Malachi Cool–Poole drains last second jumper to lift Orange men’s basketball over Hillside 69-66 in season opener

It was no ordinary season opener.

Then again, it was no ordinary week for Orange men’s basketball leading up to its first game against Hillside on Friday night in Hillsborough. On Monday, Orange’s centerpiece, sophomore Coleman Cloer, suffered a broken left ankle after a fluky incident during practice. He is expected to miss at least two weeks.

Over the summer, Cloer received scholarship offers from N.C. State, Wake Forest, Tennessee and Appalachian State, just to name a few. He wore a walking boot on the Orange bench Friday night.

In Cloer’s absence, there would have to be an unlikely hero to emerge.

Fortunately, Malachi Poole was up to the task.

In a frantic final sequence, Orange point guard Kai Wade tied the game with a pull-up jumper from twelve feet over Suliaman Shackleford with nine seconds remaining.

As Orange set up a full court press with the game tied 66-66, Hillside’s Jayde Braswell threw a soft pass that was deflected by Panthers guard Freddy Sneed, who nearly bumped into an Orange teacher along the sidelines as he raked in the steal. With time drifting away, Sneed threw the ball to Xandrell Pennix, standing left of the lane facing the bleachers. Pennix didn’t see the basket, but he did see Poole standing alone on the wing wide open as the Hornets were caught off guard in the scramble. Pennix threw to Poole, who launched his only shot of the night. It swirled into the net with two seconds remaining to send the Orange student section into a collective roar.

Hillside coach Rashard Lee-Worthy had used all his timeouts and his team was too stunned to inbound the ball as the final moments ticked away. The students rushed the floor to celebrate a win that was a season opener in name only.

“At that point, they were turning us over,” said Orange coach Derryl Britt. “They were giving us trouble bringing the ball up. I knew that Kai was a little fatigued. So we needed to get another ball handler in. So we went to Malachi because he’s a shooter. Malachi has been going through some things. That was a big shot for us as a team, but it was a bigger shot for him, personally. I’m so happy for that guy.”

Orange won 69-66, its first victory over Hillside since December 9, 2009. Wade, a sophomore point guard finished with 18 points. Sneed, who had never scored in double-figures in a varsity game, came away with 16 points, five steals and four rebounds. The Panthers put four players in double-figures, including senior center Ryan Honeycutt, who finished with a double-double of 10 points and 13 rebounds.

Shackelford led Hillside with 24 points. Justin Lewis came off the bench to score 14 points, including four three-pointers.

The irony of Orange scoring the game-winning basket off a steal from full-court pressure was that Hillside rallied from 17 points down the exact same way. The Panthers committed seven turnovers in the fourth quarter, leading to the Hornets taking the lead with 4:12 remaining after a three-pointer from Brandon Watley, who scored all 12 of his points in the second half.

There were five lead changes in the final three minutes. Orange sophomore center Mason Robinson grabbed an offensive rebound and shoveled the ball off to Honeycutt for a lay-in to put the Panthers ahead 62-61 with 2:58 remaining.

Jayde Braswell was fouled by Honeycutt and sank two free throws. After a pass slipped through the hands of Hillside center T.J. Ray, Wade went behind-the-back and drilled a 13-footer. Orange maintained a 64-63 lead until the Hornets forced yet another turnover off its full-court pressure. Shackleford stole the ball from Wade, drove to the basket and scored on a lay-in and was fouled by Robinson. Shackleford’s free throw put the Hornets ahead 66-64.

Orange built a 51-34 lead with 2:39 remaining in the third quarter. Sneed completed a 13-1 Orange run with a steal and drive to the basket while he was fouled by Lewis, who picked up his fourth foul and was never a factor again. Pennix drilled the first of Orange’s two 3-pointers in the second half during the run. Pennix, who has played on the varsity since his freshman year, finished with 12 points.

“We took a gut punch on Monday night when Cole went down,” Britt said. “We realized it was a bit serious. We bent over, collected ourselves. Everybody went home and thought about it. Then on Tuesday afternoon, it was very similar to the St. Louis Rams when they lost Trent Green (in 1999). (The Rams went on to win the Super Bowl with Kurt Warner at quarterback). I told the team we have the players to win and we will play good basketball. Whether we win or lose games? We’ll see. But we will make other teams beat us.”

