Cedar Ridge Baseball

After sophomore season, Cedar Ridge catcher Morales named to 3A All-State team

From the time he played in his first varsity game on a chilly night in Chapel Hill, Cedar Ridge catcher Efrain Morales distinguished himself from the rest.

Now, after a sophomore season where he hit safely in 19 of Cedar Ridge’s 24 games, Morales has been honored by the North Carolina Baseball Coaches Association.

Under head coach Bryson Massey, Morales was named to the 3A All-State team by the NCBCA. He was one of 32 players honored and one of only two players from the Central Carolina Conference to make the squad.

In his first varsity season, Morales made an immediate impression. In the season-opener against Chapel Hill on March 2, Morales scored the game-winning run in the eighth inning to break a 7-7 tie after Garrett Ray drew a bases-loaded walk. Morales started the rally with a single to centerfield with two outs and the bases empty. Hitting leadoff, Morales went 2-for-4 in his varsity debut with an RBI single and a stolen base. The Red Wolves held on to win 9-8.

Two days later, Morales drove in the game-tying run against Bartlett Yancey in a pitcher’s dual at Red Wolves Territory. His sacrifice fly to centerfield scored Carlo Garay to even the game in the fifth inning against the Buccaneers. Cedar Ridge would go on to win 2-1 after Cristian Macias scored off an error in the sixth inning.

The early victories struck the right tone early for the Red Wolves, who would go on to its first winning season since 2018. After finishing second in the CCC, the Red Wolves reached the 3A State Playoffs for the first time in four years.

In 2022, Morales hit .338. He was the only player to hit a home run at Red Wolves Territory this season when he parked a fastball over the left field wall against Orange on April 19.

On March 10, Morales went 3-for-5 with two RBIs in an 11-2 win over Glenn High School at Truist Point in High Point. Morales drove in the game’s opening run with an single to centerfield to score Aidan Mcallister. The following inning, Morales lined an RBI single to centerfield to score Mason Cates and increase the Red Wolves lead to 4-0.

Morales was valuable in league games that led to the Red Wolves’ best conference finish since 2018, when they finished runner-up behind Chapel Hill in the Big 8 Conference under former head coach Jamie Athas. Against Northwood in Pittsboro on March 22, Morales went 2-for-4 with a double in a 6-1 victory for the Red Wolves. Morales bolted the Red Wolves ahead 2-0 after a line drive to right field to bring in Mcallister. In the fourth, Morales doubled down the right field line, driving in Braedyn Jacobson and B.J. Thornton. Morales eventually scored on a Little League homer after several Chargers errors.

In the Hilltop Invitational on April 1, Morales drilled a fastball into the teeth of a 25-mile-per-hour wind gust over the left field wall in the second inning against East Chapel Hill at Wildcats Field. He finished 2-for-4 against the Wildcats with three RBIs.

The following week, Morales went 2-for-2 with two RBIs in a 14-5 win over Apex Friendship in Wake County. After he walked in the first inning, Morales scored off a single by Garrett Ray. Morales drove in Thornton on a sacrifice fly in the second inning to put the Red Wolves ahead 5-0. He added an RBI single in the fifth.

In the second game of a doubleheader against Eastern Alamance in Mebane on April 8, Morales added a key hit in an 8-7 Cedar Ridge win. Morales doubled to centerfield to score Mcallister and Thornton, putting the Red Wolves ahead for good in the second inning. The victory completed a doubleheader sweep of the Eagles and secured an automatic trip to the state playoffs for Cedar Ridge.

Morales added another home run in a 4-1 win over Western Alamance in Elon on April 12. Against the Warriors, he finished 2-for-2 with four RBIs.

In addition, Morales also made the All-Central Carolina Conference team.

Stanback Bulldogs baseball celebrates OPAC Championship

Typically, this is the happiest week for most students across Orange County because its the culmination of a nine-month-long academic year.

There’s summer vacation just around the corner. Time for beach vacations, sleeping late, no studying and days filled with leisure instead of classes.

