Month: April 2024

Orange pitcher Cross Clayton discusses 20th career win

It’s been eight years since an Orange pitcher won 20 games in his career. On Tuesday night, senior Cross Clayton became the first Panther hurler to do it since Bryse Wilson. Clayton made it an outing to remember, throwing a 5-inning no hitter as the Panthers defeated Eastern Alamance 11-0 at Panther Field in its final regular season home game of the season. Clayton allowed just one baserunner to get onboard, off an error in the fourth inning. Up to that point, Clayton had retired the first eleven batters he faced. Clayton is the first pitcher from Hillsborough to earn 20 wins since Phillip Berger won 21 games for Cedar Ridge from 2016-2019. The victory over Eastern Alamance was Clayton’s second career no-hitter. In 2022, he threw a five-inning perfect game against Cedar Ridge, which clinched the regular season Central Conference championship. Clayton is now 14-1 lifetime against conference opponents. He needed just 49 pitches to finish five innings against the Eagles. Ryan Honeycutt hit a grand slam for the Panthers to complete a 10-run third inning. Clayton struck out six against the Eagles in his second career win against the Eagles. Orange will finish the regular season with a road trip to Mebane to face the Eagles on Friday night. With a win, they will clinch a share of the regular season championship. 

Orange senior Cross Clayton discuses 20th career win

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20th Century Cross: Clayton wins 20th career game in 5-inning no-hitter, Orange blanks Eastern Alamance 11-0

On March 1, 2022, Cross Clayton was one of several Orange baseball hopefuls trying to prove themselves as life returned to normal after the pandemic.

On a chilly, blustery day in Hillsborough, he entered a game against Northern Durham and threw a scoreless sixth inning to keep Orange’s deficit at 1-0. It would turn into Clayton’s first win when David Waitt stroked a two-run single to cap a three-run sixth.

Three years later, Clayton has become the winningest pitcher in Orange baseball since Bryse Wilson, who is now in his sixth Major League season with the Milwaukee Brewers.

On Tuesday night, Clayton earned his 20th career victory as Orange easily defeated Eastern Alamance 11-0 in five innings. In his final regular season start at Panther Field, Clayton threw a five-inning no-hitter. The only Eagle to reach, Jarrett Newell, got aboard off an error at second base with two out in the fourth inning after Clayton had retired the first eleven batters he faced.

Clayton ended the night with six strikeouts and no walks. He retired 15 out of the 16 batters he faced on only 49 pitches, 38 of which were strikes.

Clayton is just the third pitcher from Hillsborough in the last decade to win 20 career games. Cedar Ridge’s Phillip Berger won 21 from 2016-2019. He went on to pitch at Division III William Peace University. Wilson holds the Orange record with 33 career victories–and that came after he threw only three games his sophomore year because of an injured shoulder.

The Panthers (16-5, 8-3 in the Central Conference) remained tied for first in the loss column with Southern Alamance for first place in the Central Conference. Orange will travel to Eastern Alamance for its regular season finale on Friday night. With a win, Orange will take a share of the conference championship, which would be its fourth straight league title.

Southern Alamance’s game against Western Alamance was postponed on Tuesday night because a power line was cut hours before the first pitch in Graham. The game was rescheduled for Wednesday night at 5.

“He’s one of the best arms that I’ve had the pleasure and honor of coaching in my 24 years,” said Orange coach Jason Knapp. “That says a lot because I’ve been around some really good pitchers. He pounds the zone. He was a bad hop away from a perfect game.”

Orange was going against one of the hottest pitchers in the Central Conference in Eastern’s Jarrett Newell, who had allowed only five runs in his previous three starts. Orange’s Cameron Guentensberger sent a fly ball over the head of right fielder James Wellons in the first inning. The very next pitch to Kayden Bradsher was stroked into right field for an RBI single, which was all the run support that Clayton needed.

Turns out, he got more. Much more.