Even without Cloer, the Panthers shot 49% from the field. The Hornets used 21 offensive rebounds to keep things close. Orange never trailed in the first half, leading by as much as 32-26 after a dunk by Honeycutt from a lob by Robinson. with 3:32 remaining in the second quarter. Lewis scored 14 points in the first half to reduce Orange’s lead to 33-31 with 1:05 remaining, Robinson and Pennix scored the final field goals of the half to put the Panthers ahead 38-31 at halftime.


HIL–15   16   15    20–66

ORA–19  19   15   16–69

HILLSIDE–Brandon Watley 12, Justin Morgan 2, Suliaman Shackleford 24, Jayde Braswell 12, Justin Lewis 14, Quinton Cozart 2.

ORANGE–Xandrell Pennix 12, Freddy Sneed 16, Kai Wade 18, Ryan Moss 2, Ryan Honeycutt 10, Malaykhi Justice 2, Mason Robinson 4, Malachi Poole 3, Hector Garrido 2.

3-Point baskets: Hillside 9 (Watley 3, Lewis 4, Shackleford 2). Orange 3 (Pennix 2, Poole)

Rebounds: Hillside 34 (Shackleford 7) Orange 45 (Honeycutt 13)



Orange Middle’s Amir Johnson, Mason Stubbs, Markus Thomas & Owen Phillipps discuss winning OPAC Championship

The Orange Middle School Chargers claimed the Orange Person Athletic Conference championship last week. The Chargers defeated Culbreth 24-6 at Auman Stadium in Hillsborough. 8th grader Owen Phillipps had a huge all-around night for OMS. Playing four different positions, Phillipps finished with 61 yards rushing and 52 yards receiving. Phillipps caught a 52-yard touchdown pass to open the game after Amir Johnson recovered a Culbreth fumble on the opening play from scrimmage. Later Phillippps would play quarterback out of a wildcat formation and helped the Chargers run out the clock. Starting quarterback Mason Stubbs, an 8th-grader, threw a 13-yard touchdown assist to Markus Thomas. Stubbs scored the final touchdown off a 1-yard run on a quarterback sneak. Thomas ran in a 2-point conversion on the point-after to give the Chargers a three-score lead. 7th grader Amir Johnson had a strong all-around game. He recovered a fumble, made two sacks and ran in another 2-point conversion. Orange Middle claimed its first OPAC football championship since 2015 under first-year head coach Jamie Bailey. The Chargers lost only one game all season and defeated Culbreth twice.  In October, Orange Middle came back from a 12-0 halftime deficit to defeat the Cougars 18-12.

Cedar Ridge Male Athlete of the Fall Sports Season: Iliah Babchenko

From the outside, there wasn’t any reason to think this season would be all that special for Cedar Ridge men’s soccer.

They finished 5-15-1 in 2022, winning only three Central Carolina Conference games. They won consecutive games only once and lost its top scorer from each of the past two seasons, Cthe Rhris Mendez, due to graduation.

Yet from the very beginning of the season, when they defeated Eno River Academy 4-2 on August 14 at Cedar Ridge Stadium, there was a different feel for Cedar Ridge this year. After the win over the Bobcats, senior midfielder Iliah Babchenko said the team’s goal was to make the state playoffs for the first time in six years. Babchenko had a goal and an assist in the season opener against Eno River.

Soon, those expectations would grow larger. Three days later, the Red Wolves started a four-game road trip with a 4-1 win over Voyager Academy in Durham. Babchenko scored on a penalty. The Red Wolves would start 4-0-1, its best start in 14 years.

The most thrilling win of the nonconference portion of the schedule came against Seaforth in Pittsboro, when the Red Wolves rallied from two goals down to beat the Hawks 3-2. Jonam Juarez scored the game-winning goal.

Babchenko was the leading scorer on the best Cedar Ridge men’s soccer team ever at the 3A level. The Red Wolves finished 12-5-3 overall, 8-2-2 in the CCC. Babchenko finished with six goals and 13 assists.

Without question, his most memorable moment of the season came against Western Alamance on September 10. Mired in a rugged, scoreless game in the final five minutes of regulation, Babchenko triggered a corner kick along the north end of Red Wolves Stadium. The ball was blocked back to Babchenko, who launched a cross into the six-yard box. Salomon Hernandez curved into the right spot and got enough contact on a header to tuck the ball into the right corner of the net, setting off a wild celebration that spilled onto the track.

The Red Wolves would hold on to beat the Warriors 1-0. The win vaulted Cedar Ridge into first place in the CCC, where they remained until the final week of the season.

“We had a great season,” Brummell said. “This is probably one of the most memorable seasons I will ever have. I feel like in the very short period I’ve been here, we’ve really turned things around. I’m going to miss Iliah, though.”

