Month: June 2022

Orange Panther of the Week: Thomas Loch

This week’s Orange Panther of the Week is junior golfer and men’s basketball forward Thomas Loch. This spring, Loch qualified for the 3A Mideast Golf Regionals at the Valley Golf Course in Burlington. It was the second straight year that Loch qualified for regionals. Loch finished with the highest score among Orange players. Last winter, Loch was also a key contributor to the Orange men’s basketball team. On December 16, Loch scored a career-high 12 points and six rebounds against East Chapel Hill. As the winter turned to spring, Loch’s teammate on the men’s basketball team, J.J. Thompson, joined him on the men’s golf team. Loch and Thompson were the two top players for the Panthers goal squad this spring. Thomas loves to play at Occoneechee Golf Course in Hillsborough. In fact, when this interview was filmed, he had just finished a round on a Sunday afternoon. Loch will enter his senior year in August and get set to play two sports once again. He will enter his third year on the varsity men’s basketball team and be one of the senior leaders alongside returning guards Freddy Sneed and Xandrell Pinnnix along with center Isaiah Seymour.

Cedar Ridge Red Wolf of the Week: William Berger

This week’s Cedar Ridge Red Wolf of the Week is senior runner William Berger. Last month, Berger ended his career with the Red Wolves as a three-sport athlete. This season, he ran indoor and outdoor track. He started his career as a baseball pitcher, where he played alongside his older brother, Phillip Berger. Will was also a quarterback on the football team. In Cedar Ridge’s opening home outdoor track & field meet this season at Red Wolves Stadium, Berger won the 400 meter dash against ten other competitors against Northwood and Western Alamance. Berger also spent the winter competing in the 500 meter dash for Cedar Ridge indoor track. As a junior, Berger appeared in eight games for the Cedar Ridge baseball team. Two weeks ago, Berger graduated from Cedar Ridge at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill. He aims to continue his track & field career at Wofford University in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he will start taking classes in August. 

Orange Panther of the Week: Justin Conover

This week’s Orange Panther of the Week is men’s tennis player Justin Conover. Last month, Conover and freshman Porter Pelphrey qualified for the 3A State Doubles Championship at the Piedmont Indoor Tennis Center in Greensboro. In the opening round, Conover and Pelphrey defeated Snyder Pearson and Hatten Gore of Wilson Fike 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (7-2). It was the first time that a men’s doubles team from Orange advanced to the second round of the state tournament since they jumped to 3A in 2013. This season, Conover played ten matches as Orange’s top singles player. Among his best victories this year was a win over Jio Sumogod of Northwood 7-5, 7-6 (12-10) on April 4 in Pittsboro. Conover and Pelphrey shared time together in Orange’s #1 singles slot in the spring. Conover went 9-3 in doubles matches this season. Conover and Pelphrey finished 4th in the Mideast Region at the Burlington Tennis Center. Two weeks ago, Conover graduated from Orange at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, which is a building he will get to know very well over the next four years. Conover will start classes at UNC-Chapel Hill in August. 

Cedar Ridge Red Wolf of the Week: Fleury Nicholson

This week’s Cedar Ridge Red Wolf of the Week is freshman women’s soccer striker Fleury Nicholson. This season, Nicholson led the Red Wolves with 12 goals. On April 7, Nicholson had two goals as Cedar Ridge defeated Person 9-0 at Red Wolves Stadium in Hillsborough. Nicholson opened the season scoring two goals as the Red Wolves defeated South Granville 5-0 at Vikings Stadium in Creedmoor. Two nights later, Nicholson had her first career hat trick in her first home game against Clover Garden School. Cedar Ridge defeated the Grizzlies 9-0. Nicholson scored the Red Wolves’ only goal against crosstown rival Orange on April 4 at Red Wolves Stadium. She also scored twice in a 5-0 win over the Durham School of the Arts on April 14. In 12 games this season, Nicholson led the team with 26 points, 33 shots and 26 shots on goal. Cedar Ride went 6-10 this season after losing its all-time goal scorer, Emerson Talley, who graduated in 2021. Nicholson will be a factor for Cedar Ridge women’s soccer for years to come as the Red Wolves look to continue to improve in the Central Carolina Conference. 

