There’s little doubt which team playoff format in high school sports in North Carolina is toughest on its participants: the dual wrestling playoffs.
It’s a bracket where only the top two teams from each conference reside and there’s two rounds of competition every night.
Corinth Holders, unbeaten in the regular season in duals, entered Tuesday’s 3A duals at Northwood High School knowing it could be going home early (in the case of a first round loss) or making plans for a regional appearance (if the Pirates came up with two wins).
The Pirates ended up in the middle of those scenarios, downing Northwood 42-35 in the first round before falling to Cameron Union Pines in the second round, 47-21. Corinth Holders ended its dual season with a 15-1 record.
“There are never any easy draws in this tournament,” said Corinth Holders coach Kristian Stewart. “You know what you’re going to get when you get to this point. But for these guys to come from having a mediocre season last year, coming together this season and committing to what we need to do. It took some of them until midseason to buy into it but they all came together and really bonded.”
The Pirates built a quick 24-0 lead on Northwood on decision wins from Brian Hines and Greg Alford and pins by Austin Palmer (at 126 pounds) and Alex Staples (138). Add in a forfeit at 120 and Corinth Holders was quickly in control.
Up 36-11 after pins by Cameron Smith (152) and Luke Turner (170), the Pirates were rolling when 182-pounder Dylan Brennan suffered a freak elbow injury against Northwood’s Michael Queen. Brennan was unable to continue, giving the Chargers the win. Another Northwood six-point tally cut the lead to 36-23 but Elliot Lindley clinched the win for Corinth Holders with a pin at 220.
The Pirates forfeited the final two matches of the first round before meeting Union Pines, who beat Northern Guilford, in the second round. The injury forced an adjustment.
“We had to make a major shift, but it really didn’t help us or hurt us,” Stewart said of adjusting to Brennan’s injury for the second match. “The only thing that changed was the momentum. It was deflating for our guys to see a freak thing happen. We did the best we could do.”
Union Pines and the Pirates traded wins for the first nine bouts of the second round. Corinth Holders held its last lead at 21-19 after a major decision from Luke Turner at 182 pounds. Union Pines bounced back with a major decision at 195, then a pin at 220 to go up 29-21. Out of options in the heavyweight class, Corinth Holders forfeited the next match giving Union Pines an insurmountable lead.
“An undefeated season is something that can never be taken from these guys and it’s a great accomplishment,” Stewart said. “Now we’ll turn our attention to getting ready for the regionals and the individual part of the championship chase. We’ll spend the next week getting as ready as we can for the opportunity to advance to the state championships.”
That’s where Clayton is looking, too, after a quick exit in the dual-team playoffs. The Comets (11-3) sprinted out to a 15-0 lead by winning the first three matches against Leesville Road, but coach Cory Daker’s team ran out of steam, forfeiting four classes and only winning one of the remaining 11 bouts. The Pride grabbed a 53-19 victory.
“We’ve wrestled Leesville before, and they’re a good, good team with a full lineup,” Daker said. “We kinda came here to see what would happen. We’ve had some injuries and things like that, but we’ve been kinda short all year long. It shows up when you wrestle against good teams like this. They put it to us, bottom line.”
Clayton left the Holly Springs gym quickly, perhaps to get ready for the individual tournament that starts Feb. 13.
“We’ve had a good season, but it’s not over yet,” Daker said. “We’re kinda fixated on next weekend.”
Lee Montgomery contributed.