Babchenko was also directly responsible for a 2-1 win over Walter Williams in Burlington, Cedar Ridge’s first conference win ever at Kernodle Field. Babchenko scored a goal and also assisted on the game-winner from Dominic McNerney.

Last month, Southern Lee defeated Cedar Ridge 3-2 in the opening round of the 3A State Playoffs. It was the first time since 2015 that the Red Wolves hosted a state playoff game.

Cedar Ridge finished second in the CCC despite having just four seniors. Babchenko, emotional after his final game at Cedar Ridge, summed up a memorable senior season following the loss to the Cavaliers.

“I think we had a lot of goals for this season,” Babchenko said. “We had high expectations. I remember after the Eno River win, I said we wanted to make the state playoffs. We did it, but we didn’t get the result we wanted (against Southern Lee). But we can’t knock ourselves because we put up a fight.”

Babchenko began playing in the Mebane Youth Soccer Association, then moved on to play at Triangle United for travel soccer. His parents moved to the United States in the early 2000s from Ukraine. Babchenko’s father was the public address announcer for Red Wolves games this season at Cedar Ridge Stadium.

Alumni Update: Talley wins SAC Championship with Lenoir-Rhyne women’s soccer

Emerson Talley: The Lenoir-Rhyne women’s soccer team won the South Atlantic Conference Championship over Catawba at the Mecklenburg County Sports Complex in Matthews on Sunday. The Bears and the Indians played to a 2-2 tie after 110 minutes of action. The Bears claimed the championship after winning 4-2 on penalty kicks. Talley started in the championship game and played 36 minutes. In the semifinals on November 10, the Bears shut out Carson-Newman 2-0. Talley played 67 minutes and fired one shot. Lenoir-Rhyne completed an undefeated run through the South Atlantic Conference, finishing 11-0. They are 15-0-4 overall. The Bears received a #1 seed for the NCAA Division II Tournament and will face Carson-Newman in the opening round on Friday at the Moretz Sports Athletic Complex in Hickory. If the Bears win, they will host the second round game against either Columbus State or Flagler on Sunday afternoon.

Ivy Garner: Garner scored a goal for Liberty in the opening round of the NCAA Division I soccer tournament on Friday. Garner notched the equalizing goal for the Flames in the 72nd minute. Georgia’s Kiera Staude scored the game-winning goal in the 85th minute as Georgia won 2-1, denying Liberty its first NCAA Tournament win. Liberty, the champions of Conference USA, ends the season 16-3-1. As a sophomore, Garner was named first-team All-Conference USA. This season, she started in all 20 of the Flames games. She scored six goals and racked up four assists. She was second on the team with 39 shots and had 19 shots on goal, which was tied for second on the squad. It was Liberty’s eighth Division I NCAA Tournament appearance.

Trenton Gill: The Chicago Bears defeated the Carolina Panthers 16-13 at Solider Field last Thursday night. Gill had six punts for an average of 46.7 yards. One of Gill’s punts was returned for a touchdown by Carolina’s Ihmir Smith-Marsette, which was the only time the Panthers saw the end zone all night. Gill had three punts downed inside the 20-yard line. His longest boot was 62 yards. Chicago is 3-7 and will face Detroit at Ford Field on Sunday.

Payton Wilson: As his career at N.C. State winds down, Wilson continues to rack up the honors. On Wednesday, he was named a finalist for the Bronco Nagurski Trophy, given to the best defensive player in college football. The Wolfpack won its third straight on Saturday, beating Wake Forest 26-6 at Allegacy Stadium in Winston-Salem. Wilson finished with seven tackles, a pass breakup and a quarterback hit. Wilson continues to lead the team in tackles and had two tackles for loss against the Demon Deacons. On Saturday, Wilson will play the last true road game of his career when the Wolfpack take on Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, VA.

Braxton Mergenthal: The Division III Hampden-Sydney football team’s season came to an end last weekend when #9 Randolph-Macon defeated the Tigers 49-10 at Day Field in Ashland, VA. Mergenthal finished with four tackles for Hampden-Sydney in a rivalry that is considered the Oldest Small School Rivalry in the South. Hampden-Sydney finished the season 6-4 overall, 4-3 in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. Mergenthal played in ten games this season and collected 22 tackles and one fumble recovery.