Orange Panther of the Week: Ethan Horton

This week’s Orange Panther of the Week is senior runner Ethan Horton. This season, Horton joined Spenser Hampton, Nick Pell and Gabriel Schmid in setting the school-record in the 4×800 relay for the Orange men’s track & field team. Horton, Pell, Hampton and Schmid qualified for the 3A State Championships on May 20 at North Carolina A&T State University. Together, the relay team won the Central Carolina Conference championship at Eastern Alamance High School on April 27. Horton was part of one of the greatest season in Orange High men’s track & field ever. The Panthers finished 2nd in the Mideast Regionals at Franklinton High School on May 13. Horton, Pell, Hampton and Schmid finished 2nd in the region, behind only the team from Northwood. Horton was also part of Orange’s men’s cross country team, which won its first regional championship last October. At the Central Carolina Conference championships at Northwood High School in Pittsboro, Horton finished 10th overall among 44 runners as the Panthers also captured the conference title. As Horton prepares to graduate from Orange High on Friday night at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, he has plenty of lofty expectations ahead. He will head to American University in Washington, D.C. to start his fall semester this August. Horton plans a feature in public service and possibly a future in politics. 

Orange’s Hench named Central Carolina Conference Player of the Year

There are conflicting accounts as to exactly how Ryan Hench earned the nickname “Mayhem.”

One of his parents says it came from his grandmother among the first time she ever saw his rambunctious nature on the baseball diamond.

Hench says it came from Jackson Berini’s grandmother.

“In elementary school, we were leaving class and getting ready to go home,” Hench said after a game last month. “Jackson and I got into her car and basically I had something broken on my body. She said “Good lord, you’re like Mayhem from the Allstate commercials. Always getting something hurt or doing something to get yourself hurt.”

No one could question how Hench got his nickname if they watched Orange’s game against Southern Lee on April 23. In the fourth inning, the Cavaliers’ Ashton Donathan slammed a fly ball toward the infamous left field porch at Orange High Field. It was deep but attainable for Hench in left field. He slammed hard into the fence and went down like he hit a cinderblock wall. After several minutes, he got up. Not only did he finish the game, but he had an RBI single the following inning, and eventually knocked in Berini with a sacrifice fly during an 7th-inning rally that would fall one run short.

Last week, Hench was named the Central Carolina Conference Player of the Year based on a poll of the league’s coaches. Hench was Orange’s top pitcher in its rotation. Even though the run support was lacking during some of his starts, Hench finished 4-2 with a 1.58 ERA.

At the plate, Hench hit .423 with five home runs and 26 RBIs. His five home runs led the CCC.

As a sophomore in 2021, Hench shared the Big 8 Conference Pitcher of the Year award with Northern Durham’s Matthew Lombard.

Hench was Orange’s opening night starter during a season where the Panthers won its first outright conference championship since 2016. In 2021, Orange shared the Big 8 Conference Championship with Northern Durham in a unique format created by the COVID-19 pandemic where only the first meetings between conference rivals counted in the conference standings.

Hench’s hottest stretch of the season came in late March where he went 5-for-6 with seven RBIs, five runs scored, three triples and two home runs over the course of two games. Against Walter Williams on March 22 in Hillsborough, Hench hit 3-for-3 with four RBIs. He had a three-run triple in the first inning, then followed with a solo homer in the third. In the fifth, Hench had another triple. He also earned the win on the mound with eight strikeouts over five innings.

The following night against Southwestern Randolph in Hillsborough, Hench had a two-run triple in the second inning. In the fourth, he slammed another solo homer.

