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Alumni Update: Former Cedar Ridge infielder DeFranco wins CUSA title with Charlotte 49ers

Dante DeFranco: In their final year in the league, the Charlotte 49ers won the Conference USA Baseball Tournament in Houston over the weekend. The 49ers upset the top-seed, Dallas Baptist, 5-2 to win the championship on Sunday. DeFranco entered the game as a 2nd baseman in the fourth inning. He went 0-for-2. Charlotte won five games over four days to take the championship, including back-to-back wins over Middle Tennessee. In an 9-8 win over the Blue Raiders on Saturday, DeFranco started at 2nd base and went 2-for-3 with tw0 runs scored. He scored off a double play in the 2nd inning and off a throwing error in the fifth to put the 49ers ahead 8-2. On Memorial Day, the 49ers were placed in the Clemson regional for the NCAA Tournament. They will face Tennessee at Doug Kingsmore Stadium on Friday.

Joey Berini: The East Carolina baseball team finished second in the American Athletic Conference baseball tournament at BayCare Park in Clearwater, FL over the weekend. Tulane, the 7th-seed, upset the Pirates 8-6 in the championship game on Sunday. Berini, starting at shortstop, went 2-for-3. The Pirates won back-to-back games over South Florida on Saturday to reach the championship game. In the opening 3-1 win over the Bulls, Berini drove in the final run with a single to center field in the sixth. Berini finished 1-for-4. ECU romped over USF 14-7 to advance to the final. Berini knocked in a run off a sacrifice fly in the eighth. He finished 1-for-4. In a 13-inning marathon on Friday, the Pirates stayed alive with a victory over UCF 7-6. Berini gave the Pirates a 6-5 lead in the eighth inning off a double by Lance Hoover. Berini went 2-for-5 against the Knights. USF defeated ECU 12-11 in eleven innings last Tuesday. In an elimination game on Wednesday, the Pirates defeated Cincinnati 9-6. Berini went 1-for-3. ECU will head to Charlottesville, VA this weekend for the NCAA Tournament. They will face Oklahoma on Friday night.

Bryse Wilson: Wilson earned his second hold of the season for the Milwaukee Brewers in a 4-0 win over the World Champion Houston Astros at Miller Park on May 24. Wilson threw a scoreless seventh inning on 12 pitches. On May 23, Wilson threw the ninth inning in the Brewers 6-0 win over the Astros. He surrendered one hit. The Brewers are 28-25 and lead the National League Central by two games over Pittsburgh as of May 30.

Takia Nichols: The North Carolina Central softball team was eliminated from the NCAA Softball Tournament by Boston University on May 20. The Terriers defeated the Eagles 8-0 in six innings at Jack Turner Stadium in Athens. GA. #14 Georgia defeated the Eagles 12-0 in five innings in the opening round. Nichols was first-team All-MEAC in her freshman season with the Eagles. Central won its first MEAC Championship. In her freshman year, Nichols led the team in home runs (8), total bases (74), walks (28), slugging percentage (.569) and on-base percentage (.459). She hit .338 (2nd on the team) with 31 RBIs.

Tori Dalehite: After winning the Southern Conference championship, the UNC Greensboro Spartans’ season ended in the Clemson Regional of the NCAA Tournament. Cal State Fullerton defeated the Sparans 5-0 at McWhorter Stadium. Dalehite entered the game in right field in the fifth inning. #10 Clemson defeated UNCG 17-2 in five innings. Dalehite played as a pinch-runner. This season, Dalehite played in 31 games for the Spartans, starting seven of them. She hit .150 in 20 at-bats.

Jamar Davis: On the final day of the NCAA East Regional Track and Field Championships in Jacksonville, FL, Davis qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Championships in the long jump. Davis, competing for N.C. State, finished twelfth with a leap of 15.79 meters. It will be the first team that Davis has reached the national championship. In 2019, Davis was a second-team all-American in the triple jump at the NCAA Indoor National Championships. Davis, a graduate student with the Wolfpack, ran track, wrestled and played soccer for Orange. He graduated in 2019.

 

Orange lax’s Cardone, Metheny, Hunt named to Bull City All Star Game

Three seniors who were vital to the rise of the Orange lacrosse program will conclude their high school careers at the Bull City All-Star Game on Wednesday night.