Joey McMullin: The Division III Methodist men’s basketball team started its season earlier this month. The Monarchs dropped its home opener to Guilford 74-59 at the Riddle Center in Fayetteville on November 8. In his first game at Methodist, McMullin finished with seven points in 22 minutes. He shot 3-of-7 from the field. He also collected two rebounds. Johnson & Wales defeated Methodist 83-73 in Fayetteville on Saturday. McMullin started and scored six points off 3-of-11 shooting from the field. He also had four rebounds and an assist. On Wednesday, Virginia Wesleyan defeated Methodist 61-48 at TowneBank Arena in Virginia Beach, VA. Once again, McMullin started and played 17 minutes. He scored three points off 1-of-5 shooting from the field. McMullin also had a rebound. The Monarchs will travel to Asheville on Saturday to face Warren Wilson College.



Return to Glory–Phillipps, Johnson power Orange Middle past Culbreth 24-6 to win OPAC Football Championship

For the first time in years, it felt like a big football game at Auman Stadium.

On Thursday night, the Orange Middle School Chargers returned to glory after eight years without an Orange Person Athletic Conference championship.

Owen Phillipps caught a touchdown pass and finished with 113 yards from scrimmage, while 7th grader Amir Johnson rushed for a touchdown and recovered a fumble as Orange Middle pulled away from Culbreth 24-6 to win the OPAC Championship.

Quarterback Mason Stubbs created two touchdowns, one rushing and one passing, as the Chargers celebrated its first OPAC title since 2015.

It was a gratifying win for Orange head coach Jamie Bailey, who served as an assistant coach at Orange High for 17 years under head coaches Pat Moser and Van Smith, including a stint as defensive coordinator. Bailey completed his first year as Orange Middle’s head coach with a long-awaited championship.

“It’s a beautiful thing to bring this championship back to Orange County,” Bailey said. “Orange County football needed this.”

Playing 8-minute quarters, Orange Middle used a ground control offense to limit the Cougars to only five plays from scrimmage in the entire second half.

Leading 16-6 at halftime, the Chargers controlled the ball the entire third quarter, converting three 3rd downs and a fourth down. Stubbs threw to Wyatt Moore for a 12-yard gain on a 3rd-and-nine to advance the ball into Culbreth territory. After Jakai Torian gained six yards on a 3rd-and-8, Phillipps took the ball out of a wildcat formation, which Bailey installed last week, and ran around right end for 13 yards on 4th-and-2.

Going into the fourth quarter, on a 3rd-and-12, Phillips gained nine yards. Culbreth jumped offside on 4th-and-3 to move the chains again. Stubbs grinder ahead on a quarterback sneak and just inched over the goal line for a touchdown to conclude a 13-play, 60-yard drive that took 9:46 off the clock. Markus Thomas scored the two-point conversion on a jet sweep.

Johnson recovered two fumbles, including one on the opening play from scrimmage at the Cougars 48-yard line. On 4th-and-14, Brandon Robbins took the ball on a halfback option and chucked it ahead to Phillipps, who dashed into the heart of the end zone. Markus Thomas scored the 2-point conversion to put the Chargers ahead.

After Culbreth scored a touchdown following a Charger fumble, Orange scored a touchdown with 15 seconds remaining in the first half. Stubbs threw to Thomas on a 13-yard pass. Johnson added the 2-point conversion, then ended the half by sacking Culbreth’s quarterback.

The championship wasn’t merely a squad beating other teams from Roxboro, Chapel Hill and Carrboro for a trophy. It marks the climb out of a dark hole for football within northern Orange County that started during the pandemic and, in some respects, continues.

For the first time possibly ever, there was no junior varsity football team at Orange High School this year. Not long ago, Thursday night lights shined brightest at Orange. The junior varsity teams in the mid-2010s went years without losing a game.

In August 2021, after the entire middle school athletic calendar for the 2020-2021 academic year was canceled due to the pandemic, Bailey was riding to an Orange practice one day when he saw roughly 20 players at an Orange Middle workout.

He felt a chill go across his heart.

“It used to be there would be around 100 players at a Stanford practice,” Bailey said.

That’s what led him to start coaching at the middle school level.

“I wanted to get back to that because that’s what going to feed into high school football in Hillsborough,” Bailey said. That’s what we need back in this county.”

This year, the Orange Chargers suited up 45 players for a championship team.

