The Cedar Ridge Red Wolves had a historic season but came up short, losing in the third round of the playoffs to the Eastern Alamance Eagles. From left to right: Alexandria Matthews, Emma Roby, Olivia Aiken, Ava Lowry, Taylor Barnes, Marlee Rakouskas, and Cailyn Thornton.

This year, Allen Byrd slept the night Cedar Ridge’s season ended.

In 2018, the Red Wolves softball bused to Shalotte (15 miles from Myrtle Beach) to face top-seeded West Brunswick. The Trojans came away with a 4-3 win in nine innings after a walkoff single by freshman Morgan Barbee.

It ended the dominant year, and career, of Cedar Ridge pitcher Rivers Andrews, who struck out eleven Trojans that night to bring her season total to 201 batters in a year where she led the Red Wolves to its first-ever conference championship in softball.

As he took the four-and-a-half hour bus ride back to Hillsborough, Byrd knew that his team had lost. The question that kept bouncing around in his head was: Was his team the better one that just fell victim to a couple of bad bounces?

That question stayed with him well past midnight and on into the next day. He staggered into his day job at the Mebane Police Department the following morning without a wink of sleep.

Last Tuesday, there was no question who the better team was.

Eastern Alamance dominated Cedar Ridge, 14-0, at Eagles Softball Field in Mebane in the third round of the 3A State Playoffs. The Eagles (20-2) would go on to clinch a birth in the Eastern Regional Championship Series after holding off Cleveland, 3-2, on Friday night.

Against the Red Wolves, Eastern freshman pitcher Kenna Raye Dark, who has already committed to UNC, provided the most dominant playoff display in recent memory. She struck out eleven Red Wolves in a three-hit shutout and went 3-for-3 at the plate. That included a blistering solo homer in the 2nd inning, as well as an RBI single in the fourth, once the game had long been decided.

Cedar Ridge concluded the year 21-3, the most wins in school history. Eastern Alamance softball ends Cedar Ridge’s season

“We went to Mebane with all intention to give them what we had,” Byrd said. “Hats off to them. We got down and we struggled to rebound. They’re a solid team and they’re very talented. We’re pulling for them because they’re a local team.”

Two days later, the sting of the Eastern Alamance loss was a distant memory. The Eagles started only two seniors, so there’s little shame in losing to a team that could be dominant for years to come.

On Thursday, all of the players and coaches returned to Cedar Ridge softball field one more time. While they would have rather practiced in preparation for Cleveland, instead they played kickball. Coach Byrd’s team wound up winning a four-inning game filled with laughter, frivolity and frequent questions about what, exactly, the rules of kickball are.

Of course, the elephant in the room was the six seniors who helped build the most successful stint in Cedar Ridge softball history had just played their final game.

Taylor Ruhl, Kara Wagoner, Kymberlie Thacker, Tionna Carter, Taylor Barnes and Amy Stutzer will graduate next month after leading the Red Wolves to a 38-5 record (28-1 against Big 8 teams) and two Big 8 Championships since 2018.

“We had a really great year,” Byrd said. “We accomplished our goals of repeating as conference champions. We had the best record that Cedar Ridge has ever had.”

For members of Cedar Ridge’s coaching staff, some of the seniors are family. Wagoner, who has signed to play at NAIA Montreat College, is the nephew of first base coach Brian Rhew. She’s winding down her stint as the president of the Cedar Ridge chapter of Future Farmers of America with a 4.2 grade point average.

Carter’s father, Brian, is a school resource officer at Orange after previously working at Cedar Ridge.

Thacker, who started her softball career at the age of 5 playing at the Hillsborough Exchange Club with the HYAA, will suit up for NCAA Division III Brevard College next year.

Two weeks ago, Stutzer formally signed with Salem College.

“They’re going to be missed,” Byrd said. “They know they can call me about anything regarding life. They leave some big shoes to fill.”

The firepower of this year’s Cedar Ridge team will be difficult to replicate. The Red Wolves scored double-digit runs in 17 of their 24 games.

Next season, Byrd will return second baseman Tori Dalehite, who hit .544 with 43 hits and 41 RBIs. Freshman sensation Takia Nichols, who led the team with eight home runs, will also be back at third base.

Freshman Olivia Aitkin, who finished the Eastern Alamance game in the circle, will be the top contender to become the new starting pitcher.

“We’re losing six strong leaders, but I feel very confident in what we’re bringing back next year,” Byrd said. “I think our outlook is going to be a little different. I don’t think we’re going to have the power that we had, but I think we’ll have a good fundamental team.”