Midfielder Tigh Metheny, defensemen Nick Cardone and Braden Hunt have been named to the All-Star Game, which will be held on Wednesday night at Koskinen Stadium at Duke University, the home of the ACC Champion Duke men’s lacrosse team.

Cardone will suit up for the White Team while Metheny and Hunt were named to the Blue Team, which will be coached by Northwood’s Randy Cox, who won the 3A/2A/1A Eastern Regional Championship earlier this month. It was the first time the Chargers reached a state championship game in lacrosse. Chapel Hill’s Jacob Manning will also coach the Blue Team.

Ken Broomfield of Wilmington Laney and John Van Lunen of First Flight will coach the White Team.

Cardone, Metheny and Hunt were three seniors chosen among over 240 players nominated by 92 coaches. 60 men and 59 women’s players were selected for the two games.

The women’s game will be held on Wednesday afternoon at 3:30. The men’s game will start at 6:30.

Cardone, Metheny and Hunt were members of the most successful four-year class in Orange lacrosse history. They were freshmen on the 2020 team that roared out of the gates with a 7-0 start, outscoring opponents 92-33. They ended the season with a decisive win over Roxboro Community School, which was the final sporting event played by any local team for eight months before COVID-19 shut down the season. The RCS game was the final one for Orange senior attacker Wyatt Jones, the first Panther lacrosse player to sign with a Division I school when he played with Mercer.

As the pandemic restrictions eased, Cardone, Metheny and Hunt became key players for Orange’s run of three consecutive conference championships, the first titles in team history. Metheny scored four goals and three assists as a sophomore.

In 2022, Orange won the new Mid-Carolina Conference championship, reached the state quarterfinals for the first time ever and also hosted the Eastern Regional Championship game against First Flight. Cardone and Metheny were named All-Conference. Cardone led the team with 25 created turnovers. He also registered 63 ground balls, fourth on the team. Metheny was another cog in an offensive machine that scored a Mid-Carolina Conferee-leading 273 goals.

Metheney was tied for second on the team with 45 goals. He also finished with 69 points, second on the team. Hunt, in his first full varsity season, had 41 ground balls as a defenseman.

The 2022 team had a 17-3 record, breaking the school record for wins. This year’s team eclipsed that mark with a 18-4 record, once again reaching the 3A/2A/1A Eastern Regional Championship game. Metheny had a career-high 53 goals and scored 68 points. Cardone led the team with 34 turnovers created and was fifth on the team with 60 ground balls.

In April, both Cardone and Metheny signed with Division II Catawba College in Salisbury.

This season, Hunt created 26 turnovers, second on the team. He also had 35 ground balls.

The Bull City All Star Game is a benefit for the Duke Cancer Institute and North Carolina High School Athletic Association scholarships. Organized by Franklin Zirkle, a former head coach at East Chapel Hill and Leesville Road, the game is named in honor of Tony Cullen. One of the most successful players in Duke history, Cullen scored 106 career goals and 114 assists before he graduated in 1979. Afterwards, Cullen went on to coach the Blue Devils for nine years. After his coaching stint ended, Cullen went on to become a college lacrosse official.

In its first year of operation, the Bull City All Star game raised $2,500 for Duke Cancer Institute. Last year, in its first year back after the pandemic, the All-Star game raised $10,000.

 

Rainy Day Man: Orange’s Schmid wins 3,200 meter 3A State Title at N.C. Outdoor Track & Field Championships

The most complete season from an Orange runner in over 25 years is now complete.

At least it is to many outside observers. For junior Gabriel Schmid, there’s still unfinished business for his senior season.

For now, Schmid has become the first Orange High runner to win at state title at the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3A State Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 25 years.

On Friday afternoon, Schmid finished first in the 3,200 meters, capturing the state title with a time of 9:14.94 at the Irwin Belk Track and North Carolina A&T University. He beat runner-up Eli Julian of East Rowan to the finish line by just over five seconds. Julian came in at 9:20.39. Harper Clark of West Johnston finished third at 9:34.07.

Schmid becomes the first runner to win a state championship in outdoor track and field for Orange since 1998. Bradsher Wilkins was named the Most Outstanding Performer at the 1998 state championships after he captured two state championships in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters.