Volleyball Alumni Update: Altieri honored as Salisbury wins Coast-to-Coast Conference title

Julie Altieri: For the first time since 2012, the Salisbury Seagulls won the Coast-to-Coast Conference Tournament championship. On Saturday, Salisbury defeated Mary Washington 3-2 on scores of 25-20, 23-25, 22-25, 25-11, 15-13. Altieri, a freshman, was named to the All-Tournament team. Altieri had 49 assists, 15 digs, seven kills and one ace in the championship match. With the win, the Seagulls have reached the NCAA Division III Tournament for the 11th time in program history and the second time in as many years. In the semifinals on Friday, Salisbury defeated Christopher Newport 3-1 at the Maggs Physical Activities Center (25-23, 25-23, 19-25, 25-21). Altieri, who became the starting setter about one-third of the way into the season, finished with 36 assists, 13 digs, two aces and one kill. Salisbury is 20-7 going into the NCAA Tournament.

Lottie Scully: The Binghamton Bearcats ended its regular season with a 3-0 loss to the University of New Hampshire on Sunday (25-22, 25-20, 25-19) at Lundholm Gymnasium in Durham, NH. Scully finished with 29 assists, nine digs and two kills. On November 8, the Bearcats defeated Manhattan College 3-1 at Draddy Gymnasium in Riverdale, NY. Scully came away with 43 assists, nine digs, two kills, and two aces. Binghamton concludes the regular season 14-12, 6-4 in the America East Conference. Binghamton will face New Hampshire for the America East Championshp on Friday in Baltimore.

Cameron Lanier: Elon ended its season with a 3-1 loss to Delaware at the Schar Center on Sunday. Lanier finished with six kills and five digs. The Blue Hens prevailed on scores of 19-25, 25-18, 25-21 and 27-25. On Saturday, Delaware swept the Phoenix 3-0 (25-16, 26-24, 25-22). Lanier played in two sets and had one kill and one dig. Elon swept a two-match series from Hampton on October 28 and 29, it’s only wins in the Coastal Athletic Association this season. On October 28, the Phoenix won 3-0 at the Schar Center. Lanier had seven kills and six digs. On October 29, the Phoenix defeated the Pirates 3-0 (25-18, 25-15, 25-14). Lanier was tied with the team lead with ten kills, along with two digs and one block. Elon finished 5-22 overall, 2-16 in the CAA. Lanier finished her freshman season second on the team with 221 kills. The only player with more was Sydney Love, a junior who had 230. She also had six blocks.

Cameron Lloyd: The Bucknell Bison ended its regular season with a loss to American University 3-0 inside Bender Arena in Washington, D.C. on Saturday. Lloyd had four kills, 12 digs and three aces. On November 5, the Bison defeated in-state rival Lehigh 3-1 at Davis Gymnasium in Lewisburg, PA. Lloyd provided a strong second option for the Bison. She finished with ten kills, along with ten digs and three aces. On November 4, Bucknell swept Lafayette 3-0 (25-22, 25-17, 25-16). Lloyd had seven kills, eight digs and two aces. Lehigh will start play in the Patriot League Tournament against Navy on Tuesday at Davis Gymnasium.

Grace Young: UNC Asheville ended its season with a 3-1 win over USC Upstate at the Justice Center in Asheville on Saturday. Young played in all four sets and finished with seven digs and four assists. On November 4, Gardner-Webb defeated the Bulldogs at the Justice Center. Young played in one set and had three digs, one assist and one ace. UNC Asheville finished with an 8-20 overall record, 2-12 in the Big South. For her freshman year, Young played in 46 sets and had 52 digs and 12 aces.

Allie Wilkerson: The season ended for Division III Averett University in the semifinals of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference on Thursday. Randolph-Macon defeated the Cougars 3-1 (21-25, 25-15, 25-16, 25-16) at Crenshaw Gymnasium in Ashland, VA. Wilkerson had one kill and two blocks for Averett. In the quarterfinals, Averett defeated Bridgewater 3-1 at Niniger Hall in Bridgewater, VA (17-25, 27-25, 25-15, 25-22). Wilkerson had five kills, one dig and one ace. Averett ends the season 14-17, 7-5 in the ODAC. This season, Wilkerson was third on the team with 153 kills. She had 16 aces and 44 digs.

Melissa Benkowitz: The season of Division III Franklin & Marshall ended in the semifinals of the Centennial Conference Tournament. Gettysburg edged the Diplomats 3-2 (25-18, 17-25, 20-25, 25-20, 15-10). Benkowitz had two digs in her only set of action. In the quarterfinals, Franklin & Marshall defeated Muhlenburg 3-1 (25-23, 25-7, 22-25, 25-20). Benkowitz, in her freshman season, played in 12 of the Diplomats 26 matches. She had 61 kills in 33 sets.