenity McPherson lined a ball to Nichols at third base. With a runner at second, the ball ricocheted off Nichols knee, bounced directly across to Lowry, who recovered in time to throw out McPherson and end the inning.
“I know that Ava always has my back,” Nichols said the following week. “I never have to question if she’s going to be there for me. I bobbled that ball, she had my back and we made the out.”
Lowry, who has signed with North Carolina Wesleyan, went 3-for-4 with three RBIs against the Bulldogs. She had a double and a triple. For her career, Lowry has a .450 career batting average. She has 28 hits this season, which leads the team.
“Takia and I have this bond,” Lowry said last summer. “She’s amazing. We’ve been playing since middle school. We know what’s going to happen. We’ll know what each other is thinking without saying anything. I know that if she’s covering the line, then I need to move closer to the hole in the infield. Our communication is the best.”
Aitkin, who committed to Amherst College in Massachusetts last year, is a three-sport athlete. Last fall, she made regionals in golf. In February, she teamed with Sophia Stinnett, Quinn McCrimmon and Abbygale Pearce to set a new school record in the 4×400 relay in swimming at the Orange County Sportsplex. They group qualified for the 3A Central Regionals.
Tonight, the three Cedar Ridge seniors will play its final game against crosstown rival Orange at Panther Softball Field in the Central Carolina Tournament quarterfinals. The Red Wolves are the #5 seed. The winner of the game will face top-seeded Eastern Alamance on Tuesday night in Mebane.
Nichols, Lowry and Aitkin are the last players who won a conference championship in softball. In 2019, Cedar Ridge defeated Orange 8-3 at Panther Softball Field to claim the #1 seed from the Big 8 Conference for the state playoffs. In the postseason, Cedar Ridge defeated West Johnston 4-3 in eleven innings, then journeyed all the way to Morehead City and defeated West Carteret 6-3. Nichols homered in the fourth inning against the Patriots.
Also tonight in the Central Carolina Tournament: Williams travels to Person while Western Alamance hosts Northwood. The semifinals are set for Tuesday with the championship game on Thursday.
Photo by Angie Carden Hurdle
Jaden Hurdle: As the career of Jaden Hurdle as a member of the Patrick & Henry Community College softball team starts to wind down, she earned a honor for the Lady Patriots. Before starting a weekend series at Surry Community College, Hurdle was named the Patrick & Henry Female Athlete of the Year during a ceremony last week. On Friday, Patrick & Henry defeated Surry Community College 8-0 in six innings in the opening game of a doubleheader. Hurdle went 0-for-3. In the final game of the season, Surry defeated the Lady Patriots 8-2 at Fisher River Park. Hurdle started as the pitcher and went six-and-one-thirds innings. At the plate, she went 0-for-2. Last Tuesday, Ferrum College swept a doubleheader from Patrick & Henry in Martinsville, VA. In the opening game, which the Panthers won 11-2, Hurdle went 1-for-1. In the nightcap, Ferrum won 9-2. Hurdle went 1-for-3 with a double. She also relieved starter Brandy Roberts as pitcher in the fourth inning. Hurdle threw four innings and gave up five runs off five hits. She struck out four. Hurdle currently has a .377 batting average with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs. Her ten home runs is fourth in Region X Division II. She also leads the team with four triples. As a pitcher, Hurdle is 7-4 with a 3.15 ERA in 18 appearances. Hurdle will play next season at Catawba College in Salisbury.
Mia Davidson: Mia Davidson continues her climb up the all-time NCAA Softball Home Run list. On Sunday, Davidson became the first player in Mississippi State history to have two 20-home run seasons. Davidson blasted a two-run homer in the fifth inning in a 9-5 loss to #11 Kentucky at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington, KY. it’s just the fourth time in school history that Mississippi State has had a player hit for 20 home runs in a season. Davidson has done it twice. Davidson now has 89 career home runs. Only five players have ever hit 90 career home runs in Division I history. On Sunday, Davidson went 1-for-1. On Saturday, the Bulldogs defeated the Wildcats 6-2. It was Mississippi State’s sixth win against a ranked team this season. Davidson hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning to increase the Bulldogs’ lead to 5-2. Davidson also broke the school record for career hit-by-pitches. She was plunked for the 54th time on Sunday. On Friday, the Wildcats defeated the Bulldogs 7-3. Davidson went 0-for-1 with a run scored and two walks. Mississippi State is 31-21 overall, 9-12 in the Southeastern Conference. On Wednesday, Mississippi State knocked off Southern Miss 9-5 in Starkville, MS. Davidson went 2-for-3 with a run scored.