That’s precisely why Schmid feels like Friday was triumphant and incomplete all at once. Schmid finished second in the 1,600 meters, which is basically one mile, behind Clark of West Johnston. Schmid led for most of the race until the final mile. He crossed the finish line at 4:20.05, just behind Clark’s time of 4:18.36.

Schmid’s time in the 3,200 meters was 20 seconds faster than his race last year in the state championships.

Winning the 3,200 meters has been elusive for Orange runners over the last few years. Last year, Schmid finished second in the 3,200 meters, coming up behind Austin Brotemarkle of Forestview. In 2021, Spencer Hampton led most of the way in the 3,200 meters before he was passed on the final lap by Walter Williams’ Ryan Motondo, who finished three seconds ahead of Hampton.

“I think Spenser was here today,” Schmid said afterwards.

In November, Schmid won the 3A Cross Country individual state championship at the Ivey Redmon Sports Complex in Kernersville. Last week, Schmid won the Mideast Regional championship in the 3,200 meters at Franklinton High School.

On Friday, Schmid had to deal with the elements. A torrential storm left behind plenty of water for athletes in all competitions to deal with. The rain had just stopped by the time Schmid started to run the 1,600 meter final.

“The track was just flooded with water,” Schmid said. “There were puddles everywhere.”

Schmid’s cross country championship was in November. His first state track and field championship was in May. Yet both races were run in warmer climates, something that Schmid actually preferred.

“I was heat training over the past two weeks,” Schmid said. “I was running in the hottest part of the day. In a way, I was prepared for the heat. But at the same time, I hadn’t run in the rain, which no one really likes to do. So I don’t think anyone was really prepared for that. I was prepared for the worst and I think I prepared the best I could.”

Last year, Schmid only qualified for one event in the state championships. Looking to become an elite runner, he spent the summer in grueling training throughout the southeast. He attended the Brevard Summer Distance training camp where he ran through the craggy terrain in a mountainous region. He also ventured to West Virginia for a Ragnar relay race.

“That 3.200 race last year was very much a strategy race,” Schmid said. “It is very much who is the tougher runner based on who can survive in that heat. So looking to this year, I qualified for two events. I placed second in the mile. I won the 3,200 meters by six seconds. I feel like I’ve come very far.”

From the very first week of the high school sports season last summer, Schmid has established dominance. At the Early Bird Cross Country Challenge on August 20 at WakeMed Soccer Complex in Cary, Schmid finished first among 178 competitors. He went on to win the Central Carolina Conference championship and the Mideast Regional Championship before earning the state title in Kernersville.

Schmid is just the third Orange High runner in school history to win an outdoor state track & field state championship. In addition to Wilkins, Alvis Whitted won the 100 and 200 meter dash in the 1993 state championships. Following a run in the U.S. Olympic Trails and a successful career at N.C. State, Whitted went on to a nine-year career in the NFL. He is the only Orange Panther to play in a Super Bowl. Whitted suited up for the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Whitted recently became the wide receivers coach for the Utah Utes after a lengthy stint at the University of Wisconsin.

Yet Schmid is still aiming for more. He wants to break the 3A State Record for the 3,200 meters, which is 9:11, a record that has stood since 2010.

“There’s higher expectations,” Schmid said. “But to put it into words and to put it into the track is a whole other thing.”

That’s why he’s headed to California to run in another event next week. For Schmid, there truly is no finish line.

Also in the state outdoor championships, Ja’Ki McDaniels of Orange finished 13th in the long jump at 19-feet, 4.25 inches. Orange senior Isaiah Seymour came in 14th in the triple jump at 39-feet, 1.50 inches.

In women’s track and field, Orange junior Grace Pell finished ninth in the high jump with a leap of four-feet, ten-inches. Iyauna Justice finished 13th in the shot put at 31-feet, eight inches.

Cedar Ridge sophomore Naomi Dyreng, who won three regional championships at Franklinton High, came in seventh in the 1,600 meters at 5:24.62. Cedar Ridge sophomore Abigail Klaitman came in 13th in the same race, crossing the finish line at 5;52.63.

Dyreng also ran in the 3,200 meters. She finished eighth at 11:48.81. Klaitman finished 13th in the 3,200 at 12:24.81.

