As the last of the crowd was filtering out of the Panthers Den, Orange coach Bobby Shriner was wondering who and where his 29-0 Panthers would be wrestling Thursday night.
The way they took care of business on Tuesday, a reasonable person might question whether it matters.
Orange had more pins than Grandma’s sewing kit, and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the 3A team dual wrestling championships, blowing past Corinth Holders 43-27 in the first round, and topping Fike 45-36 in the second round.
Fike had beaten Western Harnett 42-33 to move into the second round.
“You just get ready to go next Thursday — the most important match of the year, whoever we have. It’s tough. Every match could be our last match,” Shriner said. “Nothing else matters. Our record doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. Everything that happened good or bad in the year doesn’t matter. It matters then.”
Don’t let Tuesday’s scores fool you. It wasn’t as close as indicated. Orange jumped out to such huge early leads in both matches that they were able to forfeit the final four bouts against the Pirates (19-7), and the last five in the nightcap against the Golden Demons (24-6).
Orange earned bonus points in 13 of the 19 bouts actually wrestled, with 11 pins, one technical fall and a major decision. They only lost one contested bout to Corinth Holders, and two to Fike.
“You just never know,” Shriner said of the ease with which his team won, insisting that on paper it had shaped up to be a close match. “They just wrestled really well,” he said of his grapplers.
Noah Wilson picked up a pair of falls for the Panthers at 113, both times using counters from the neutral position to set up his win.
“I’m not the best at shooting in, so I usually try to stick with defense,” Wilson said.
While he said his team motivated him before stepping onto the mat, he had another inspiration, and it wasn’t the butterflies churning in the pit of his stomach in his first state duals appearance.
“I’m the only freshman that’s wrestling right now, so I kind of felt like if I lost then I’d be setting a bad example for other freshmen,” he said.
Payton Wilson, the No. 1 ranked 220 pounder in the state, made quick work of Levi Nigoche of Fike, tackling the Demon to the mat for a takedown, then slapping on a cradle to clamp him in just 25 seconds.
His rematch with state-ranked Larry Williams of Corinth Holders was not quite as easy. Wilson beat him in the Jim King JKO Invitational 1-0 earlier this season.
On Tuesday they wrestled to a scoreless first period. Williams came standing for an escape in the second period when Wilson got loose on his claw ride, but the Panther nailed a single leg takedown with 2 seconds left on the clock to take a 2-1 lead. Wilson escaped in the third period for the 3-1 final victory.
“He was really strong. A good defensive guy,” Wilson said. “He grabbed my wrist a lot, so I had to adjust to that from the neutral position."