This February marks the six-year anniversary of the Cedar Ridge boys basketball team’s last trip to the NCHSAA regionals.
It journeyed to Greenville as the top seed from the Mid-State Conference, along with league rival Northwood. The Red Wolves lost in the round of 16 to Clinton, an underdog who enjoyed a home-court advantage thanks to over 800 students that crammed the bleachers at Minges Coliseum chanting “I believe that we will win” years before American soccer fans made that slogan cool.
Josh Pappas was the point guard for the Red Wolves that year.
Now, his younger brother Peyton leads Cedar Ridge.
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While the first game of any basketball season often is filled with the disorganization, chaos and sloppiness that’s common in all sports, Pappas’s aggression and experience was enough to lead Cedar Ridge to an opening win Tuesday night at Carrboro. It was also the first step in trying to get back to the promised land of playoff basketball.
Pappas scored 25 points, including the game-winning basket with 2:06 remaining, as the Red Wolves defeated Carrboro 66-64. Jacob Thomas, 6-5 a transfer from Chapel Hill playing his first game for the Red Wolves, added 18.
Cole Phillips and Zack Anderson led Carrboro with 13 points. The duo was responsible for mounting a comeback after the Jaguars trailed 43-29 at halftime. Anderson scored nine points in the second half as Carrboro mounted a 25-6 run to start the second half and take a 54-49 lead with 7:17 remaining.
Cedar Ridge coach Clay Jones responded to Carrboro’s run by benching his starting five for the final 1:32 of the third quarter.
It was a move reminiscent of Dean Smith, which was only fitting. Former UNC All-American Eric Montross was seated in the top row of the gym, watching his son Andrew play for Carrboro. (He finished with seven points and 14 rebounds).
“I told the guys at halftime ‘Don’t be comfortable,’ and I think we were,” said Jones. “We’ve got some veteran guys, but we’ve got some new guys who have got to learn how to play with a lead. We had some adversity tonight, but I’m pleased with a nonconference win at any time.”
To few people’s surprise, the Montross family carries big bodies across its family genes. It was something Cedar Ridge 6-6 center Jonathan Hall knew when he faced 6-4 Andrew Montross, who isn’t as tall as his 7-foot father, but is huskier. Nontheless, Hall bodied up against Montross and came away with 11 rebounds.
“I told John he did a good job against Montross,” said Jones. “We’ve got to get other guys to do that. He’s a hard worker defensively. Montross did a good job pulling John away from the basket and driving on him. Our help defense wasn’t present tonight, unfortunately.”
With Cardinal Gibbons out of the Big 8 Conference, the expectations around Cedar Ridge are high, thanks in large part to the return of Pappas, Hall and Ikell Knowles, plus the addition of Thomas. Not surprisingly, Jones compares his team to the Cedar Ridge volleyball team, which went undefeated in the Big 8 and went to the final four of the 3A state playoffs.
“Our goal is to host a playoff game,” said Jones. “We went from nine to 13 wins last year. We want to have a home game just like the volleyball team did this year. I think the fans will come out for us just like they did for volleyball.”
As for Carrboro, they were hampered when Phillips picked up his fourth foul with 4:56 remaining. Phillips defended Pappas most of the night, including down the stretch. Pappas, the son of a coach, wasted no time in driving against Phillips when the time called for it, leading to the game-winning field goal. Phillips fouled out in the final minute after getting called for a charge.
“Tonight was his first varsity game,” said Carrboro coach John Alcox about Phillips. “Cole was doing a good job on defense. It’s a learning process with him. He did a good job overall.”
The Jaguars were without shooting guard Jackson Overbeck, who is nursing a foot injury suffered during football season.