Cedar Ridge junior Typhany Cheek finished 14th in the long jump with a leap of 15-feet.

Alumni Update: Berini wins 3rd AAC Championship with ECU Baseball

Joey Berini: The #15 East Carolina baseball team has won its third consecutive American Athletic Conference regular season championship. Over the weekend, the Pirates swept South Florida at USF Baseball Stadium in Tampa. On Saturday, the Pirates won 7-1. Berini, who started all three games at shortstop, went 0-for-2 with an RBI groundout on Saturday. In Friday’s 6-5 win for the Pirates, Berini went 1-for-4. On Thursday, East Carolina won 8-3. Berini went 2-for-4 with two RBIs. He had a two-run single in the third inning to even the game 3-3. ECU will be the #1 seed for this week’s AAC Tournament at BayCare Ballpark in Clearwater, FL. They will start play on Tuesday. ECU is 41-15 and sit atop the AAC with an 18-6 record.

Bryse Wilson: On Saturday, Wilson threw three innings of relief for the Milwaukee Brewers agains the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Wilson allowed only two hits and no runs. He had one strikeout. Tampa won 8-4. On May 15, Wilson threw one-and-two-thirds innings of relief as the Brewers were pounded by St. Louis 18-1 at Busch Stadium. Wilson gave up two runs off three hits with two strikeouts. Milwaukee is currently in first place in the National League Central with a 25-21 record. Wilson has a 2.92 ERA with two saves and 24 strikeouts.

Dante DeFranco: The Charlotte 49ers baseball team will be the #3 seed in this week’s Conference USA Baseball Tournament in Houston. The 49ers are on a five-game winning streak after sweeping Middle Tennessee at Hayes Stadium over the weekend. DeFranco started at second base in the 49ers 14-5 win over the Blue Raiders on Friday. He did not have an at-bat. On Thursday, the 49ers defeated Middle Tennessee 3-2. DeFranco went 2-for-4, starting at second base. On Tuesday, Charlotte upset #9 South Carolina 11-9 at Founders Park in Columbia, SC. DeFracno started at second base and went 1-for-5 with a double. He scored off a two-run homer by Blake Jackson in the second inning. Charlotte will face Louisiana Tech, the defending CUSA champions, on Tuesday.

Phillip Berger: The Division III William Peace baseball team ended its season in the USA South Tournament championship series on May 13. North Carolina Wesleyan defeated the Pacers 8-4 in Rocky Mount. On May 12, the Battling Bishops defeated Peace 9-2 in game one of the best-of-three series. Berger started on May 12 for Peace. He suffered the loss, sending his record to 4-5. Berger threw six innings and allowed seven runs off six hits. Only three of the runs were earned. He had three strikeouts and two walks. Peace ends the season 25-21. Berger, a junior, went 4-5 with a. 3.69 ERA this year. He led the team with 76 strikeouts with 26 walks. Peace’s 25 wins this season are a school record.

Jamar Davis: At the ACC Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the Paul Derr Track Facility in Raleigh on May 11-13, Davis finished fourth in the triple jump. His best leap was 15.45 meters. Owayne Owens of Virginia won the conference championship at 16.61 meters. Davis finished eighth in the long jump with a leap of 7.26 meters. Jeremiah Davis of Florida State won the ACC Championship at 7.94 meters. Davis will participate in the NCAA East Regionals this week in Jacksonville, FL.

Jaylin Jones: The Pfeiffer men’s lacrosse team had its season come to an end in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Tournament. Centre College defeated the Falcons 11-9 in Danville, KY. In his final game with the Falcons, Jones had one shot, four ground balls and one turnover created. Jones, who is a graduate student with Pfeiffer, ends the season with 17 games played. He started one. Jones had one game-winning goal. He finished with four goals, two assists and 37 ground balls. Pfieffer went 17-2 this season.

Joe Kiger: On Saturday night, Kiger started the season by winning the MOD 4 feature event at Orange County Speedway just outside of Caldwell. Kiger, running in the Racing Electronics car, won with several of his friends from Orange High and Cedar Ridge High watching on. Kiser played football at Orange.

