Photo by Jacques MorinĀ 

DURHAM–If the 3A/2A/1A Men’s State Lacrosse game boiled down to crown interest, Orange would have won going away.

Orange fans came out in large numbers to Durham County Stadium on May 18 to watch the Panthers play for the state championship in lacrosse for the first time in school history.

But Orange wasn’t just battling the two-time defending State Champions in Lake Norman Charter. They were trying to overthrow history.

Since the North Carolina High School Athletic Association split the public school state championships into two classifications, the Western region team has won the 3A/2A/1A State Championship eight consecutive times, split between Lake Norman Charter, Weddington (3) and Marvin Ridge (2). In that span, the average margin of victory has been eleven goals.

While Orange had thrilling moments early and even led with 2:10 remaining in the first half, the Knights threw wave after wave of humanity against the Panthers to thwart any hopes of an upset.

Junior Tyler Price scored seven goals, opening the second half with four consecutive goals, as Lake Norman Charter defeated Orange 16-7 to win its third consecutive state championship. Price, who finished with ten points, was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. Senior Jack Dalton added three goals for Lake Norman Charter (15-7), who won three consecutive road games to win the state championship.

Orange’s Connor Kruse, the all-time leading scorer in school history, fittingly scored Orange’s final goal of the greatest season in team history. Sophomore Brandon Williams forced a turnover against Knights’ goalkeeper Noah McGovern. Williams picked the ball off the FieldTurf surface and fed it to Kruse, who fired it into an empty net for his 244th career goal, his 74th of the season, another school record.

“I think it was very possible for us to win today,” said Orange coach Chandler Zirkle, who led the team to a school record 24 wins this season. “Things didn’t go out way when we needed to get a break. They’re goalie played great. We took some shots that kind of dictated some turnovers to them. We don’t normally do that. They are too talented offensively to not score on the opportunities we gave them.”

There was hope early. Despite the Bimbe Music Festival sending thundering bass booms across the street, it didn’t seem to bother the Orange fans who cheered the Panthers every move in the first half. The Knights held Orange scoreless for the opening 4:28 as Dalton and Price opened with tallies to put LNC ahead 2-0.

Then Orange held the Knights without a goal for the subsequent 17 minutes and 24 seconds. Orange senior defenders Sascha Van Praag, Alden Cathey, Jace and Kale Womble all created turnovers. Senior Josh Crabtree scored Orange’s first goal in a state championship game on a simple overhand from 15 yards away following a restart. After LNC’s Landon Foushee was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Kruse tied the game with a man-up goal following a pass from Williams, evening the game at 2-2 with 4:02 remaining in the first quarter.

“Our fans did a remarkable job,” Zirkle said. “I took a picture of them before the game and they were all over the place. It felt like a home game.”

Junior Gray Crabtree gave Orange its only lead of the game with 6:39 remaining in the first half on another man-advantage goal, assisted by Kruse. It came after Dalton was called for offsides. From that point forward, McGovern shut down the Orange offense, making 12 saves. Orange went 18:46 without a goal, not scoring until sophomore faceoff man Matthew Macneir scored off a pass from Brett Clark to open the fourth quarter.

Between those two points, it was mostly Tyler Price. Following a man-up goal by the Knights from Stevie Parker to tie the game, Price put the Knights in the lead with an unassisted tally with 1:23 remaining in the first half. Then LNC scored seven unanswered goals in the third quarter. Price netted the opening four, including three in a span of 2:51. a tidal wave of offense that has been common for the Knights during its run to three straight state titles.

For Orange’s eleven seniors who were so instrumental in building the program, their final quarter wasn’t all doom and gloom, though the skies got darker and the rain started to fall as the game wound to a close. The Panthers’ starting goalkeeper, Parker Christie-Pohl, played strong in the first half. He was replaced in the final minutes by Katie Wolter, who made over 300 career saves and earned a win in net over Carrboro in the state quarterfinals.

Josh Cowan scored his final goal, the 29th of his season, with 9:35 remaining to cut the Knights lead down to 12-6. Michael Lindsey and Jacob Carlascio managed the game’s final goals for LNC.

As the hundreds of Orange supporters lingered outside of the home team’s dressing room along the main concourse, a significant portion of Orange’s lacrosse history quietly closed. A group that won four conference championships and put the sport on the map in northern Orange County all took off their Panthers uniforms for the last time.

They were part of Orange going from a team to a program, something that wasn’t lost on Zirkle.

“This was the best senior class we’ve had,” Zirkle said. “We’ve had some really great senior classes, but this group was phenomenal. At this time last year, I talked with this senior class about how to get to the next step and get to this game. It’s really cool to know we did that.”


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