Hench saved some of his best outings against the top teams in the state. Against New Hanover, who was constantly ranked among the top teams in 4A baseball all season, he surrendered just four hits in two innings during a meeting in the Hilltop Invitational in Hillsborough on March 30.

Hench started in the Panthers’ 13-5 victory over Cedar Ridge at Red Wolves Territory, which earned Orange a share of the Central Carolina Conference championship. He struck out 12 over six innings to earn the win. At the plate, Hench had an RBI double in the sixth inning to score Berini as the Panthers broke the game open with four runs in the frame, followed by five more in the seventh inning.

Against Eastern Alamance on April 26, Hench threw six shutout innings in a 2-0 Orange win. He also knocked in both of Orange’s runs. Hench had an RBI single down the third base line in the first inning to bring in Berini, then launched a solo homer to lead off the fifth.

After Orange’s season ended against J.H. Rose in a heartbreaking loss in the third round of the 3A State Playoffs, Hench committed to play baseball at North Carolina.

Kruse, Wimsatt, Cardone named 1st team All-State for Orange Lacrosse

Following the most successful season in Orange lacrosse history, three Panthers have been named 1st-team All-State by the North Carolina Lacrosse Coaches Association.

Sophomore attacker Connor Kruse, junior face-off specialist Jake Wimsatt and junior defenseman Nick Cardone were all honored with selections to the 3A/2A/1A All-State first-team after the Panthers set a school-record with 17 wins this spring.

In addition, junior midfielder Tigh Metheny, long-stick midfielder Aiden Cathey and junior attacker Joe Cady were named 2nd-team All-State.

This year, Orange won its second consecutive conference championship after finishing 11-0 in the Mid-Carolina Conference. They finished 17-3 and hosted the 3A/2A/1A Eastern Regional Championship game at Auman Stadium for the first-time ever. The Panthers won three games in the state playoffs, beating South Brunswick, Walter Williams and Carrboro.

Kruse set a new single-season school record with 77 goals and 136 points. The son of former North Carolina and Johns Hopkins lacrosse player Travis Kruse, Connor opened 2022 with five goals in a win over Vance Charter on March 1. The next night, Kruse scored five goals and dished out five assists in a 14-11 win over East Chapel Hill at Dave Thaden Stadium, the Panthers first-ever win over the Wildcats in men’s lacrosse. Orange coach Chandler Zirkle played lacrosse and football at East Chapel Hill under his father, Franklin, who joined the Panthers’ staff this season.

Kruse had 15 hat tricks this season. From March 8 to April 26, he had a hat trick in ten consecutive games. In the opening round of the state playoffs, Kruse had a season-best seven goals in a 18-5 victory over South Brunswick. Kruse registered a season-high 13 points in the Panthers’ conference-opening win over Western Alamance on March 8 in Hillsborough.

For the second straight season, Wimsatt was Orange’s face-off ace. He won 85% of his draws in 2022. In 2021, Wimsatt won 73% of his face-offs. In 19 of Orange’s 20 games this year, the Panthers won the majority of its face-offs, which helped the Panthers score 260 goals, a school-record. In Orange’s last nine wins, the Panthers won at least 73% of its face-offs, including 89% in a playoff victory over South Brunswick and 92% against Walter Williams in the 3rd round.

Mainly due to his face-off ability, Wimsatt led the team with 186 ground balls. It was the second straight year where he’s led the team in ground balls.

Wimsatt scored 45 goals, which was tied with Metheny for second on the team. He scored 67 points, which was third on the squad. He had a season-high five goals in a 17-10 win over Walter Williams in the 3rd round of the 3A/2A/1A State Playoffs on March 13.

During his 2nd year at the varsity level, Cardone created 28 turnovers and grabbed 63 ground balls. He anchored an Orange defense that allowed only 8.75 goals per game. Cardone had five ground balls in the win over East Chapel Hill. On March 21, Cardone created three turnovers against Northwood as the Panthers came back from a 7-1 deficit to beat the Chargers 14-9 in Pittsboro. Cardone created a turnover in nine consecutive games from March 18 to April 27. He played in all 20 of Orange’s games.