Guentensberger started a 10-run third inning by reaching on an error at third base. Bradsher laid down a sacrifice bunt, but the throw went to second base where Guentensberger beat out the throw. Orange loaded the bases when Ryan Honeycutt walked. Oliver Van Tiem drove in a run off a walk. Wyatt Hedrick dropped a bloop single into centerfield to score Bradsher. Designated hitter Garrett Sawyer lined a two-run single to left field to increase the Orange lead to 6-0. Hedrick would score off a wild pitch. With Guentensberger, Dominic O’Keefe and Elijah Santos on base, Honeycutt delivered his first career grand slam over the centerfield fence. Honeycutt now has four home runs, which leads the team. It was his first career grand slam.

After Van Tiem retired Merchel for the game’s final out, Clayton was presented with a poster created by Orange’s Baseball booster to commemorate is 20th career win.

Orange Panther of the Week: Jared Hutchins

This week’s Orange Panther of the Week is senior wrestler Jared Hutchins. This year, Hutchins was named the Central Conference Most Outstanding Wrestler from 106-to-144 pounds. He finished 3rd in the state at 132-pounds, defeating Gavin Cryderman of Enka 1o-8 in the 3rd place match at the Greensboro Coliseum. He ended his senior year with a 35-5 record, surpassing 100 career wins in January. In December, Hutchins won the Eastern Alamance Eagle Invitational in Mebane. He defeated Cameron Stokes of Bartlett Yancey via pinfall in the championship match. Hutchins finished the season with 25 pins. Hutchins finished sixth in the Tiger Holiday Classic at Chapel Hill High School. Hutchins won the Mideast Regional championship at 144 pounds. he defeated Logan Mitchell of Union Pines 14-6 in the championship match. Leading up to that point, Hutchins had pins over Cristian Ramos of Douglas Byrd, Chasen Phillips of Eastern Alamance and he also pinned Jameer Farmer of Person to qualify for the state championships. Hutchins was one of the leaders for the Panthers on a young team. Hutchins also claimed the championship of the Joe Via Memorial Tournament at South Stokes High School in December. Hutchins will graduate in June after winning three conference championships in wrestling for Orange under head coach Spenser Poteat.

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This week’s Orange Panther of the Week is senior wrestler Jared Hutchins. This year, Hutchins was named the Central Conference Most Outstanding Wrestler from 106-to-144 pounds. He finished 3rd in the state at 132-pounds, defeating Gavin Cryderman of Enka 1o-8 in the 3rd place match at the Greensboro Coliseum.

Orange lacrosse receives #1 seed in 3A/2A/1A State Tournament; Cedar Ridge to host West Carteret Wednesday

The Cedar Ridge lacrosse team will host its first game in the state playoffs since 2022 following the release of the 3A/2A/1A State Lacrosse brackets finalized by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

As expected, Orange received the #1 seed in the East Region after going 20-1 in the regular season, the best winning percentage in team history going into the playoffs.

Cedar Ridge, led by first-year head coach Joe De Leo, will host West Carteret in a first-round game at Red Wolves Stadium on Wednesday night at 6PM. The Red Wolves received a #14 seed. It will be the Red Wolves first home playoff game since they defeated Western Alamance in 2022 behind Roman Oguntoyinbo, who scored nine goals in an 18-5 win. The Patriots will arrive in Hillsborough with a 3-7 record. They went 0-4 in the Coastal Conference.

The winner of Cedar Ridge-West Carteret will travel to Kill Devil Hills to face 3rd-seeded First Flight in the second round. As fate would have it, Cedar Ridge’s last playoff game came against First Flight, which the Nighthawks won 14-10. First Flight would go on to win the 3A/2A/1A Eastern Regional championship, beating Orange in Hillsborough 13-7 for the title.

Cedar Ridge, led by senior Jacob Driver, won five of seven games during a stretch in April to return to the state playoffs. The Red Wolves defeated Southeast Alamance 21-5 at Red Wolves Stadium on April 19, a game where Driver finished with six goals. Cedar Ridge also defeated Eastern Alamance 11-5 on April 23 in Hillsborough. They finished the regular season 9-10 overall, 6-10 in the Mid-Piedmont Conference.