At Stanback Middle School, there was extra reason for celebration last week for 14 players and three coaches, who delivered the Orange Person Athletic Conference Baseball Championship to the school.

Any championship is precious. It Stanback’s case, it was truly earned.

“We knew we were going to be good this year,” said Stanback Baseball Coach John Capps. “What we didn’t anticipate was how good the rest of the league was going to be this year. It was a super competitive league. We had to fight hard.”

The Bulldogs had to win three games over a span of three days to secure the OPAC Championship. Going into the final week of the season, Stanback was in a dual with Southern Middle School in Roxboro for the OPAC Northern Division crown. Whoever came out on top would face Culbreth, champions the OPAC Southern Division, in the conference championship game.

Southern was the only team to beat the Bulldogs this regular season. Not only that, but the Panthers were undefeated going into its showdown with Stanback on May 10.

The Bulldogs came out on top of the Panthers 7-2 to force a one-game playoff the following day. In what was essentially the OPAC Northern Division title game, Stanback won 6-5 in Hillsborough.

After Southern charged out to a 2-0 lead going into the bottom-of-the-second inning, the Bulldogs scored five runs. Dominic Sena led off the frame after getting hit by a pitch, then stole second. John Grove and Aiden Ryan followed with run-producing hits. Tripp Beasley laid down a gorgeous bunt with two-out that kept the inning alive.

Caden Thompson stole home for what turned out to be the game-winning run.

The win over the Panthers meant the Bulldogs would host the OPAC title game against Culbreth.

In a season where the Bulldogs’ built its pitching depth, 6th grader Jesus Velazquez earned the win in the championship game. Replacing starter Caden Thompson in the fourth inning with the game even 1-1, Velazquez threw four perfect innings, retiring all 12 Cougars he faced, striking out four of them. He even caught the championship-clinching out on a pop-up back to the mound.

For the final week of the season, basically three consecutive elimination games, Velazquez threw nine innings of no-hit ball. He finished 7-0, winning every start and tying the school record for victories in a season.

“We knew Jesus was going to pitch for us,” Capps said. “We had no idea how valuable he would be. He really stepped up in the championship game. Many players come up to middle school knowing how to throw, but not many know how to pitch. Jesus knows how to pitch.”

After Culbreth scored first in the opening inning, Stanback’s Grant Kennedy even the game with a solo homer in the bottom of the frame. Kennedy led Stanback with three home runs this season.

It remained 1-1 until the sixth, when Ian McGuffey led off with a single. Kennedy followed with a ground rule double. With one out, Armando Sanchez grounded a ball to second base, where the Cougars tried to throw out McGuffey at the plate. But McGuffey slid in safely and the Bulldogs had its first lead of the day.

It was McGuffey’s 20th run of the season, tying a school-record. McGuffey comprises one-half of an all-McGuffey middle infield. Ian plays second base and usually leads off. His twin brother, Grant, bats second and is the shortstop.

“They really set the table for us,” Capps said.

The lead would grow from there. John Grove lined a single to left field to bring in Kennedy and increase the Bulldogs’ lead to 3-1. At this point, Gavin Stone entered the game to pinch-run for Sanchez. Ryan belted a single up the middle to score Stone.

Thompson would end a four-run sixth inning with an infield single. Grove, who stole third earlier, touched the plate for the game’s final run.

“Caden is a competitor,” Capps said. “He came into this year not have thrown many innings at all. He was a work in progress, but he did a great job.”

Stanback finished 13-1, ending the season with ten consecutive wins. They outscored opponents 139-59.

This was a championship team that didn’t exactly subscribe to the Moneyball philosophy of drawing walks and never stealing. The Bulldogs hit .351 and set a school-record with 88 stolen bases.

“When the guys got on base, they just ran,” Capps said. “They were so aggressive. I would give them signs, but they knew exactly when to go. They literally ran away with it.”

Capps was also quick to honor assistants Joe Sharp and Greg Monschein.

“Those guys were my rocks,” Capps said. “Greg’s work with our pitchers and Joe’s robotic arm throwing batting practice nearly every day – not to mention their invaluable insight – made our team that much stronger and made my job that much easier.”