Metheny, in his junior season, was second on the team with 69 points. He was tied with Wimsatt with 45 goals. Metheny scored five goals in a 13-4 win over Carrboro in the state quarterfinals.

Cady had 43 goals in 19 games. On April 26, Cady scored a season-high six goals in a 19-5 win over Eastern Alamance, which ensured a share of the Mid-Carolina Conference championship. Cady had hat tricks in the state playoffs against Williams and South Brunswick.

Cathey, a sophomore, collected 68 ground balls as the Panthers long-stick midfielder. He was third on the team with 14 turnovers created and was a key factor in Orange’s high clearance rate.

Former Cedar Ridge punter Gill signs with Chicago Bears, starts rookie mini-camp

Photo courtesy of

“Are you ready to become a Chicago Bear?” asked Ryan Poles.

Those were the first words that Trenton Gill heard from the Chicago Bears General Manager when he picked up the phone inside his parents’ home in Hillsborough on April 30.

“Yes, sir,” Gill said. “I’m excited to be a Chicago Bear.”

After a one-minute conversation, Gill was officially the 255th overall selection in the seventh round of the 2022 NFL Draft. He was one of four punters selected.

“Everyone got their cameras out in my home when they announced it on television,” Gill said. “They started looking at me, then they looked at the TV. Everyone knows how hard I’ve worked and all about my situation. Just to see them see how it paid off for me was very rewarding. It was a cool experience.”

By the start of May, Gill had already started in rookie mini-camp for a position that’s wide open.

Pat O’Connell, who had been the Bears’ punter for eight seasons, signed a $4 million free agent deal with the Green Bay Packers in March.

Now, Gill is competing to be the man to replace O’Connell, who was selected by the Bears in the sixth-round of the 2014 NFL Draft. In a promising sign, the Bears waived journeyman punter Ryan Winslow on May 17.

As he comes upon the five-year anniversary of his graduation from Cedar Ridge High School, Gill has already accomplished many things that no other Red Wolf has ever done.

He is the first Cedar Ridge football player to ever be selected in the NFL Draft. Though Chicago has struggled in recent years, there’s no other place he would rather be.

“Before the draft, we had a big board of the teams that we wanted to go to,” Gill told the day after he was drafted. “We wanted the best opportunity. Chicago was number one the whole time. It fell in my favor they took me in the draft.”

On May 6, Gill signed a four-year contract with the Bears. Three weeks ago, Gill participated in the first of several organized team activities scheduled for this summer during a period of transition for the venerable franchise.

The tumultuous tenure of former head coach Matt Nagy ended in January after the Bears went 6-11 in 2021. It was the culmination of a total overhaul for a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2010. Poles was hired on January 25 as the new General Manager. Two days later, former Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus was named the Bears’ 17th head coach.

In February, Richard Hightower was added to Eberflus’ staff as special teams coordinator. Eberflus has spent the previous five seasons as the special teams coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers.

“I really like their special teams coordinator,” Gill said. “We got along really well when we spoke. Their philosophy matches my philosophy with the kicking game. There’s a real big opportunity there. They don’t have a real established starter right now. I think I can go in there right now and be the day 1 starter.”

Gill’s rise to NFL draft boards came after a spectacular redshirt junior season at N.C. State. He left Raleigh as the Wolfpack’s all-time leader in career punting average at 46.3 yards. During the 2020 season, Gill was third in the Atlantic Coast Conference with 44.9 yards per punt. He averaged a career-high 54.7 yards on three punts at UNC in 2020 and was named to the All-ACC Academic Team.

