The Orange lacrosse team’s road to hosting a third straight 3A/2A/1A Eastern Regional championship game didn’t start in February, when they defeated 4A foe Apex in the season-opener.

It didn’t start when practice got underway last winter. Or during last summer with players journeying across the Mid-Atlantic Region playing for assorted travel teams, like the Carolina Hilltoppers.

It started in the Orange locker room at the football fieldhouse on May 16, 2023. That’s when a subdued group gathered one final time for the season moments after Northwood stunned Orange 10-8 to win the Eastern Regional Championship.

Going into that game, the Chargers had lost to the Panthers five straight times. Many around the program had felt last year would be the time Orange would finally reach the state championship game after First Flight defeated Orange in the 2022 regional title game, also in Hillsborough.

But it wasn’t to be.

Orange coach Chandler Zirkle told his team that many of his most instrumental players would be back in 2024, though that was little comfort to 2023 seniors like Joe Cady, Nick Cardone and Josiah Tisdale.

One year later, Orange lacrosse has put together its most dominant season in program history. And they will hope that Monday night will be the one so many around the program have waited for.

Neither the Carrboro Jaguars not a 40-minute rain delay did much to hamper the Panthers in the State Quarterfinals on Friday night in Hillsborough. Orange scored goals on eight of its first eleven shots to burst out to an 8-3 lead. The Panthers (23-1) would go on to rout the Jaguars 21-10 to advance to the 3A/2A/1A Eastern Regional Championship game, which will be held at Auman Stadium on Monday night at 6PM.

Orange will face Croatan for the regional title. The Cougars defeated First Flight 15-7 in Newport on Saturday.

Orange senior Connor Kruse, the all-time leading scorer in program history, finished with five goals and three assists, adding on to his career total with 532 career points. Senior Josh Cowan came away with four goals while junior Gray Crabtree, senior Josh Crabtree, and sophomore Brandon Williams all finished with hat tricks.

Carrboro senior A.J. Pease scored four goals in his final game. The Jaguars end the season 10-7.

Orange opened the game with four goals in the first 3:08. The Panthers outshot the Jaguars 22-14 in the first half and controlled early possession thanks to faceoff guru Matthew Macneir. Gray Crabtree opened with the first two goals, the second assisted by sophomore Brett Clark. Josh Crabtree added two more goals, both unassisted, within a span of 28 seconds to put Orange ahead 4-0, forcing a Jaguars timeout.

Pease and Tyler Pease scored back-to-back markers for the Jaguars to trim its deficit to 4-2, but Orange concluded the first quarter with a 4-1 run. Kruse took a centering pass from Clark for his first goal in a man-up situation after Carrboro’s Leland Robinson was called for a slash. Cowan added another man advantage goal following an offsides penalty, assisted by Josh Crabtree. Cowan ended the first quarter with a short dump shot off a pass from Kruse to put the Panthers ahead 8-3.

Kruse assisted on another goal scored by Clark with 8:03 remaining in the first half, which led to a 40-minute rain delay after a shower passed through the area. Upon resumption, Kruse added another goal to make it 11-3 Orange. A.J. Pease and Tobi Adroju scored back-to-back for Carrboro to get the deficit down to 11-5, but tallies by Kruse and Gray Crabtree ended the half.

Carrboro’s Charlie Walsh opened the second half with a pair of markers for the Red Wolves, but Orange finished the third quarter with four straight goals scored by Williams, Jay Parker, Josh Crabtree and Josh Cowan.

Senior goalkeeper Katie Wolter earned her 16th win of the season, making five saves. Freshman Jackson Runkle finished out the game between the pipes.

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