Orange baseball’s run ends against Southern Lee in 3A State Quarterfinals; Panthers finish 25-3

This time, a five-run inning was too much for Orange to overcome.

Last week, the Panthers pulled off a miracle against Triton, who led 8-3 going into the bottom of the tenth inning. A combination of five walks, a hit batter and three hits, including a walkoff by Wyatt Hedrick, led to six runs and the most improbable comeback in school history as Orange won 9-8.

While Orange never quit battling, Southern Lee’s pitching staff was better equipped to handle a big lead in the 3A State Quarterfinals.

Behind back-to-back homers from Cooper Harrington and Ashton Donathon, the Cavaliers defeated Orange 7-2 on Friday night at Orange High Field. It was Orange’s first home loss of the season, as well as its first loss to a non conference team. The Panthers end the year 25-3, its most wins in a season since 2013.

Southern Lee advanced to the Eastern Regional championship series for the first time in school history. They will face J.H. Rose in a best-of-three series this week.

Orange played without 2022 Central Carolina Pitcher of the Year Cross Clayton, who was limited to six pitching starts this season because of shoulder injuries. While the Panthers’ pitching depth was enough to overcome most opponents this year, the Cavaliers used speed and power to end Orange’s 18-game winning streak.

“They just kept the pressure on,” said Orange coach Jason Knapp after an emotional meeting with his players, most of whom emerged with tears in their eyes. “We had a couple of chances to push a couple of more across, and we just weren’t able to find the timely hit. They ran the bases extremely well. They hit the ball to all fields extremely well. They’re just a well coached, talented ball club.”

The result continued a pattern of one team raining on the other’s parade.While Southern Lee and Orange are separated by just over an hour, they’ve played six times since 2016. Each time, the road team has won. Last April, the Cavaliers edged Orange 6-5 in Hillsborough.

On that day, Southern Lee’s Jalen Jones proved to be a lethal force. He finished 3-for-4 with five putouts. On Friday night, he drove in the opening run off a single to left field to score Donathan.

Immediately, Orange came back in the bottom of the first when senior Jackson Berini, who concluded his career on an 11-game hitting streak, ripped a fastball to right centerfield, the deepest part of Orange’s ballpark where the fence is 402 feet from home plate. After Ryan Hench walked, Connor Nordan sent a flyball in shallow centerfield that Jones caught, but Berini scored on a sacrifice fly for the only tie of the game.

Southern Lee’s Michael Tate-Banks drew a leadoff walk in the second against Orange starter Coltin Hedrick. Caleb Waters lined a single to left field. With one out, Harrington loaded the bases when he reached on a dropped ball in right field. Donathon plated Tate-Banks on a sacrifice fly to left field, which was caught by senior Ryan Hench.

Southern Lee starter Pierce Bouwman, who earned the win to improve to 4-2, used power pitching to squelch any chance for Orange to even the game. In the fourth, the Panthers’ Cameron Guentensberger reached third base while Ryan Honeycutt got to second after each reached on base hits. With one out, Bouwman struck out Neo Best and Wyatt Hedrick to end the inning.

That was the last time Orange was within striking distance. Harrington drilled a leadoff homer over the left field fence in the fifth inning. Donation followed with another dinger that sailed in the vicinity of Harrington’s blast to make it 3-1 Cavaliers. With one out, Jones walked. Kale Scruggs sent a ground ball to second base, which Wyatt Hedrick tried to run down after he held the runner at second. Hedrick’s throw went over the head of Nordan at first base and nearly went into the Orange dugout, allowing Jones to score. After Cooper Moss singled to left field, Tate-Banks was intentionally walked to load the bases.

Josiah Gibbs replaced Coltin Hedrick as pitcher. Waters sent a liner back to the mound that Gibbs caught. Gibbs nearly doubled up Tate-Banks at first base, which would have ended the inning. The throw was errant and Tate-Banks got his hand on the bag just before Nordan could get his glove down. It proved to be a costly sequence for Orange after Spencer Stephens lined a double into right centerfield, scoring Scruggs and Julian McNeil, who was running for Moss. Berini threw out Tate-Banks at the plate, with Horton providing the tag, but the Cavaliers led 7-2.

