West Lincoln survived an intense night of wrestling Thursday against its two closest rivals to capture its second straight 2A West Regional championship. The Rebels defeated Fred T. Foard 33-27 in round three of the NCHSAA dual-meet playoffs, then held on in a winner-take-all meet against South Fork 2A Conference foe Newton-Conover for a 30-25 victory in the West final held on the Red Devils’ home mats.
West Lincoln (26-2) advances to Saturday’s 2A state final at the Greensboro Coliseum Fieldhouse, where it will face Croatan (25-3) for the second straight season and the third time in five years. The dual meet final is set for noon. The Rebels, who defeated the Cougars 54-16 last February, are now looking for their fourth state title to pair with championships won in 2000 and 2015. Croatan reached the finals after defeating Ledford in the 2A East Regional on Thursday.
With eight dual-meet titles between Foard, Newton-Conover and West Lincoln since 2011, the gym at Newton-Conover was packed with fans sitting against the walls below the basketball goals in support of their teams. The crowded stands gave an indication of the night that was ahead.
Given that West Lincoln and Newton-Conover had won the past six 2A dual-meet titles, it seemed fated that the right to go to the finals would come down to evening’s final match between Rebels heavyweight Brock Steele and his Red Devils rival, Ryan Walker. The bout was the third of the season between the two with Walker winning during the conference season and Steele winning the tournament conference title last Saturday in an ultimate tiebreaker.
The turning point of Thursday’s match came in the second period after Steele worked an escape from the down position. With time ticking away, the action moved toward the West Lincoln coaches' corner. As the two broke a hold at the edge of the circle, Walker was ruled to have pushed Steele out of bounds, with the referee granting Steele a point. The point proved to be crucial as Steele held on for a 3-2 win that gave the Rebels the regional title.
Choosing his words carefully, Newton-Conover head coach Eddy Clark said the decision was hard to swallow.
“These kids work so hard and train for moments like this,” Clark said. “For it to come down to something like that, it’s tough.” Clark, however, was quick to give credit to West Lincoln. “Congrats to them,” he added. “They’re well coached and are a great team.”
West Lincoln coach Butch Ross had a sense early on that it would come down to the heavyweights.
‘It was a great match for both kids,” Ross said of the decisive match. “I just hate one of them had to lose and I do hate it that it ended on that violation. But, that’s part of wrestling.”
Ross was equally impressed with Clark’s squad. “Just like always,” he continued, “we come in here and it’s a dogfight and whoever gets the break is going to win.”
The Steele-Walker match to decide the regional was set up by the previous three matches. After West Lincoln dominated the middleweight classes to build a 24-18 lead, Joshua Nichols (182 pound) routed Luke Scronce 10-1 for a major decision that cut the Red Devils’ deficit to 24-22. Next at 195, James Gaither looked certain to put Newton-Conover ahead after building a 4-2 lead in the second period. However, a series of stoppages due to a facial cut seemed to slow his momentum. After Gaither was bandaged more heavily, Alex Hall took advantage and went on to claim a 6-4 victory, leaving the Red Devils in a position of having to win the final two matches.
Sakarri Morrison (220) held up his end with a surprising 4-3 win over Harley Scronce, who had won their regular-season tussle 13-4. It looked like another rout at hand after Scronce scored an early takedown, but Morrison pushed through and got a reverse out of the down position in the final period to hold on for the win.
“(Morrison) is a ninth grader,” Clark said. “He’s come a long way this year and is a warrior. He has the chance to be truly special.”
Trailing 15-3, West Lincoln racked up points starting with Ricky Reynolds’ 6-3 decision over Luke Canrobert at 138. The Rebels followed that with pins by Xander Pendergrass (145), Canon Bridges (152) and Nathan Hull (170).
Newton-Conover built its early lead with the help of a fall by Mitch Glover (113) and decisions by Camden Spencer (106), Isaiah Summers (120) and Spenser Harris (132), the latter of which remained unbeaten (58-0) after a decision over Chance Norman.
However, Ross said the ability for Norman to stay out of a pin proved to be a turning point.
“I told him that if you don’t get pinned,” Ross said, “we’re going to win this thing.”
Harris just missed a chance at a major decision as a prospective near fall occurred after the final buzzer.
Clark agreed that the inability to add bonus points was a crucial downfall.
“In a meet as close as this,” Clark said, “those bonus points are precious.”
To get to the finals, West Lincoln picked up key points in several matches to move past Fred T. Foard in a rematch of last year’s 2A West final.
