There was no overlooking the Riverside wrestling team Thursday night. The Pirates made sure of that with an eye-opening upset that moved the team into the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A East regional final, where their season ended.
Riverside was no match for Fayetteville’s Jack Britt, losing 40-31 with the last 18 Riverside points coming by forfeit after Britt had clinched the match. Britt will make its fourth straight NCHSAA title appearance Saturday.
It was in the round prior where Riverside made its mark by stunning undefeated host Holly Springs 36-29 in a match that came down to the final bout.
If there are fulfilling ways to end the season without winning the state championship, this was one.
“We couldn’t have lost to a better team,” said Riverside coach Brandon Palmer, one of the school’s most decorated wrestlers with the fourth-most wins in state history. “To just be across the mat with a chance to beat them is honorable.”
Riverside shocks the Hawks: Riverside (24-5) had not been at full strength in some matches during the season, which led to losses. A healthy Pirates team matched up well with Holly Springs (27-1) though.
“We came in here to try and shock North Carolina,” Palmer said.
Wrestling coaches know the importance of winning the “toss-up” matches. Riverside won five in a row.
No. 1 state-ranked Jaquon Sowell (170 pounds) defeated unbeaten No. 5 Travian Cooke 5-2; Abdurrauf Muhammad held off Josh Richardson 6-3; Araad Sarami picked up a pin in 1 minute, 47 seconds, and Frank Adams pinned Shane Newman in 3:05. No. 3-ranked Gary Whitaker then beat No. 2 C.J. Toogood 3-2.
“They’re tough up top,” first-year Holly Springs coach Nick Nosbisch said. “That was the difference. We gave up pins where we shouldn’t have given up pins. We’ve got to show up in bigger matches.”
Holly Springs’ Daniel Meyers won 21-6 at 106 pounds, cutting Riverside’s lead to 30-29 with one bout to go.
Noah Jacobs and Hunter Morton faced off in winner-take-all. Jacobs had a 2-1 first-period lead before Holly Springs’ Morton took a 7-6 lead after the second.
Jacobs owned the third period, leading 15-8 before pinning Morton with 42 seconds left.
“I kept my cool, because if I had started to get energetic I would have started to put more pressure on myself, which I’ve done before and (that) has caused me to lose before,” Jacobs, a sophomore, said. “It’s not just me who won that match, it’s my whole team. I love each and every one of them.”
The win secured Riverside’s first appearance in the East final since 2009.
“I think we wrestled a little tentatively tonight. Riverside was way more aggressive,” Nosbisch said.
Cary ends season: Cary (31-4) didn’t have much of a chance after Britt negated any advantage Cary had in its strong middle weights. The Buccaneers won 45-28 after Cary picked up the last 18 points on forfeits.
The Bucs led Cary 18-0 before hitting the middle weights, where they lost 17-6 to reigning Cary state champ Will Clark at 140 and 5-0 to 160-pounder Tra Shaw. Britt beat Kollin Wade (4-2) and Alex Zuniga (injury default).
“We didn’t set the tone at the very beginning. We knew we had to weather the storm at a couple of weights and instead we went to our backs and it kind of snowballed,” Cary coach Taylor Cummings said.
“We didn’t do our job. And you can’t let momentum go to a team like Jack Britt or else it’s not going to go back your way.”
It was the fourth straight postseason where Britt knocked the Imps from the playoffs.
Britt moves on: It will be Britt’s third straight appearance in the state dual-team championship, with previous losses to Parkland High from Winston-Salem. Parkland won five straight 4A dual-team titles but did not make the postseason this year.
Britt will host undefeated Southeast Guilford on Saturday for the 4A championship.