It finally felt like a baseball conference opener.
Cedar Ridge baseball coach Bryson Massey played tennis on Wednesday afternoon with highs reaching the lower-70s. It was several hours before his Red Wolves were set to face Walter Williams in both teams’ Central Carolina Conference opener.
He also knew by the time first pitch rolled around, the early spring conditions would yield to more familiar weather that’s typical for early March. Sure enough, temperatures dipped to 55 degrees by game time and wind gusts were at 35 miles-per-hour by the time the sixth inning rolled around.
Fortunately, senior pitcher B.J. Thornton had enough blood flowing through his body that the cold weather didn’t seem to matter.
In his first start of the season, Thornton allowed only four hits in five-plus innings. Another senior, Mason Cates, had a two-run single in the third inning to propel the Red Wolves past Walter Williams 6-2 on Tuesday night at Red Wolves Stadium.
Cedar Ridge (2-0, 1-0 in the Central Carolina Conference) avenged a bitter loss to the Bulldogs last season when Williams came back from an 8-5 deficit with an inside the park grand slam in the seventh inning.
It’s the first time the Red Wolves won won its conference opener since 2021 when they defeated Northwood in Pittsboro.
Thornton got the starting nod to start a busy week for the Red Wolves.
“Going into the conference, we knew we wanted to hand the ball to a senior,” Massey said. “B.J.’s been through this. He’s played with me for four years and he knows what my expectations are. He told me before the game ‘Coach, I got you.’ I knew he was locked in and ready to go.”
Cedar Ridge stormed out to a 6-0 lead starting with a run in the first inning. Isaac Anderson reached on an infield hit, Thornton was hit by a pitch and Cates walked to load the bases. Junior Kevin Jones was hit by a pitch to bring in Anderson.
With one out in the second inning, Landon Dalehite launched a double to the gap. Quinn Finnegan, who hit a fastball deep into the teeth of a brisk wind that was caught in the first inning, sent an 0-1 curveball over the right fielder’s head to the wall. Dalehite scored easily to make it 2-0. After Thornton was beaned again, Cates lined a single to right centerfield to score Finnegan and Thornton.
Williams, led by former Cedar Ridge coach Jamie Athas, had early chances to score but failed. Tate Jones was stranded at third base in the first inning after Ethan George flew out to Anderson in centerfield. Jones singled and stole second in the third inning. With one out, Dan Mahan sent a flair down the left field line where Dalehite made a sprawling catch to save a run. That started a string of Thornton setting down eight consecutive Bulldogs.
The Red Wolves tacked on two more in the fifth. Jones was hit by a pitch and moved over to second after a sacrifice bunt by Nicholas Aitkin. Grant McGuffey sent a fly ball down the right field line that fell in front of a Bulldog. Jones came home and McGuffey advanced to third base after a throwing error. Dalehite stroked a single up the middle to plate McGuffey.
Jones scored the Bulldogs first run when he led off the sixth with a dribbler up the middle for a single. Ethan George reached on an error. Vince Coker singled in Jones. Coleman Mahan knocked in George with a single to left field.
Joe Garbee replaced Thornton with two out in the sixth inning and finished the game on the hill to secure the win.
Williams (2-2, 0-1) was coming off a victory over Southern Alamance in Burlington, its first win over the Patriots in ten years.
It was the first of three games in three days for the Red Wolves. Cedar Ridge will travel to Jordan-Matthews on Wednesday, then go to Burlington to face Williams to complete the two-game conference series on Thursday.
“We’re a young team and this is a challenge,” Massey said. “Three games in a row is a challenge and we’ll find out what we’re made of against two good teams. We’ll be ready tomorrow and go down to Siler City and see what team shows up.”