For the third year in a row, the road to the 3A/2A/1A State Championship game will run through Auman Stadium in Hillsborough. Orange won a school-record 16 conference games in the Mid-Piedmont and finished 17-0 against opposition in its same classification this year. The Panthers received a bye into the second round and are scheduled to play on Saturday night, though that is subject to change, against the winner of Southern Alamance vs. Northside-Jacksonville. The Patriots and the Monarchs will face off in Graham on Wednesday.

The Panthers already have defeated Southern Alamance twice this year. Orange defeated the Patriots 18-5 on March 25 in Graham, a game where Orange midfielder Connor Kruse tied the national record with 16 assists in one game. 17 different Orange players scored goals in the opening meeting against the Patriots. On April 22, Orange routed the Patriots 20-1 at Auman Stadium. Junior Gray Crabtree finished with seven goals, while Luke Nevius and Kruse each had a hat trick.

If Orange faces Northside-Jacksonville, it would be a flashback for Orange head coach Chandler Zirkle. His first playoff win as a head coach came in Jacksonville against the Monarchs, a 17-13 victory on May 2, 2019. Dylan Boyer scored four goals as the Panthers never trailed. To show how much Orange lacrosse has progressed, it was just the second-ever playoff win for Orange. In the past two years, the Panthers have won a total of six playoff games.

Orange could play a series of conference rivals in the opening two rounds. If the Panthers can reach the third round, they would face either Seaforth or Western Alamance. This season, Seaforth was the main challenger to the Panthers throne. The Hawks, a 2A team out of Pittsboro now in its third year, finished 2nd in the Mid-Piedmont with a 14-2 mark.

Orange set a team record scoring 355 goals this season. It will be the last playoff run for seniors Connor Kruse, Katie Wolter, defensemen Sascha Van Praag, Alden Cathey and Jace Womble, attackers Josh Crabtree, Brennan Barker, Bryce Nelson and midfielders Josh Cowan, Josh Merrill and Nate Sorrells along with goalkeeper Parker Christie-Pohl.

Crabtree has committed to play with Methodist. Kruse and Van Praag have signed with Division II Lenoir-Rhyne. Wolter will play women’s lacrosse at Elon. Cathey has signed with Arcadia University in Pennsylvania.


Cedar Ridge Red Wolf of the Week: Pierce Prescod

This week’s Cedar Ridge Red Wolf of the Week is junior wrestler Pierce Prescod. This season, Prescod finished 47-11 and had 36 pins. He won the 120-pound Central Conference championship at Walter Williams High School. He pinned Pedro Manuel Ramon of Walter Williams and Adrian Sierra of Orange to win the tournament. It was a season full of individual accolades in tournaments for Prescod. He captured the Red Wolf Invitational in November, when he pinned Bearik Bigelow of Green Hope in the championship match. This year, Cedar Ridge won the Central Conference championship, its first-ever team championship as a 3A team and only its second in wrestling. They defeated crosstown rival Orange for the first time in history. He also finished third in the prestigious Tiger Holiday Invitational at Chapel Hill High School. Prescod went undefeated in league matches, going 10-0 including the Central Conference Tournament and state dual tournament. Cedar Ridge reached the state quarterfinals of the 3A State Dual Team Tournament at Currituck County, winning in the opening round over Carrboro and then pinning Person’s Julian Combs. It was Cedar Ridge’s best-ever showing in the 3A State Dual Team Tournament. Presocd finished 4th in the Gate City Grapple. Prescod will be relied upon to be one of the leaders for next year’s Cedar Ridge wrestling team as he enters his senior year.

Cedar Ridge Red Wolf of the Week: Pierce Prescod

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Former Orange linebacker Wilson drafted in 3rd round by Pittsburgh Steelers

Photo by Chad and Tracey Wilson 

The speculation is over and the mock drafts are now pointless.

Payton Wilson has become the highest-selected Hillsborough product ever chosen in the NFL Draft.

Wilson was picked in the third round, 98th overall, by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Friday night in Detroit. He leaves N.C. State after a historic senior season which saw him earn numerous postseason accolades.