Gill’s career at N.C. State ended with exhilaration and disappointment. On November 26, Gill’s final home game at Carter-Finley Stadium ended with a raucous comeback as the Wolfpack stunned archrival North Carolina 34-30 after trailing 30-21 with 2:04 remaining. It was the first time the Wolfpack defeated a Mack Brown-coached UNC team since 1992.

“I love to throw that game on and watch it,” Gill said with a chuckle. “It’s always a great ending. I felt like, as a team, we knew we were going to come back and win that game. We did it at Clemson. We knew we were a better team than Carolina. We knew we could finish games and once we started scoring, it was over for them. We were just certain it was going to happen.”

Gill was supposed to conclude his career in the Holiday Bowl against UCLA. Gill and the rest of the Wolfpack traveling team had already journeyed across the country to San Diego, only to learn just hours before kickoff that the game had been canceled because of a COVID breakout among the Bruins’ players.

As he received the phone call from Poles at his home in Hillsborough with his parents, Gill didn’t necessarily reach the end of a lifelong mission. It was just the reward of plenty of sweat spilled along the way, starting as an adolescent on the playgrounds along N.C. 86.

“I’ve never really thought about being an NFL punter,” Gill said. “I’ve always tried to work really hard and let that take me wherever it’s going to take me. I’ve never thought I would make it to this point. It’s a reality now that I am an NFL punter. But I never really was like ‘This is what I have to do.’ I just kind of enjoyed doing it, enjoyed working hard and this is where it took me.”

When Gill was at Cedar Ridge, he was a three-sport athlete. He played two sports simultaneously during the fall, along with men’s tennis in the spring under head coach Lennie Corbett.

When August rolled around, Gill would play for the Red Wolves soccer team under then-head coach Chris Walker. On Friday nights, he would wear the #99 jersey (#11 in his sophomore season) under head coaches Scott Loosemore and Clay Jones to serve as the triple-threat kicker for the football team.

“Everyone was really nice at Cedar Ridge,” Gill said. “They really helped me build me up to where I was when I started at N.C. State. I wouldn’t have been the same player at N.C. State without my upbringing through Cedar Ridge and Hillsborough. At Stanback Middle School and New Hope Elementary. All of those places made me what I am today. And without that, I would be a totally different person.”

In his senior year, Gill led the Red Wolves soccer team with 16 goals, which led to Cedar Ridge making the 3A State Playoffs. He also played on the last Cedar Ridge football team to have a winning season in 2016, beating Northern Vance in the season-finale in Henderson to finish 6-5.

He hasn’t forgotten Hillsborough. During his time at N.C. State, Gill raised $12,000 for new playground equipment for New Hope Elementary School. Unbeknownst to him as a fifth-grader, it was the place where Gill started that has led him to the NFL.

“What I learned at Cedar Ridge, at Stanback and at New Hope will be instilled within me,” Gill said. “I’ll try to keep promoting Cedar Ridge, no matter where I’m at. I’d love to do some fundraising for Cedar Ridge football someday and help them out. That’s the way I started my football career and if I could help out future student-athletes at Cedar Ridge, that would be great.”

Cedar Ridge Red Wolf of the Week: Caroline Fowlkes

This week’s Cedar Ridge Red Wolf of the Week is senior pole vaulter Caroline Fowlkes. On May 20, Fowlkes won the 3A State Championship inside Truist Stadium at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro. Fowlkes won the state championship in a jump-off against West Carteret’s Alyssa Cooley after they both failed to clear 11-feet. In the final jump of her Cedar Ridge career, Fowlkes cleared 10’6’ to earn the state title. She became the first Cedar Ridge track & field athlete to win a state championship since 2015. She is the first 3A State Champion in school history. Fowlkes had a dominant spring. She finished first in all nine events she competed in. At the Central Carolina Conference Championships at the John Kirby Sports Complex in Mebane, Fowlkes reached her personal best at 11’6”, over three-and-a-half feet better than the runner-up. Fowlkes is a member of Cedar Ridge’s International Baccalaureate Program and has a 4.0 grade-point-average. She also completed as a high jumper this season. Fowlkes also competed in cross country at Cedar Ridge. After she graduates on Friday, Fowlkes will prepare to start at Appalachian State this August. 