After an overtime win by Luke Stewart (126) pushed the Rebels ahead 13-9, Jake Santolli (132) and Josh Riggs (138) picked up decision wins to put Foard ahead 15-13 at the halfway point of the meet.
Yet the lead was short-lived as Xander Pendergrass (145) increased a decision to a major decision at 11-1 with a third-period near fall. In the next match, with a stall warning already in place, AJ Wingate (152) was again called for a stall with 11 seconds left that was the only point in a loss to Canon Bridges.
“There were some weights we didn’t get it done tonight,” Tigers coach Mike Carey said. “And that’s on me.”
Hayden Thomas (160) followed with a pin and Nathan Hull (170) got an 8-0 major decision. A near fall by Luke Scronce (182) with 40 seconds left sewed up the Rebels’ win. West Lincoln forfeited the final two bouts for the final margin.
Despite the tough match against a rival, Ross said his team had no carry over for the final meet. “You don’t have to say much when you wrestle Newton,” Ross said. “And you don’t have to say much to them when they wrestle us.”
In its’ third-round match, Newton-Conover broke open a 21-21 tie against Pisgah with decisions from Cole Clark (170) and Joshua Nichols (182) before Morrison (195) wrapped up the win with a pin. Spencer (106) and Glover (113) led the early surge for the Red Devils with quick pins.
ROUND 4: WEST LINCOLN 30, NEWTON-CONOVER 25
106: Camden Spencer (N-C) d. Kemp Wehunt, 7-1
113: Mitch Glover (N-C) p. Langston Hoffman, 1:35
120: Isaiah Summers (N-C) d. Chade Norman, 5-2
126: Luke Stewart (WL) d. Cole Yoder, 8-2
132: Spenser Harris (N-C) d. Chance Norman, 6-0
138: Ricky Reynolds (WL) d. Luke Canrobert, 7-2
145: Xander Pendergrass (WL) p. Carson Dollarhide, 3:40
152: Canon Bridges (WL) p. Charlie Pettery, 3:06
160: Spenser Brackett (N-C) d. Hayden Thomas, 8-4
170: Nathan Hull (WL) p. Cole Clark, 3:01
182: Joshua Nichols (N-C) d. Luke Scronce, 10-1
195: Alex Hall (WL) d. James Gaither, 8-4
220: Sakarri Morrison (N-C) d. Harley Scronce, 4-3
285: Brock Steele (WL) d. Ryan Walker, 3-2
ROUND 3: WEST LINCOLN 33, FRED T. FOARD 27
106: Ian Willis (FTF) d. Kemp Wehunt, 8-6
113: Langston Hoffman (WL) d. Spencer Bechtol, 13-5
120: Braden Wharton (FTF) p. Chade Norman, 3:10
126: Luke Stewart (WL) d. Janie Richard, 8-6 (OT)
132: Jake Santolli (FTF) d. Chance Norman, 8-4
138: Josh Riggs (FTF) d. Ricky Reynolds, 6-3
145: Xander Pendergrass (WL) d. Justin Whalen, 11-1
152: Canon Bridges (WL) d. AJ Wingate, 1-0
160: Hayden Thomas (WL) p. David Weaver, 4:48
170: Nathan Hull (WL) d. Hunter Lloyd, 8-0
182: Luke Scronce (WL) d. David White, 3-2
195: Fabian Meza (FTF) won by forfeit
220: Landon Foor (FTF) won by forfeit
285: Brock Steele (WL) p. Mo McAfee, 5:44
ROUND 3: NEWTON-CONOVER 34, PISGAH 27
106: Camden Spencer (N-C) p. Albert Messer, 0:46
113: Mitch Glover (N-C) p. Seth King, 0:40
120: Braden Riggs (CP) p. Isaiah Summers, 2:34
126: Spenser Harris (N-C) d. Louis Mehaffey, 4-0
132: Lucas Whitted (CP) d. Cole Yoder, 8-4
138: Luke Canrobert (N-C) d. McRae Robb, 6-2
145: Carson Dollarhide (N-C) d. Trevor Phillips, 7-6
152: Lane Mease (CP) d. Charlie Pettery, 9-6
160: Jonathan Mehaffey (CP) p. Spencer Brackett, 3:20
170: Joshua Nichols (N-C) d. Levi Cagle, 11-0
182: Cole Clark (N-C) d. Chandler Ashe, 8-1
195: Sakarri Morrison (N-C) p. Ismael Carmona, 1:35
220: Luis Ramirez (CP) won by forfeit
285: Terran Brown (CP) d. Ryan Walker, 7-0