BURLINGTON–For a team with high expectations, there’s a time when seniors need to take control.

For Mason Cates, that time was Tuesday night in Burlington.

Cates drove in two runs, scored two runs, and earned the first win of the season for the Cedar Ridge baseball team against Walter Williams. After building a 6-1 lead, the Red Wolves wore their fingernails down to the bone in holding on for a 7-6 win in its Central Conference opener.

Junior Quinn Finnegan came on in relief and nailed down the final two outs for his first save. Cedar Ridge lost 10-0 to the Bulldogs last year in Burlington, but never trailed on Tuesday night.

Cedar Ridge (1-2) was supposed to have four nonconference games to prepare for its conference opener, but only two of those were played after contests at Carrboro and Northern Guilford were rained out. In a wide-open Central Conference, the Red Wolves had little time to prepare for a veteran Williams team that returned seven starters, including 2023 league Pitcher of the Year Tate Jones.

“It seems like every year we’re struggling to get in games because of an umpire shortage,” said Cedar Ridge coach Bryson Massey. “We scheduled out schedule tough to challenge our guys. I thought it would prepare our guys once we got here. We played two quality teams and I think it prepared us well for the end of the game tonight.”

Cedar Ridge led 6-1 going into the bottom of the sixth inning before Williams catcher Dan Mahan, who has committed to play football at Appalachian State, belted a solo homer over the left field wall onto adjacent Memorial Stadium. Jones legged out an infield single that narrowly beat a throw from Cates, who moved over to second base after being replaced as pitcher by sophomore Nick Aitkin. Williams’ Vince Coker lined a triple over the head of centerfielder Landon Dalehite to score Jones and cut the Red Wolf lead to 6-3.

The Red Wolves earned a crucial insurance run in the seventh. Kevin Jones walked. After Carter Warren came on as a pinch-runner for Jones, Finnegan moved Warren to second on a sacrifice bunt. Warren raced to third after a wild pitch and eventually scored off another wild pitch with Aitkin at bat to put the Red Wolf lead to 7-3.

That turned to be crucial after the Bulldogs sent nine batters to the plate in the seventh inning. With one out, Aidan Pulliam walked. Dylan Brooks sliced a soft liner into right field. Trace Hicks walked to load the bases. James Cooper grounded a ball to shortstop that was booted into centerfield, scoring Pulliam and Brooks.

Finnegan was summoned from right field to take over as pitcher. Mahan lifted a soft pop-up to centerfield to load the bases once again. Jones grounded a ball back to Finnegan, who threw to catcher David Schoof to retire Charles Smith, running for Hicks. Coker was hit by a pitch, scoring Cooper to trim the Cedar Ridge lead to 7-6. Angel Mora grounded out to Aitkin at second base for the final out.

Cedar Ridge scored in each of its first four at bats with Cates doing the most damage. After Ian McGuffey drew a walk in the first, Cates lined an 0-1 fastball to the gap in right centerfield, the deepest part of the park. McGuffey scored from first as Cates pulled up for a stand-up triple. The cutoff throw went to third base and wound up against the fence, leading Cates to score, as well.

Mahan scored the opening run for the Bulldogs in the first. He led off with a single to right field, stole second and third bases, then scored off a single from Coker to right.

The difference between the two teams was fielding. The Bulldogs committed three errors, leading to three unearned Red Wolf runs. Finnegan sent an opposite field single to left field to lead off the second. Grant McGuffey walked. After Schoof bunted Finnegan and McGuffey up 90 feet each, Aitkin sent a roller up the middle. Mora chased down the ball behind second base, but threw it away trying to nab Aitkin. Finnegan scored off the hit and McGuffey came in off the error.

In the third, Finnegan sent a fly ball to centerfield that appeared to end the inning. But the ball was dropped, leading to Cates scoring after he drew a walk earlier. That increased the Red Wolf lead to 5-1.

Aitkin was hit by a pitch to begin the fourth, followed by a walk to leadoff batter Landon Dalehite, which led to Trace Hicks being replaced as pitcher by Nathan Billings. Cates lined a single to left field to score Dalehite and the Red Wolves led 6-1.

While the Red Wolves return eight starters, they also started two freshmen in the field against the Bulldogs. But their most experienced pitchers paved the way to victory in its conference opener.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *