GARNER — David Prendergast said winning the coin flip was huge for his West Johnston wrestling team Wednesday night.
The Wildcats were visiting a Knightdale team that may be that school’s best ever, and the veteran coach knew it was going to be close.
But it wasn’t as close as it might have been, since he won the chess match deciding which wrestlers would go at which weights.
“The whole reason I picked odd was for the 182(-pound) match,” Prendergast explained. “We needed to win that one.”
With the rotation starting at 113, Evan Hatley’s 5-4 victory over Donday Washington at 182 gave the Wildcats a 15-point lead, and when Sam Campbell pinned Malik Fleetwood in 1:07 at 220 the lead became insurmountable in a 41-28 road victory.
The victory improved the Wildcats to 8-4, 3-0 in Greater Neuse River 4A action, while Knightdale fell to 4-3 and 2-1 under first-year head coach Kenny Watkins. And it gave the Wildcats, who have never lost to Knightdale and are 48-3 all-time in conference action, a huge leg up toward the GNRC championship.
“I knew I had Sam to go out at 220, and if he got a pin the match would be over,” Prendergast said. “It could have gone either way. We won the close ones in the middle and that was the difference.
“They were only four points behind us at the Wakefield tournament, and we wrestled four hear-to-heads and they won three by pins to our one. Every year I feel like they’re the team to beat coming in. I know they have athletes, they’re well-coached and they’re disciplined. I did a lot of homework for this match.”
Watkins said he had mixed emotions about the evening’s tough result for a very good team.
“We’ve still got a chance to make history, just not in the regular season,” Watkins said. “It was a big match for us, no doubt. A couple things just didn’t go our way. The coin toss was pretty important.
“The way it came up, we both knew it. We didn’t talk about it, but we both wanted odd. The way it worked out we were forced to show our hand at key weights. We didn’t want the matchups we got at 126 and 132 – we wanted to flip-flop so hopefully we would counter each other. And a similar thing happened at 182 and 195. Other coaches might not have been as in tune with what was going on, but (Prendergast) always is.”
Each team had four pins.
The Wildcats’ Joe Sewell pinned Dominic Cao in 1:54 at 126, followed by Seth Thomas stopping Martin Gutierrez in 2:31 at 132 and Brian Crutchfield pinning Shawn Simpson in 2:16 at 138.
“Coach just told us to do everything we were taught in practice, and I think we did a good job of that,” said the sophomore Campbell, 12-2 this season. “We knew this match wasn’t going to be easy.”
Knightdale’s Nick Lopez stopped Raheem Simmons in 2:40 at 120, Brandon Skinner pinned Grant Walker in 2:36 at 145, Lamar Dulin stopped Joe Fiorella in 2:58 at 195 and Matthew Palochak pinned Matthew Chandler in 3:55 at 285.
West’s Wyatt Clarke beat Josh East 14-13 at 113, George Nathaniel topped Adam Bridges 13-3 at 160, Tithus Smith got past Josh Mills 8-4 at 170 and Tony Jimenez defeated Tramel Turner 12-2 at 1:06.
Knightdale’s only win not by a pin was from Bradley Skinner, who eased past Warren Frey 11-1 at 152.
Both coaches liked what they saw in that match.
“I think we’ve improved on a lot of things this year and it’s showing,” said the sophomore Bradley Skinner, who is now 11-5. “I had a decent individual match, but I would have rather pinned him.”
Prendergast said his primary instruction to Frey was to avoid being pinned.
“This was my first time ever being in that role,” said the senior Frey, who is 2-2. “This is a great win for us. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”