“We had our five spot against Cape Fear,” Knapp said, referring to Tuesday’s playoff win in the round of 16 where Orange scored five in the first innings, the game’s only runs. “We faced quality arms tonight. Those two guys (Bouwman and Scruggs) were good. We knew that coming in. They were able to get outs when they needed them.”

In the sixth, senior Joey Pounds entered the game for Gibbs and got Orange out of a bases loaded jam with no outs. Pounds, in his final appearance, struck out Scruggs and got Moss to fly out to David Waitt in right.

There were echoes of the Triton miracle in the seventh inning. After Jones made an incredible catch at the centerfield wall with his back to the infield to retire Berini, Waitt reached on an error by Stephens. Hench lined a double that one-hopped the left field fence. After Nordan walked, Guentensberger lined a single to centerfield to score Waitt. Horton grounded into a season-ending double play when Bouwman, who was replaced as pitcher by Scruggs, fielded a grounder, stepped on second and rifled a throw to first.

This entire season, Orange’s nine seniors remembered the feeling of nearly beating perennial power J.H. Rose last year in Greenville. The Panthers led the Rampants 4-0 going into the sixth inning on May 17, 2022 before Rose rallied for four in the sixth and a walkoff homer in the seventh.

They wanted to face Rose again, this time in a best-of-three series. It feels weird for a squad that won 25 games and two conference championships to think about what might have been, but the looks on the seniors faces as they walked back to their dugout on Friday night were of a great team that were a few bad breaks away from being legendary locally.

“Hedrick, Gibbs and Pounds left it all out there,” Knapp said. “My hat is off to those guys. Who would have thought that Colin Hedrick would had the year that he had? Who would have thought that Josiah Gibbs would have had the year that he had? Joey Pounds, you talk about turning it on late. He had a great last month-and-a-half.”

Not only was this team the most successful one that Knapp ever had, it was his first senior class to last four years since he replaced Dean Dease as head coach in 2018. They survived a pandemic together, won three conference championships and made Knapp feel like Orange was his permanent home.

“You get a connection with teams and seniors,” Knapp said. “I think COVID brought us all together because we were left trying to figure out whether we were going to play in 2020. Then we don’t even see each other for months. The guys put together a spring league and I watched from the sidelines. I thought that brought us all together. It’s a great group of young men. Our offseason dedication makes it hurt a little more because all the work these guys put in as a team, even guys who play different sports, bring us closer together. They never gave up.”

 

Hench’s nine strikeouts, Hedrick’s 2-run single puts Orange baseball past Cape Fear 5-0, into state quarterfinals

In a sport that’s as fickle as baseball, there are some mistakes you don’t stop paying for.

Orange jumped right on Cape Fear left hander Caden Jeffrey in the opening inning on Tuesday night, scoring five runs. It proved to be enough for the Panthers to advance to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2014.

Orange senior Ryan Hench struck out nine over six innings, and added an RBI single for the opening run of the game as the Panthers defeated the Colts 5-0 in the third round of the 3A State Playoffs. The Panthers poured on so many runs early on, the fact they didn’t put another runner in scoring position in the final six innings didn’t matter.

The Panthers are 25-2, their most wins in a season since the 2013 team that went 27-4.

The last time the Panthers went to the state quarterfinals, it was 2016 during Bryse Wilson’s senior year. That squad finished 21-7 and lost to Topsail in the playoffs.

Orange will host Southern Lee on Friday night in the fourth round of the state playoffs. The Cavaliers defeated Currituck County 10-7 in Barco on Tuesday night.

Hench, a UNC commitment, improved to 4-0 with a 0.55 ERA in his sixth appearance of the season. Senior Joey Pounds tossed a perfect seventh to complete the Panthers’ first shutout since they beat Person 3-0 on April 5.

“Ryan was able to locate the fastball real well,” said Orange coach Jason Knapp. “He had his slider working well to compliment it. It was really, really good. Those guys (Cape Fear) battled. They had nine hits, but we played well behind Ryan. Our gloves played well.”

Just the fact Orange was playing at all on Tuesday night was miraculous in and of itself. On Friday, Triton led the Panthers 8-3 going into the bottom of the tenth inning before Orange staged the rally of a lifetime. They scored six runs in the bottom of the tenth, off five walks, three hits and a hit batter, to emerge with a 9-8 win in the greatest comeback in team history.

