BENSON — It’s a rare place anywhere in the country where a seven-team county wrestling meet features three teams that have already won or tied for conference titles that season.
But that was the case in the battle royale that was the Johnston County Wrestling Championship on Saturday at West Johnston.
Seniors Dakota Hill and Blaine Bryant led a group of five champions for Cleveland as the Rams – who have already clinched at least a tie for the dual team title in the Eastern Carolina 3A – scored 158 1/2 points to end West Johnston’s championship streak.
The Wildcats, who have clinched the Greater Neuse River 4A crown, finished second with 137 1/2 points while Northern Carolina 2A champion Corinth Holders finished third at 126.
North Johnston finished fourth with 74 points, followed by Smithfield-Selma with 70 1/2, Princeton with 52 and South Johnston with 9. Clayton did not participate in the tournament.
“Our goal was to win today and the guys came through,” Cleveland coach Scott Riley said. “We knew it was going to be real close between Corinth Holders and West and us. Our kids came out and wrestled really well.”
Hill (40-5) got past Corinth Holders’ Tyler Johnson 8-4 to win the title at 138, while Bryant (35-6) took an easy 16-3 win over West’s Zach Morrison at 182.
The Rams’ Bryer Rogers (27-13) earned his third pin of the day by stopping Corinth Holders’ Chris Solano in 1:34 at 285, Derrick Applewhite (34-11) pinned West’s Raheem Simmons in 5:16 at 120, and Chance Wallace (28-5) rolled up an 18-3 win over West’s Warren Frey at 170.
“I was wrestling a Corinth Holders guy and I knew we needed the team points,” said Hill, who won his second straight county individual title after getting his 100th career win Tuesday. “He’s strong, but I felt like I was better on top. That was the first time I’d wrestled him.”
West coach David Prendergast said he was a little disappointed, but it was a great showcase for Johnston county wrestling.
“I’ve got a splitting headache,” Prendergast said. “I knew coming in Cleveland and Corinth Holders were going to have to split for us to have a chance, and Cleveland won more in the finals. It just didn’t work out. We didn’t win some we could have won, but we’re a little bit younger. Next year we’ll be fine.
“This was a tough tournament, even with only seven teams. Corinth Holders has been on top everywhere they’ve gone.”
West’s Seth Thomas (28-6) nipped Corinth Holders’ Cameron Brewer 6-4 at 126, while the Wildcats’ Sam Campbell (36-7) nipped the Pirates’ Elijah Harris 2-0 at 220.
“I had a tough one and it all came down to the third period,” the senior Thomas said. “This tournament is great, and I think it’s great preparation for the conference tournament.”
Corinth Holders, like Cleveland, has its first senior class and is in just its third year as a school. Pirate coach Eric Wischhusen’s team was unbeaten in dual meets with county foes this season.
“We weren’t at full strength because one guy didn’t make weight and another was injured, or we would have been in serious contention to win this thing,” Wischhusen said. “We’ve wrestled every one of these teams and won. We’ve been able to fill all 14 weight classes in our dual meets.”
The Pirates won three individual titles. Darius Dunn (41-3) pinned West’s Tony Jimenez in 1:27 at 106, Dustin Brennan (38-5) nipped SSS’ A.J. Blackmon 8-7 at 113, and Matt Duncan (27-12) nipped West’s George Nathaniel 5-4 at 152.
“I just went out and gave it my all and never gave up,” the senior Duncan said. “I was looking forward to it because (Nathaniel) got me last year in the final. I was pumped. I needed to redeem myself.”
North got three wins as well. Hunter Stephenson (39-5) pinned Cleveland’s Jacon Pickering in 3:10 at 195, Dyllan Creech (38-6) pinned Smithfield-Selma’s Tyler Talley in 5:35 at 132, and Eric Joyner (39-2) blanked Cleveland’s Jhavonte Moon 5-0 at 145.
“Three gold medalists is pretty good,” North coach Jonathan Hartley said. “I’ve got a lot of freshmen and first-year wrestlers on the team and we’re missing three weight classes. But we got good experience today for regionals and states.”
Smithfield-Selma’s Jesus Macias (35-11) got the other victory, nipping West’s Charlie Gray 5-3 in overtime.