Josh Scism, Parker Schultz, Brody Tapper and Elijah Johnson all played vital roles in securing the Bulldogs OPAC Championship.

“Overall it was an incredibly memorable season, and one I won’t forget,” Capps said. “These boys are such great young men and I look forward to following their progress as they move up through the high school ranks. They are fun to teach, too. My job was just not to screw it up.”

Cedar Ridge Red Wolf of the Week: Efrain Morales

This week’s Cedar Ridge Red Wolf of the Week is sophomore catcher Efrain Morales. From the very start of this season, Morales has made a difference for a Cedar Ridge team that is poised to make the state playoffs for the first time since 2018. In the season-opener at Chapel Hill, Morales scored the game-winning run in the eighth inning as the Red Wolves defeated the Tigers 9-8. In his first varsity game, Morales went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI single. The next game, Morales had a sacrifice fly to score Carlo Garay as the Red Wolves defeated Barrett Yancey 2-1 in Cedar Ridge’s home opener. Against Western Alamance on April 12, Morales hit a grand slam in the third inning to push the Red Wolves past the Warriors 4-1 in Elon. Morales also had a solo homer, into the teeth of the wind, against East Chapel Hill in the Hilltop Invitational. Against Orange last Tuesday, Morales had a two-run homer. Morales leads Cedar Ridge in home runs. The Red Wolves are on the verge of a second-place finish in the Central Carolina Conference, which would be its best showing in four years. Cedar Ridge will face Southwest Guilford on Wednesday in High Point, followed by a trip to Bartlett Yancey on Thursday. 

Championships. Rivalry. Redemption? Cedar Ridge-Orange baseball series starts tonight

There are six players for the Cedar Ridge Red Wolves were started during last June’s game against Orange. None of them need to be reminded of what happened in order to be properly motivated for tonight’s matchup against their crosstown rivals.

It has been stuck in their minds for ten months. It’s something they couldn’t possibly forget, no matter how hard they try.

On the night of June 11, the Red Wolves thoroughly outplayed the Panthers. In a game that started on May 28 but was suspended due to rain and resumed two weeks later, Cedar Ridge led Orange 6-2 at Red Wolves Territory going into the seventh inning. The Panthers’ offense had been anemic, limited to five hits through six innings. On top of that, Cedar Ridge appeared ready to hand the Panthers’ top pitcher, Ryan Hench, his first loss of the season. Hench, who was 2-0 on the year, had not given up an earned run through his first four starts. The Red Wolves ran up six earned runs on Hench in four-plus innings.

Cedar Ridge had not beaten Orange since 2018. It appeared the seventh inning would be a mere formality. The Panthers hadn’t strung together consecutive hits the entire game.

Then Tyler Lloyd led off with a single. Jackson Berini walked. Davis Horton lined a double to left field to score Lloyd. Things inside Cedar Ridge ballpark went from uncomfortable to stifling to outright panic. After Will Walker popped out to first base, things calmed down somewhat. There were two outs and Cedar Ridge still led 6-3. Orange’s last hope, Conner Funk, swung and missed at his opening two pitches, meaning the Red Wolves were a strike away from winning. Funk fouled off two more potential strike threes in a 9-pitch at-bat, which ended with a walk to load the bases. Hench, who remained in the game as a designated hitter after being replaced as pitcher by Jordan Underwood, sent a double to left field to score Berini and courtesy runner Jacob Jones to trim Cedar Ridge’s lead to 6-5. Funk would eventually score after Jaren Sikes drew a bases-loaded walk to incredibly tie the game. Lloyd, in his second at-bat of the inning, delivered the game-winning hit with a two-run single to left field to put the Panthers in the lead 8-6. Orange would go on to score eleven runs in the seventh inning and win 13-6.

Amidst the surreal scene afterwards, the pain that was left on catcher Tucker Cothan’s face stood out. Cothran was a senior that had never beaten Orange before at the varsity level. His junior year had been wiped away because of the pandemic. Was it asking too much to finally beat Orange with a 4-run lead in the 7th inning? When the Panthers were down to their last strike?


