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Credit Southern Nash assistant coach Kenneth Jones for firing the proverbial verbal bull's-eye when he quipped: “They shut down Bill’s (Barbecue Restaurant) and everything falls apart.”
Jones uttered the observation shortly after defending champion and odds-on 2019 favorite was stunned 39-38 by Franklinton, the 2018 runner-up, in the fourth of five rounds of competition in the annual 3-A Big East Conference Team Duals wrestling championships in the Fike High gym Saturday.
The occurrence left Fike, Franklinton and Southern Nash deadlocked for the lead at 3-1 with one match remaining for each of the six conference teams. Franklinton was matched against Southern Nash.
Numerous members of the Fike and Southern Nash squads were unaware that Franklinton had dropped a 42-33 decision to unheralded Northern Nash in the opening round. Southern Nash lost 47-25 to Fike in the third round.
Thus, either Fike or Franklinton would emerge the champion. Fike would prevail with a conquest of Northern Nash and a Southern Nash triumph against Franklinton. Franklinton needed to defeat the Firebirds. Southern Nash found itself in position to tie Fike with the best record (4-1) but would be denied the championship because of its loss to Fike.
The Golden Demons responded with a vengeance in dispensing with Northern Nash, 61-15, in their final and got help from Southern Nash in the form of a 41-39 thriller against Franklinton. Fike seized its fourth consecutive title in an event that declares the official conference champion in the sport.
Following Fike and the Firebirds in the final order were Northern Nash (3-2), Franklinton (3-2), Hunt (1-4) and Rocky Mount (0-5). The Warriors brought seven wrestlers, while Rocky Mount showed with a quartet.
TOOK A MIRACLE
“This is not the way we wanted to win,” said Fike head coach Brad Watson, “but I was excited. It would take a miracle this time. This is the fourth straight year we’ve won it and I was afraid that streak was going to end. The Lord works in mysterious ways; He helped us out in this one.”
Of Fike’s fortune, senior Joseph Speight responded: “Southern Nash is good and I thought they would probably beat (Franklinton). This is my fourth time winning it and I just feel very excited. I think the first one was probably the best, but we wrestled good in this one.”
Southern Nash won in a no-win situation, evoking the pride of head coach Eddie Coble.
“I feel good,” Coble remarked. “I like those (Fike) guys. But I feel good for my guys; they wrestled hard all day. For it to come down to that was huge.”
Fike was its sharpest in conquering Northern Nash as Jahmez Settles, Garrett Weaver, Vincent Page, Aaron Bancroft, Speight, Jayleen Bullock and heavyweight Saulo Rodriguez wrapped up undefeated showings. Speight, 39-4 on the season, recorded four pins.
“We wrestled sloppy the first two matches,” Watson reviewed. “The third and fourth ones were OK. We responded well after the loss. This is supposed to be our tournament and what they did speaks to their maturity.
“I was shocked that we lost, but I was not surprised at to who we lost. You can never underestimate Eddie and (Franklinton head coach) Josh (Igims). They do an awesome job.”
Watson, gracious in victory, also heaped praise upon the role of Fike assistant coach George Bancroft.
Against Franklinton, the Firebirds overcame a 33-23 deficit. Southern Nash claimed a 41-33 margin on senior Daniel Medina’s pin in a minute and 17 seconds. The pin enabled the Firebirds to survive a match-ending forfeit at 120 pounds.
Medina, freshman Jose Rodriguez, sophomore Kentrell Woodard, sophomore Luke Coble and freshman Eric Braxton went undefeated. Junior Jonathan Salazar’s pin in 20 seconds was also crucial for the Firebirds.
Coble explained the conference teams attempt to avoid competing against one another until the championship tournament.
“All I know is the records, like teams and kind of players the teams have,” he explained. “It came down exactly like I thought it would. We just haven’t matched up well with Fike the last two years. It’s frustrating but they have some really good wrestlers.”
Fike entered its final match against Franklinton needing a pin to salvage a tie. The Demons’ Settles flirted with accomplishing the feat but wound up with a technical fall and was awarded five points instead of the needed six. Junior Randall Dennison avoided the pin for the Red Rams. But the loss to Southern Nash qualified as heartbreak for Franklinton.
RAMS NOT READY
“We didn’t come into the first match ready to wrestle,” Igims reasoned. “Against Southern Nash, we went out there ready to wrestle — so did they. We had tough matchups and you can’t always win.”
Going undefeated for Franklinton were senior Michael Rogers and sophomore Joseph Murphy.
Hunt was spearheaded by sophomore Christopher Silva and junior Anthony Williamson with four pins each in 4-1 worksheets. Seven double forfeits occurred in the Warriors’ win against Rocky Mount.
The Warriors were coached for the first week by Ronnie Sutton in an interim capacity. Sutton admitted the championship marked his first appearance at a high school wrestling event. He was pleased with his seven participants.
“We knew we couldn’t win as a team,” Williamson noted, “but we wrestled our hardest and, hopefully, we would come out with a win. We don’t worry about the team; we’ve got each other right now.
“Wrestling is not like what people think it is. Wrestling your hardest and giving all you’ve got out there is really what it’s about.
“Against Fike (shutout loss), most of us doubted ourselves. Coach told us that we needed to wrestle hard. He told us that (opposing wrestlers) were not aliens; they are human and can bleed like us. We had been working on conditioning and situational stuff and we had to get hyped up.”
Hunt got four pins from seven combatants in its 39-28 loss to Northern Nash and Silva and Williamson responded with quick pins against Rocky Mount.
Big East teams travel to Southern Nash next Saturday for the conference individual championships that will determine all-conference elite and seeds for the regional.