Word of the rally spread like wildfire, even for those who left the game early, and it became the talk of the community during Mother’s Day weekend. By Monday afternoon, Knapp said his team had largely put it behind them.

“This is a seasoned team,” Knapp said. “We’ve been through some battles. When we came in Monday, we talked about it for a second. Then we went out and had a great practice. I wasn’t a bit worried about that.”

Cape Fear (18-11), the champions of the United 8 Conference, mounted the game’s first threat when Mason Hughes lined a two-out single to right field. Hughes advanced to third on an errant pickoff throw by Hench, who responded by striking out Evan Bunce to end the inning.

Orange had six of its ten hits in the opening inning, starting with a leadoff single by senior Jackson Berini. David Waitt sent a hard grounder to right field, easily moving Berini to third. Hench’s single got through to left field to score Berini for the opening run. Pounds came on for Hench as a courtesy runner while Waitt moved over to third on a passed ball. Cameron Guentensberger walked to load the bases. With two out, Ryan Honeycutt hit a bouncing ball though the 5-6 hole to score Waitt. Neo Best reached on an infield hit where Colts third baseman Hunter Darden made a diving stop but couldn’t come up with a play. Pounds crossed the plate to make it 3-0. Wyatt Hedrick, who had the game-winning hit in the 10th inning against Triton, continued his hot streak with a soft liner that dropped in front of left fielder Ethan Wienand. Ty Walker, running in place of Honeycutt, just beat the throw from left field to score along with Guentensberger.

That was all Orange needed, but their defense put in work. Jackson Rainey and Spencer Perez each had singles to start the second, but Hench struck out Darden. Wienand flew out to Waitt in right field.

Bunce led off the fourth with a single to left field, but was thrown out by Honeycutt trying to steal second.

The Colts biggest threat came in the fifth when Wienand led off with a double down the left field line. Ethan Colletti went opposite field for a single, where Wienand was held at third. Mason Hughes sent a grounder to Best at third base. Best held Wienand at third while he threw out Colletti at second. Bunce advanced on a dropped third strike, but Hughes was thrown out at second to end the inning

Orange’s Elijah Santos made a superb catch in left field in the sixth to retire Perez. It came after Jackson lined a single to right field. Santos made another big catch on Darden to end the threat.

Berini and Waitt each finished 2-for-3.

Now Orange will face Southern Lee, who the Panthers have occasionally played in non-conference games over the years.

“They have a new coach, but he has them playing great,” Knapp said. “He has them playing as hot as a firecracker right now. Anytime you can travel all the way down to Currituck County and find yourself a way to win, you know you’ve got a great program.”

Southern Lee has become a sentimental favorite in the state tournament after head coach Tommy Harrington suffered a near-fatal ATV accident in December. Harrington, who replaced David Lee as head coach last year, finished 2nd in the Sandhills Conference behind Pinecrest, a 4A school.

 

 

Walden’s four goals leads Northwood lax to East Regional title, dashes Orange’s dreams in 10-8 win

The surroundings were there for a coronation.

A year after looking out of sorts in its first-ever Eastern Regional Championship game appearance against First Flight, the Orange lacrosse team looked to get it right on Tuesday night at Auman Stadium in another state semifinal appearance.

Their opponent, Northwood, had lost five straight games to the Panthers. On April 19 in Pittsboro, the Panthers ruined the Chargers’ senior night with a 16-10 win that clinched the Mid-Carolina Conference championship.

Yet despite Orange’s dominance in the rivalry, Northwood looked like the most desperate team on Tuesday night, as they should have. It was the last chance for seniors Will Smith, Taylor Laberge, Jason Walden, Will Johnson and Taylor Zelholf to beat Orange.

They played like it was their last game. It led to the Chargers first regional championship.

As the buzzer sounded on Northwood’s 10-8 upset win over the Panthers in the 3A/2A/1A Eastern Regional Championship game, the jubilant Chargers all threw their white sticks in the air while Orange coach Chandler Zirkle watched from the sidelines.

Northwood advances to face Lake Norman Charter in the State Championship game at Durham County Stadium.