Montana Davidson: Montana entered the game as a pinch-hitter in Saturday’s win over Kentucky for Mississippi State.
Grace Andrews: The Catawba Valley Community College softball team honored its sophomores on Sunday. The Red Hawks easily swept a doubleheader from Bryant & Stratton at Highland Recreation Center in Hickory. In the opening game, a 17-0 Red Hawks’ win, Andrews went 1-for-1 with a two-run single. She also scored twice. In the second game, Andrews started at third base again and finished 3-for-3 with a double and two runs scored. Andrews concludes the regular season with a .311 batting average through 44 games. The Red Hawks will prepare for the Region X/South Atlantic District Tournament in Richmond, VA, which starts May 11.
Kara Tackett: The Wake Tech Community College softball team defeated Brunswick Community College 13-4 in Raleigh on Sunday. Tackett started in centerfield and finished 1-for-4 with an RBI single. Wake Tech swept a doubleheader from the Dolphins. The Eagles won the opening game 10-0 in five innings. Tackett went 0-for-3 in the opening game. On Friday, Southeastern Community College shutout the Eagles 11-0 in Whiteville. Tackett went 0-for-2. Southeastern won the opening game of the doubleheader 9-1. Tackett hit leadoff and went 1-for-3.
Bryse Wilson: After four starts this season for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Wilson came out of the bullpen for Wednesday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers in PNC Park. Milwaukee won the game 3-1. Wilson relieved starter Dillon Peters in the third inning and threw four innings. He allowed only one hit with four strikeouts. Wilson left the game with the game scoreless.
Joey Berini: The East Carolina baseball team had a weekend sweep of the Cincinnati Bearcats at Clarke-LeClair Stadium in Greenville. On Saturday, the Pirates defeated the edged the Bearcats 4-3. Berini entered the game in the sixth inning as a shortstop. East Carolina defeated Cincinnati 6-3 on Sunday. Berini replaced Zach Agnos at shortstop in the eighth inning. The Pirates are 11-4 in the American Athletic Conference, 27-18 overall.
Brandon Andrews: Pitching for Nicholls State, Andrews earned his first save of the season on April 19. Andrews tossed a scoreless ninth inning for the Colonels in a 2-0 win over Southern University at Didier Field in Thebodaux, LA. He gave up only one hit. On Sunday, New Orleans defeated Nicholls 6-2. Andrews came out of the bullpen and retired the only Privateer he faced.
Landon Riley: The UNC baseball team rolled past Liberty 8-1 at Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill on Tuesday. Riley closed out the game for the Flames. He threw the eighth inning with one strikeout and one walk.
Phillip Berger: Berger earned another complete game win for Division III William Peace University on Friday. The Pacers defeated Southern Virginia University 11-1 at the USA Baseball Complex in Cary. In seven innings, Berger threw a three-hitter. He gave up one unearned run with six strikeouts and three walks. Berger is 7-2 this season for the Pacers. He leads the team in wins. He has a 4.38 ERA. The Pacers are 21-18, 11-10 in the USA South Athletic Conference. They will prepare for the USA South Athletic Conference Tournament, which starts on Thursday.
Cooper Porter: The Pensacola State baseball team ended its season last week. Tallahassee Community College defeated the Pirates 8-3. Porter started at third base and when 2-for-4 with a double. Porter ends the season with a .224 batting average over 41 games. He hit one home run with ten RBIs.