Alumni Update: Riley ends career with Liberty baseball; Berini heads to Super Regional with ECU

Landon Riley: The Liberty Flames baseball team had a heartbreaking end to its season. In the Gainesville Regional of the NCAA Tournament, Central Michigan defeated Liberty 3-2 in 12 innings on Saturday. Earlier in the tournament, #9 Oklahoma defeated the Flames 16-3. Riley threw the eighth inning of the loss to the Sooners. Liberty, who gained an at-large selection to the tournament, ends the year 37-22. Riley’s career in Lynchburg also came to an end. In the Atlantic Sun Tournament at Swanson Stadium in Fort Myers, Florida, Liberty advanced to the final. On May 27, the Flames moved on to the championship with a 18-9 win over Eastern Kentucky. Riley threw one-and-one-thirds innings and gave up just one run off one hit. He struck out one. Kennesaw State defeated Liberty for the Atlantic Sun Tournament championship. This season, Riley made eleven pitching appearances. He didn’t record a decision and finished with a 4.09 ERA. He had 13 strikeouts and ten walks. Over his four years with Liberty, Riley had a 6-0 record over 48 relief appearances. He made the 2021 All-Atlantic Sun Academic team. In his junior season, Riley posted a 2-0 record with five saves and a 4.00 ERA in 18 innings. He struck out 19 and walked nine.

Joey Berini: The #8 East Carolina Pirates won the Greenville Regional on Monday. The Pirates defeated Coastal Carolina 13-4 at Clark-LeClair Stadium to advance to the Super Regional for the third-straight year and the seventh time in program history. In the regional championship clinching win over the Chanticleers, Berini went 2-for-3 with a run scored. Berini checked into the game in the fourth inning with ECU leading 4-2 and had a single to right field. With the Pirates leading 8-2 in the seventh, Berini singled to right field. He eventually scored off a three-run home run by Bryson Worrell. The Pirates started off the regional with a 17-1 win over Coppin State. Berini went 1-for-2 against the Eagles. He checked in during the sixth inning as a pinch-hitter and remained at second base. Berini hit a leadoff single in the eighth inning and eventually scored off a double by Joey Rezek. ECU is 45-19 and will face #9 Texas in the best-of-three Super Regional starting this Friday in Greenville.

Bryse Wilson: On May 23, Wilson was optioned by the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Indianapolis Indians of the International League. With Pittsburgh, Wilson was 0-3 with a 7.53 ERA in 28-and-two-thirds innings. He had 24 strikeouts and 14 walks. On Friday, Wilson earned the win as Indianapolis defeated the Omaha Storm Chasers 5-2 at Werner Park in Papillion, NE. Over seven innings, Wilson yielded only two runs off three hits. He had five strikeouts and one walk to earn his second win in as many stars with Indianapolis. In his first start with the Indians, Wilson earned the win in Indianapolis’ 7-4 victory over the St. Paul Saints at CHS Field in Minnesota. Over six innings, Wilson struck out eight. He surrendered four runs off six hits and one walk.

Mia Davidson: After her softball career at Mississippi State ended in the Super Regionals of the NCAA Tournament, Mia Davidson was named the Diamond Sports/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Catcher of the Year. Davidson was also voted as a unanimous first-team All-American by and the NFCA. It is the second time in her career that Davidson was named an All-American. She is the fifth player in Mississippi State history to earn All-American honors in multiple seasons. This season, Davidson was named first-team All-Southeastern Conference after she led Mississippi State in nine categories. She had a .366 batting average with 23 home runs, 45 RBIs and a .545 on-base percentage. Davidson will play with Athletes Unlimited starting next month.