It was a crushing disappointment for Orange (18-4), who was held to a season-low eight goals against a 3A/2A/1A opponent. Junior Connor Kruse, the Panthers’ leading scorer who went into the game with a right leg injury, was held without a goal for the first time this season.

It was Orange’s first loss against a team from its own classification all year. The Panthers had been ranked #1 in the RPI East Region all season. Northwood was #2.

Tigh Metheny, in his final game at Orange, scored two goals. After the final buzzer, an inconsolable Metheny was motionless laying face-down in the middle of the field as his teammates gathered around him in a show of support.

“Northwood made the plays in front of them,” Zirkle said after addressing his team. “They did a great job of that. We just didn’t hit our shots. We turned the ball over too much and created turnover opportunities.”

The wear and tear of playing 21 games caught up with Orange. In addition to Kruse’s injury, freshman Matthew MacNair was also banged up after establishing himself in place of senior Jake Wimsatt, who injured his MCL in March.

Without a healthy Kruse, Orange’s offense looked disjointed. A superb effort by Johnson, who defended Kruse most of the night, kept the Panthers from getting into a rhythm. After Josh Cowan notched Orange’s opening goal off a rebound conceded by Northwood goalkeeper James Flanagan 97 seconds into the game, the Panthers didn’t score for nearly twelve minutes.

“18 wins is the most we’ve had as a program,” Zirkle said. “That’s a lot of games on the legs. Connor’s biggest strength has been his durability. We had all the chances we needed to try to score and we just couldn’t execute it.”

Northwood controlled possession the final five minutes of the first quarter. They evened the game when Carson Fortunes found Smith darting through the heart of the slot for a transition goal. Then Laberge notched an unassisted goal when he fired an overhand shot past Orange goalkeeper Katie Wolter. Fortunes hit Walden on the doorstep for a dunk shot to make it 3-1 Chargers with 2:28 remaining in the first quarter.

Orange quickly tied it in the second quarter with two goals in 22 seconds, both assisted by freshman Brandon Williams. Luke Nevius fired in a sidearm bazooka from 16 yards. After a slashing penalty against Taylor Zelholf, Metheny tallied Orange’s first man-up goal with 10:26 remaining in the first half.

It felt like the Panthers had found their offensive legs after a sluggish first quarter, but that was the final time the game was tied.

Laberge added his second goal off an assist from Fortunes. After Orange’s Nick Cardone was called for slashing, Walden scored off an assist from Smith for the Chargers only man-up goal. Wimsatt responded with a sidearm shot assisted by Kruse with 1:12 remaining to make it 5-4 at halftime.

Walden bounced in his third goal to start the second half off a feed from Laberge. Metheny ripped his second goal off a feed from Kruse, but the Panthers were held scoreless for the final 5:28 of the third quarter. Smith’s second goal off a pass from Van Reece gave the Chargers a 7-5 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Cowan scored from the top of the box on a sidearm shot to begin the fourth quarter, but Northwood built a three-goal lead afterwards. Laberge completed his hat trick off a pass from Walden. Fortunes added his only goal of the game.

Orange fought back with two goals in 44 seconds, the first from senior Joe Cady. Josh Crabtree added another after an offside penalty to cut the Chargers lead to 9-8, but the Panthers couldn’t win a face-off. Coltrane Northington had a strong game for the Chargers at the face-off dot. Walden’s fourth goal with 3;08 remaining put the game on ice.

After Orange defeated Northwood on April 19 to complete a season sweep, it felt like the Panthers could punch its own ticket to the state championship game. It was why they played powerful 4A schools like Green Level and Wilmington Laney early in the season. Instead, the Chargers didn’t win a conference championship, but they did take a regional championship.

“It just sucks,” Zirkle said. “The kids did so much to try to get back to this point and try to take the next step. We weren’t able to do that. So it’s on to next year.”

It was a bitter disappointment for seniors Wimsatt, Cady, Cardone, Metheny, Josiah Tisdale, Braden Hunt, Seth Hall, Andrew Harris and Dalton Murphy, who leave after putting Orange lacrosse higher on the totem pole amid the crowded spring sports landscape in Hillsborough. Together, they won the first two conference championships in school history and hosted a regional title game twice with three trips to the state quarterfinals.

“We love them,” Zirkle said. “They left with the most wins in program history. They’ve done a phenomenal job.”