For the second year in a row, the road to the 3A/2A/1A State Championship Men’s Lacrosse game will run through Hillsborough.

The Orange lacrosse team received a #1 seed for the East Region in the 3A/2A/1A State Championship brackets released by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association on Friday. The Panthers, who won the Mid-Carolina Conference championship after going through league play undefeated, will face Eastern Alamance or J.F. Webb in the second round on Friday night at Auman Stadium.

The Eagles and the Warriors will meet on Tuesday night in Oxford.

There are plenty of familiar teams that stand in the way of Orange’s path to a second straight trip to the Eastern Regional championship game, both conference rivals and otherwise. If Orange reaches the third round, they will ¬†face either Western Alamance or First Flight.

Last May, First Flight frustrated the Panthers and held them to one goal over 23:26 in a 15-7 win to take the Eastern Regional Championship at Auman Stadium. The Nighthawks were led by then-junior Jacob Gray, who scored five goals. This season, Gray is absent from the roster of First Flight, who are 7-5.

Western Alamance played both of its games against Orange in the opening three weeks of the season. The Panthers won 17-12 in Elon, and held off the Warriors 13-9 in Hillsborough.

Orange rolled to another conference championship this season despite the loss of a major cog in its machine. Senior Jake Wimsatt, a three-year varsity performer, injured his MCL early in the season. Wimsatt likely holds the school-record with 361 career face-off wins, but hasn’t played since March 9. Wimsatt was instrumental in the Panthers’ first great postseason run in 2021 when they upset Northwood 10-9 at Auman Stadium to reach the state quarterfinals.

In the absence of Wimsatt, freshman Matthew Macneir has stepped in and learned on the job. Macneir has won 125 face-offs in 183 attempts.

The core of Orange’s scoring hasn’t changed. Junior Connor Kruse, the all-time goals leader in school history, has 63 goals and 68 assists. He needs just five points to pass his own single-season scoring record, which he set last season. In 2022, Kruse’s first full-season at Orange, he scored a school-record 77 goals and 59 assists.

Senior attacker Joe Cady has scored 35 goals. That includes five hat tricks. In Orange’s 11-8 win over Northwood on March 20 in Hillsborough, Cady scored four goals while the Chargers defense was focused on Kruse, who was limited to one goal in the first half. Cady has also had hat tricks against Eastern Alamance, East Chapel Hill, Western Alamance and Seaforth.

With Wimsatt’s scoring punch missing, senior Tigh Metheny has registered a career-high 50 goals. Metheny. who signed to play with Division II Catawba College two weeks ago, had a season-high six goals against Eastern Alamance on April 21. He has eleven hat tricks this season, including scoring five points in a 17-4 win over Walter Williams on April 4.

Orange’s defense has also been strong throughout the year. Junior goalkeeper Katie Wolter, in her second year as a starter, has made 116 saves and has a .506 save percentage in 466 minutes.

Senior Nick Cardone, who also signed to play with Catawba, has created a team-best 32 turnovers. Josiah Tisdale, a senior who has signed with Methodist University, has 23 ground balls. Longstick midfielder Alden Cathey, a junior has 72 ground balls and has created 25 turnovers.

Croatan, the champions of the Northeastern Coastal Conference, earned the #2 seed. The Cougars split the season series with First Flight. Northwood earned the #7 seed and will face crosstown rival Seaforth at Chargers Stadium this Friday night in the first-ever state playoff matchup between the two Pittsboro rivals in any sport.

Jacksonville received the #3 seed while Carrboro is #4.

For the first time, the 3A/2A/1A State Championship Game will be played at Durham County Stadium, the longtime home of the Northern Durham High football team.

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