The emotions on both sides were thick afterwards and Orange bid a hasty farewell on the team bus back across town.

Keep in mind that there were no championship implications on that summer night. Orange had already secured to a trip to the paired-down state playoffs. Cedar Ridge, who knew going into the game they would miss the postseason, simply wanted to beat their crosstown rivals.

Tonight, when the teams start a two-game series at Cedar Ridge, there are title implications galore.

Orange leads the Central Carolina Conference with a 7-1 record. Cedar Ridge, which has won six in a row, is in second place at 6-3.

The Panthers are searching for its first conference championship since 2016 when current Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Bryse Wilson was a senior. In order to eliminate the Red Wolves from championship contention, the Panthers simply need to win one game in the series (the second game is Thursday night at Orange).

Cedar Ridge can clinch a share of the regular season championship and the #1 seed for the Central Carolina Conference Tournament with a sweep of Orange. Under that scenario, even if Orange sweeps Eastern Alamance next week, the Red Wolves would control the tiebreaker over the Panthers.

This series marks the final two games of the conference season for the Red Wolves.

Cedar Ridge last won a conference championship in baseball in 2007 when current Athletic Director Andy Simmons coached the team. Since becoming a 3A school in 2014, the Red Wolves haven’t won a league title. They last made the playoffs in 2018, the final season of Jamie Athas’ stint as head coach.

Both Orange and Cedar Ridge have had several first-year varsity players make strong first impressions. Red Wolf sophomore catcher Efrain Morales made an immediate impact on opening night when he scored the game-winning run in the 8th inning in a 9-8 win over Chapel Hill. Morales went 2-for-4 in his first varsity game and has nine multi-hit games this season. Last week, Morales had a grand slam in a 4-1 victory over Western Alamance in Elon.

For Orange, sophomore Cross Clayton has been the most improved player since the season started with a 4-1 win over Northern Durham on February 28. Clayton, in his first varsity season, leads the team with four wins. He has tossed 13 consecutive scoreless innings. On Friday, Clayton threw a two-hit shutout in Orange’s 5-0 win at Northwood, no small feat considering that the Ronald Horton Baseball Complex is a hitter’s park.

Cedar Ridge freshman pitcher Quinn Finnegan is 4-1 after he threw four innings in the win at Western Alamance last Tuesday. Finnegan won the first varsity game he ever pitched in against Chapel Hill on March 2. Since then, he’s beaten Kernersville Glenn in High Point and earned a dramatic victory over Eastern Alamance when the Red Wolves scored eight runs in the second inning and held on to win 8-7 to complete a doubleheader sweep in Mebane on April 8.

Hench will likely start for the Panthers tonight in a series that has every ingredient imaginable for one spicy dish.

Championships. A crosstown rivalry. And, in the case of Cedar Ridge, possible redemption.

A Will to Win: Tippin hits walkoff single, Cedar Ridge beats Western Alamance 8-7, wins 6th straight

The clutch play bug is running rampant across the Cedar Ridge baseball team.

A week after coming back from a 5-1 deficit with six runs in the 7th inning to beat Eastern Alamance, the Red Wolves nearly blew a big lead themselves against Western Alamance in Hillsborough on Friday night. After the Warriors trailed 7-2 going into the sixth inning, Western scored five unanswered runs, capped by a three-run seventh when senior Owen Bynum lined a single to score Shepard Goodwin to even the game at 7-7.

Last season, the Red Wolves had two games just like this where they lost the lead in the 7th inning and didn’t recover. Seven players from that Red Wolves team were on the field on Friday night and proved that they had learned from their mistakes from 2021.

Yet the hero was a first-year varsity player.

Junior Will Tippin lined a walkoff single to centerfield to score Cristian Macias for the game-winning run, setting off a frenzy in the Red Wolves dugout. Cedar Ridge, playing its first home game since March 30 after six straight road games, prevailed 8-7 for its sixth straight victory.