Will Walker: Bryant & Stratton Community College edge Pitt Community College 3-2 on Saturday in the final game of a doubleheader. Will Walker, starting at first base for PCC, went 0-for-3. In the opener, Bryant & Stratton won 8-5. Walker reported in as a pinch-hitter and went 0-for-1. The Bulldogs defeated Lenoir Community College 13-12 on Wednesday. Walker finished 2-for-5 with two RBIs and a run scored. Pitt Community College is 34-7 as they move on to the Region X South Atlantic Tournament.
Orange Lacrosse receives #1 seed in 3A/2A/1A State Playoffs; Cedar Ridge to face Western Alamance Friday
Usually when the state playoffs roll around, it provides high-achieving teams a chance to deviate from playing against its conference rivals, at least in the early rounds.
You would think that would be the case in lacrosse for Orange and Cedar Ridge.
And you would be wrong.
Orange, which rallied from five goals down to defeat Northwood on Wednesday night, faces a likely matchup against either the Chargers or Walter Williams in the third round. Meanwhile, Cedar Ridge will take on Western Alamance in the opening round on Friday night at Red Wolves Stadium.
The 34-team bracket for the 3A/2A/1A State Men’s Lacrosse championships was released Friday. Orange received a #1 seed and earned a bye into the second round. The Panthers will face the winner of J.F. Webb versus South Brunswick at Auman Stadium on Friday night. If Orange wins, the Panthers will take the winner of Northwood/Walter Williams on May 10.
Cedar Ridge (14-5), after beating Bishop McGuinness and Carrboro in the final week of the regular season, received a #7 seed. The Red Wolves will host Western Alamance on Friday night at Red Wolves Stadium. It will be the first time Cedar Ridge has hosted a game in the state playoffs since the 2017 3A/2A/1A Eastern Regional Championship game, when the Red Wolves defeated Chapel Hill to advance to the state championship. That Cedar Ridge squad became the first Hillsborough lacrosse team to win a regional lacrosse championship.
The winner of Cedar Ridge/Western Alamance will travel all the way to Kill Devil Hills to face First Flight on May 10. First Flight, the #2 seed in the East, won the Northeastern Coastal Conference championship and finished 8-3 overall.
Cedar Ridge swept the regular season series from Western Alamance. In Elon, the Red Wolves won 8-6 on March 22. In Hillsborough, Cedar Ridge won 18-12 on April 14 behind six goals from senior Roman Oguntoyinbo.
Orange played five games in a span of seven days to finish the regular season. Included in that frame was a 12-8 victory over Williams on April 22 in Hillsborough where the Panthers didn’t take its first lead until there was 1:03 remaining in the first half. The Panthers led 9-8 at the end of three quarters, then held the Bulldogs scoreless for the final 12:07. Sophomore Connor Kruse scored five goals.
On Wednesday in Hillsborough, Northwood led Orange 10-7 with 7:15 remaining in regulation on the strength of eight goals from junior Taylor Laberge. The Panthers closed out the game with five consecutive goals to win. After junior Jake Wimsatt scored off an assist from Kruse, Joe Cady tied the game on a transition goal, his third of the game. As Cady scored, Northwood was called for a slashing penalty, which led to Tigh Metheney firing in a man-up goal from 15 yards away to put Orange ahead.
Cedar Ridge will enter the postseason the #3 ranked team in the 3A/2A/1A East Region. The Red Wolves grabbed a stunning 8-7 overtime win over Bishop McGuinness at Red Wolves Stadium on Wednesday night. Senior Alex Castro scored the game-winning goal off an assist from Roman Oguntoyinbo. Billy Power led Cedar Ridge with four goals, while Oguntoyinbo, James Clayton, and Erickson Thole scored one each. Freshman Leo Oguntoyinbo earned the win in net.
On Thursday night, Cedar Ridge defeated Carrboro 8-2 at Jaguars Stadium to finish the regular season. Oguntoyinbo had seven goals, a season-high for the Red Wolves. Senior Joshua Taylor came away with four saves, while Leo Oguntoyinbo, who played the second half, had three.
This will be the first time that Orange has ever been a #1 seed in the East Region for lacrosse. Last year, Orange reached the 3A/2A/1A State Quarterfinals. Cedar Ridge was eliminated in the opening round at East Chapel Hill, who eventually played for the state championship.