In December, Wilson was the winner of the Butkus Award, which recognizes the top linebacker in college football. Wilson was also won the Chuck Bednarik Award for best overall Defensive Player. He was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and had double-digit tackles in nine of his final 12 games for the Wolfpack.

He is the first N.C. State linebacker to be selected in the NFL Draft since Germaine Pratt in 2019.

Wilson watched the draft with his father Chad, a former Orange High nose tackle who graduated in 1990, and his mother Tracey.

In the weeks leading up to the draft, there were mock drafts that listed Wilson as a potential late second-round pick. On Saturday, the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Wilson doesn’t have an ACL in one of his knees.

Wilson first tore his ACL late in his senior season in a game at Cedar Ridge. He was injured as he delivered the opening kickoff and never played for the Panthers again. He missed Orange’s loss to Cape Fear, the last time a football state playoff game was contested inside Auman Stadium.

“He was a guy we had high on our board,” said Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Teryl Austin during a press conference on Friday. “We liked him as a football player. Obviously very productive, fast, really has good football instincts and everything you want in a football player. To see him where he was and have the opportunity to get him, we thought that was a good thing.”

Wilson is the second Orange High product to be selected in the NFL Draft in modern history. The only other one is Alvis Whitted, who was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 7th round of the 1998 Draft out of N.C. State. Whitted went on to become the only Orange Panther to ever play in the Super Bowl. As a member of the Oakland Raiders, he was on special teams in Super Bowl XXXVII against Tampa Bay in 2003, the so-called “Gruden Bowl” where then-Tampa head coach Jon Gruden faced his former team. Whitted now the wide receivers coach at the University of Utah.

Wilson was a three-sport athlete at Orange. In 2016, he was a junior on the first Orange team to have a perfect regular season in 38 years. He registered 127 tackles and 39 tackles for loss, along with 13 sacks. Playing alongside defensive end Stone Edwards (whose career at Vanderbilt was cut short due to an ankle injury) and Keshawn Thompson (who played at Campbell for five years), the Orange defense allowed just two offensive touchdowns in eleven regular season games en route to the Big 8 Championship.

Legendary Orange wrestling coach Bobby Shriner’s final match came when Wilson won the 220-pound state championship in 2017 at the Greensboro Coliseum. In a crazy finish, Wilson led Hickory Ridge’s Dan Louba 4-3 in the final second of the third period. Louba shot in for a takedown as the clock expired. The referees ruled he scored the takedown before the final buzzer, momentarily giving Louba a 5-4 win for the state championship. And the first person to beat Wilson all year.

In a scene eerily similar to the Dusty Rhodes finishes in the Greensboro Coliseum during the mid-1980s, Louba began celebrating with his coaches. Meanwhile, Shriner appealed to the tournament director. Even though there were two referees, neither of them watched the clock as it ran out. The mat maids from Eden Morehead High (which, in another irony, had been a huge rival of Orange) said the clock had expired before Louba scored the takedown.

Wilson was declared the winner, Shriner’s 24th individual state champion. A month later, Shriner retired.

Wilson was also a lacrosse midfielder for two seasons, where he was particularly effective on faceoffs.

The selection by Pittsburgh continues the Wilson family’s unusual ties with the Steel City. Wilson’s older brother, Bryse, made his major league pitching debut for the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park in 2018 against the Pirates. Wilson won the opening game against Pittsburgh, throwing five innings. In July 2021, Bryse was traded to Pittsburgh, where he would spend the next 18 months before being designated for assignment and signing with the Milwaukee Brewers, where he has become an effective arm out of the bullpen.

Orange’s Kruse becomes all-time leading scorer in North Carolina lax history in win over Northwood

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Since February, Connor Kruse’s farewell tour at Orange has consisted of him breaking or tying national and school records.

In his final regular season game, Kruse permanently etched his name in the North Carolina lacrosse record books.

On Friday night, Kruse broke the record for most career points by a player in North Carolina history. Kruse assisted for his fifth point of the game in the Panthers 14-3 win over Northwood in Pittsboro. It was his 505th career point, breaking the record held by Middle Creek’s Owen Caputo, who went on to play five seasons at Duke, reaching the Final Four twice.