Cedar Ridge (11-6, 6-3 in the Central Carolina Conference) is in sole possession of second place in the CCC. The Red Wolves are two games behind crosstown rival Orange for first place. The Panthers will face Cedar Ridge next week in a two-game series, with the opener set for Tuesday night at 7 at Red Wolves Stadium.

Cedar Ridge is one game ahead of Eastern Alamance for the 2nd automatic playoff birth in the CCC. The Red Wolves control the tiebreaker against the Eagles after they swept a doubleheader in Mebane last Friday.

It’s the longest winning streak for Cedar Ridge since the 2018 squad, which won 13 in a row. That was also the last Cedar Ridge baseball team to make the state playoffs.

Tippin came up to bat after Nick Nolan drew a walk to load the bases. Before the hit, Tippin was 0-for-3 on the night. After the Warriors rallied for three in the seventh, Macias led off the bottom-of-the-seventh with a bloop fly to left field for a single. Sophomore catcher Efrain Morales was hit by a pitch immediately afterwards.

“It was a great team win,” said Cedar Ridge coach Bryson Massey. “I couldn’t be happier for Will Tippin. He comes in and works hard every day. He came up in a big spot and got the big hit. Our guys could have put their heads down after them tying it in the 7th, but our guys have been in that situation so many times over the past two years that they stayed calm and had the confidence to battle and get it done in the bottom of the 7th. I’m just so happy for our guys.”

Senior Aidan McAllister went 3-for-4, nearly hitting for the cycle, lacking only a home run. Garrett Ray finished 2-for-4 with a triple.

Cedar Ridge starting pitcher Brian Flores fell two outs short of earning his fourth win of the season. B.J. Thornton, who picked up a save in a 4-1 win over Western Alamance on Tuesday night in Elon, got the final two outs in the seventh to improve to 3-1.

Western Alamance opened with a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Kaden Wilborn, who led off with a single, scored off a line drive by Ty Belles. Wilborn crossed home plate off an error in left field. Belles scored when Flores was called for a balk.

The Red Wolves scored six straight runs. In the second, Mason Cates led off with a single to centerfield. Garrett Ray then lined an 0-1 fastball to the deepest centerfield for a triple, scoring Cates.

Cedar Ridge scored four runs in the third inning. Thornton, who started at third base, opened with a single, followed by a double by McAllister. Macias knocked in Thornton off a grounder that bounced off the mound into centerfield. Following a single by Ray with two out, Nolan reached on an infield single to second base, scoring Macias.

In the fourth, McAllister lined another triple to centerfield to score Thornton, who reached after getting hit by a pitch.

Flores threw six-and-one-thirds innings in a no decision for the Red Wolves.

“They just believe in themselves,” Massey said. “When you have been in those situations so many times, you know how to slow the game down and execute.”

Cedar Ridge Red Wolf of the Week: Aidan McAllister

This week’s Cedar Ridge Red Wolf of the Week is senior outfielder Aidan McAllister. This season, McAllister has been an instrumental player as the Red Wolves are on its longest winning streak in four years. On March 11, McAllister went 3-for-3 with three RBIs, including a triple and a double as the Red Wolves defeated Williams 7-1 in Hillsborough. On March 10, Cedar Ridge defeated Kernersville Glenn 11-2 at High Point Rockers Stadium. McAllister went 3-for-4 with two triples and an RBI. The Red Wolves defeated Person 11-7 in Roxboro on March 18. McAllister, hitting second, went 2-for-2 with three RBIs and a double. Last fall, McAllister officially committed to play at Hofstra University in New York. Before he leaves for life up north, McAllister wants to put Cedar Ridge in the state playoffs for the first time since 2019. The Red Wolves have won five in a row after Wednesday’s win at Grimsley in Greensboro, a game where McAllister went 2-for-4 with three runs scored as Cedar Ridge came back from a 5-2 deficit to beat the Whirlies 11-5. Cedar Ridge hosts Western Alamance tonight at 7 PM at Red Wolves Stadium.