A year ago, the St. Stephens wrestling team captured the first dual state championship in school history. Behind 11 seniors, the Indians finished 43-0 as they dominated the 3A ranks.
Expectations weren’t nearly as high this season, but St. Stephens proved a lot of doubters wrong throughout the 2019-20 campaign. The Indians won the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference’s regular-season and tournament titles and cruised through the first two rounds of the dual state playoffs on Tuesday at Arndt Middle School.
The Indians’ magical run came to an end on Friday night at St. Stephens High School. They came from behind to beat previously undefeated West Henderson 36-29 in the third round, but fell to Enka 38-33 in the 3A West Regional championship match.
“It’s great for our program because we’ve got a lot of kids. It says a lot about what my guys did from the end of last season to the beginning of this season to get prepared,” St. Stephens coach Billy Baker said. “… We had a lot of guys that are first-year starters that started off a little rough this year and they got better and better and better, and we ended up being a pretty good team at the end of the year.
“There’s a lot of teams that would love to be wrestling in the regional final,” he continued. “They’re disappointed, they’re hurt, but when you work hard for something it’s gonna hurt a little.”
West Henderson (23-1) started the third-round match with back-to-back wins from 145-pounder Jackson Futch and 152-pounder Stephen Baynard. Futch earned a 6-4 decision over the Indians’ Garrett Bolling, while Baynard defeated Beck Nestor by a 15-5 major decision to give the Falcons an early 7-0 advantage.
Jayden Jackson got St. Stephens (33-9) on the board with a 12-7 decision over Gabriel Brittain at 160 pounds, but a 12-0 major decision from the Falcons’ Auden Brennan (170) over Dorian Whitworth swung momentum back to the visitors. However, the Indians responded with consecutive victories from Justin Beltran (182; 5-4 decision over Jackson Chandler) and Andre Britt (195; 51-second pin of Samuel Musser) to grab their first lead of the match at 12-11.
West Henderson countered with a pin of its own when Will Parker (220) pinned Robert Valencia at the 3:07 mark, but St. Stephens’ Ryan Campbell (285) slipped past Nick Blankenship courtesy of a 2-0 decision to keep the score close. Then, after the Falcons’ Damon Landreth (106) pinned Cesar Chavez Alonzo in 3:22 to extend West Henderson’s lead to 23-15, the Indians tallied a pair of pins as Jovanny Urzua (113) pinned Christian Riley in 1:22 and Coy Reid (120) pinned Addison Speight in 1:11 to put the hosts up 27-23.
The Falcons briefly retook the lead when Dillon Blackwell (126) pinned Evan Trossi in 4:55, but St. Stephens closed the match with wins from Kymani Evans (132; pinned Solomon Jenks in 3:43) and Dalen Milligan (138; 4-1 decision over Connor Chandler) to advance to the regional finals.
Following a 42-36 victory over Piedmont (26-11) in Friday’s other third-round contest, it looked like Enka (29-6) was going to have its way with the Indians in Round 4. After each of the first six bouts went to the Jets — Tony Torres earned a 12-4 decision over Nestor at 152, Luke Artz earned a 15-10 decision over Jackson at 160, Garrett Pugh earned an 8-0 decision over Whitworth at 170, Eli Vassey earned a 2-0 decision over Beltran at 182, Dylan Wright pinned Britt in 1:04 at 195 and Colby Maxwell pinned Valencia in 2:55 at 285 — they found themselves with what appeared to be a commanding 26-0 lead.
St. Stephens answered with a run of its own, with Campbell turning a late deficit into a pin at the 5:58 mark against Daniel Gath in the 285-pound tilt. Alonzo (106) followed with a 7-5 sudden-victory decision over Isaiah Morrison, while Urzua (113) pinned Caleb Boone in 3:36 and Reid (120) pinned Lathan Lunsford in 1:34 to bring the Indians within five points at 26-21.
The next two bouts went to the Jets as they regained control of the match. Corbin Dion (126) pinned Braxton Hankinson in 2:29 before Greyson Harris (132) pinned Evans in 4:17 to give Enka a lead so large that it was able to forfeit the final two weight classes, which resulted in wins for the Indians’ Milligan (138) and Bolling (145).
“I saw us fight a little. We knew we were up against the wall,” said Baker of St. Stephens’ comeback attempt. “We didn’t match up real well in some places where we have to get wins, they have big horses, but we battled ‘em. We didn’t give up a lot of bonus points, which gave us a chance.
“But they’re a great team, they’re a great coaching staff. If you’ve got to lose to somebody, that’s the kind of people you want to lose to,” he added of Enka. “They’re quality coaches, quality kids, and we’ve seen each other a lot over the years.”
Enka moved on to the state title match against 3A East Region champion Northern Guilford (48-3) on Saturday at the Greensboro Coliseum Fieldhouse.
St. Stephens 36, West Henderson 29
106: Damon Landreth (WH) p. Cesar Chavez Alonzo, 3:22
113: Jovanny Urzua (SS) p. Christian Riley, 1:22
120: Coy Reid (SS) p. Addison Speight, 1:11
126: Dillon Blackwell (WH) p. Evan Trossi, 4:55
132: Kymani Evans (SS) p. Solomon Jenks, 3:43
138: Dalen Milligan (SS) d. Connor Chandler, 4-1
145: Jackson Futch (WH) d. Garrett Bolling, 6-4
152: Stephen Baynard (WH) d. Beck Nestor, 15-5
160: Jayden Jackson (SS) d. Gabriel Brittain, 12-7
170: Auden Brennan (WH) d. Dorian Whitworth, 12-0
182: Justin Beltran (SS) d. Jackson Chandler, 5-4
195: Andre Britt (SS) p. Samuel Musser, :51
220: Will Parker (WH) p. Robert Valencia, 3:07
285: Ryan Campbell (SS) d. Nick Blankenship, 2-0
Enka 38, St. Stephens 33
106: Cesar Chavez Alonzo (SS) d. Isaiah Morrison 7-5 (SV-1)
113: Jovanny Urzua (SS) p. Caleb Boone, 3:36
120: Coy Reid (SS) p. Lathan Lunsford, 1:34
126: Corbin Dion (E) p. Braxton Hankinson, 2:29
132: Greyson Harris (E) p. Kymani Evans, 4:17
138: Dalen Milligan (SS) won by forfeit
145: Garrett Bolling (SS) won by forfeit
152: Tony Torres (E) d. Beck Nestor, 12-4
160: Luke Artz (E) d. Jayden Jackson, 15-10
170: Garrett Pugh (E) d. Dorian Whitworth, 8-0
182: Eli Vassey (E) d. Justin Beltran, 2-0
195: Dylan Wright (E) p. Andre Britt, 1:04
220: Colby Maxwell (E) p. Robert Valencia, 2:55
285: Ryan Campbell (SS) p. Daniel Gath, 5:58