Orange’s victory over the Chargers concluded an undefeated run to the Mid-Piedmont Conference championship, its fourth consecutive title. The Panthers also swept the season series from the Chargers, the defending 3A/2A/1A Eastern Regional champions.

Kruse holds virtually every offensive record in the Panther record book since he started playing during the pandemic-shortened season in 2021, which was the first great team in Orange lacrosse history. A year after playing in the final athletic event in the history of Stanford Middle School before it was renamed, Kruse played on the first unit alongside Ryan Merrill, Cy Horner and Caleb Davis. Facing Northwood in the round of 16 in the state playoffs, Kruse scored the game-winning goal as a freshman with 5:27 remaining in the fourth quarter off a feed from Horner, who now plays at Methodist University. It was the first time the Panthers reached the state quarterfinals.

On March 25, Kruse tied the national record with 16 assists in Orange’s 18-5 win over Southern Alamance at Dedmon Stadium in Graham. The only other recorded player in American high school history with 16 assists was Ryan Stadelmaier of Midland-Dow High in Michigan. In 2021, Stadlemaier had 16 assists against Linden High on May 20, 2022.

This year, Kruse has broken his own single-season record for most points in a year. He finished the regular season with 178 points across 21 games, where Orange finished 20-1, a new team record for most wins in a regular season. Last year, he tallied 150 points in 22 games. Earlier this year, he became the first Orange player with 400 career points in the Southern Alamance victory.

With attackers like Brian Williams, Brett Clark, Gray Crabtree, Matthew Macneir and Max Stern joining veterans Josh Crabtree and Josh Cowan, Kruse has set a new single-season assist record with 107 this year. The Panthers have defeated 4A teams like Apex, Jordan and Pinecrest, the latter game ending in overtime when Kruse assisted on the game-winning goal scored by Williams to cap a game that had 25 penalties, which had to be another record of some sort.

He holds the single-season school record for most goals in a year with 69, set in 2023. Going into the Northwood game, Kruse has 62 this season. Later this week, he will have a chance to set a new mark when Orange starts play in the 3A/2A/1A State Playoffs. The Panthers will be the #1 seed for the East Region after being the top-ranked RPI team for the entire season. The official bracket will be released today (Monday).

Last year, Kruse committed to play at Lenoir-Rhyne, along with teammate Sascha Van Praag. Earlier this weekend, Lenoir-Rhyne won the South Atlantic Conference Tournament championship. Last year, the Bears won the Division II National Championship for the first time.

Kruse is the son of Travis Kruse, who spent the first two seasons of his college career playing at Johns Hopkins. Eventually, Kruse transferred to North Carolina, where he played his final two years.

The Panthers win over Northwood extended its conference regular season winning streak to 44 straight games. Orange hasn’t lost a regular season conference game since April 27, 2019, when they fell to Northwood.

Orange Panther of the Week: Ryan Horton

This week’s Orange Panther of the Week is senior catcher Ryan Horton. This season, Horton is tied for the team lead for home runs. On March 26, Horton hit two home runs as Orange defeated Northern Guilford 8-4. He became the first Orange player to hit two home runs in a game since Dante DeFranco did it against Northern Durham in 2019. Against Western Alamance on March 25, Horton went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, including a two-run double in the sixth inning that paved the way for Orange’s first conference win. Horton had a two-run double against Cedar Ridge in a 10-4 win at Red Wolves Field. This season, Horton is hitting .359 and leads the team with 17 RBIs. He has been Orange’s starting catcher the past two years and provided valuable experience on offense after the Panthers lost six starters from last year. Horton had an RBI single against Southern Alamance on Friday night, which put the Panthers back in a tie for first place in the Central Conference. Last week, Horton went 3-for-4 on senior night as the Panthers defeated Voyager Academy. Against Person on April 27, Horton went 2-for-3 with an RBI single in the first inning. After he graduates from Orange next month, Horton will attend Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA.

Orange Panther of the Week: Ryan Horton

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