RALEIGH — Following Grant Finkbeiner’s tech fall victory over Rocco Torre, the Athens Drive gym was ready to erupt with excitement on the Jaguars Senior Night, as the Athens wrestler had closed what once looked like an insurmountable Lee County 24-point lead down to a single point with two bouts to go on Wednesday.
Lee’s Kyle Flood prevailed in the second to last match 8-7 over Athens senior Abdul Shemna, but everything came down to the final match, a 138-pound tussle between Jaguar Jake Joyner and Yellow Jacket sophomore Dalton Messer.
Joyner looked to have Messer’s shoulders pinned late in the first period, but the buzzer sounded before the referee could hit the mat. Then in the second period Messer, trailing 9-3, surprisingly seized the momentum and scored a pinfall win with just 21 seconds left to prevent a major Jaguar comeback.
Lee (16-6, 3-4) won 45-35 over the young Jaguars (19-19, 2-5), who have far surpassed expectations this season.
“That’s the story of our season (coming close) but this is a great group of beginning wrestlers,” said first-year Athens coach Sean Finkbeiner. “They work so hard, they just need more time on the mat. You have to hand it to Lee County, they were able to capitalize on our mistakes.”
Finkbeiner said the Jaguars are learning how to bridge off their backs and to pin better, and will continue to work to improve those skills. He emphasized that Athens has made a major leap from a team who went 0-14 last year and 5-9 the year before.
“From 0-14 to 19-19, I’d say that’s a positive thing,” Finkbeiner said. “We’ll turn this around, give us a few years and watch out.”
Lee jumped out to a 36-12 lead behind some convincing performances. The Yellow Jackets won six of the first eight bouts by pinfall, and five of those came in the first period.
Daquan Holt (145 pounds), Jesse Moore (152), William Shoop (170), Brandon Prevatte (189), Elijah West (220) and Ethan Lucas (285) all got Lee out to a great start.
The tide turned, however, when the lighter weights took to the mat, as Athens captured the 106, 113, 120 and 126 pound weight groups.
Omar Somna got things rolling when he pinned Zachary Thomas one second before the first period ended. Then Trey Cornish and Carson Blackburn went to the third period before Cornish prevailed (4:46) in the 113-pound class.
Miles Vaziri (120) pinned Luis Payares to cut the Lee advantage to 36-30 leading into the Finkbeiner/Torre contest. Finkbeiner won at 126 pounds with a 21-6 tech fall, setting the stage for the dramatic ending.
“Every match this year seems to go this way,” said Lee coach Harry Stryffeler. “You prepare the kids to do exactly what they did, keep themselves in the match with a chance to pull out the win.
“How competitive is this conference?” Stryffeler contrinued. “Wow, in the Greater Neuse we’d be 6-0.”
Ahmad Husein (160) and Mahmoud Ghowin (195) also claimed victories for Athens.