Baseball is a sport of numbers that tell a story of their own.
Hank Aaron’s 755 home runs. 511 career wins by Cy Young. Pete Rose’s 4,256 hits.
20 wins in a season is typically the baseline for pitchers between a good season and a great one in the Major Leagues. In high school, 20 wins in a career in a much steeper hill to climb considering that most teams play 20-25 games in a season.
Cedar Ridge senior Phil Berger’s 20th win came in a 13-1 win over Hillside last Tuesday. He came on in relief of Matthew Hughes in the 3rd inning and threw one and two-thirds shutout innings. It was the 42nd pitching appearance in his Cedar Ridge career, 25 of them starts.
True to his quiet nature, Berger took the milestone in stride. He didn’t even know it was his 20th career win until head coach Mitchell Frazier informed him on the team bus as it drove away from Fayetteville Street in Durham.
“I never really thought about it until it came up,” Berger said. “I had no idea until we got back on the bus.”
Berger’s milestone is particularly special because of how easy, and earlier, he could have set it elsewhere.
At the conclusion of last season, head coach Jamie Athas left for Burlington Wiliams because the school was within walking distance of his home. Starting pitcher Matthew Kahn, 2nd baseman Jake DeFranco, and shortstop Dante DeFranco all transferred from a team that went 18-6, its best record in 12 years.
Berger could have followed suit. He admits that joining Athas at Williams was a consideration.
“I just felt there were better academic opportunities here,” Berger said after batting practice Monday. “I moved here (from Rockingham County) before 9th grade and I didn’t really want to start over somewhere else. I thought about going with Coach Athas over to Williams, but I just thought it would be better to stay here.”
Berger’s commitment to Cedar Ridge can be traced back over the past two years. On his 16th birthday, he threw a one-hit shutout to beat Orange 6-0 in 2017. The following month, he threw a three-hitter, striking out five as the Red Wolves defeated Nash Central 4-1 for its first state playoff win in ten years. Last year, Berger went 2-for-4 playing third base as Cedar Ridge upended Southern Alamance 10-2 for another state playoff win.
As the regular season enters its final week, Berger finds himself in a different position from recent seasons. Last year, he was among several Cedar Ridge players who drove over to Chapel Hill High and watched with anticipation as the entire Big 8 Championship race boiled down to one game between the Tigers and East Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill pulled off a win to take the conference championship, finishing one game ahead of the Red Wolves.
Now, with seven starters gone from last year, the Red Wolves are 4-10 going into Tuesday’s doubleheader against Southern Durham.
“I’ve learned how to deal with adversity,” Berger said. “Obviously it’s been tougher this year. There have been things that they can build off here in the future and personally that I can build off of.”
Berger comes from a family that’s instrumental across the entire state. His father, a judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, serves as an assistant coach with the Red Wolves.
After Phillip graduates in June, he aims to continue playing baseball at William Peace University in Raleigh.
“I want to go into business,” Berger said. “I’m not sure exactly what. I’m looking into going into some type of sports management. It’s just something that interests me.”