For the first time since 2012, the Orange Panthers wrestling team is headed to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A dual-team championship match.
The Panthers earned its ninth East regional championship on Thursday night, defeating Gray’s Creek 40-24 in the state semifinals. Orange will travel to Piedmont High in Monroe in Saturday’s state championship.
Leading 13-6, Orange (31-0) put the match out of reach with pins in four consecutive matches. At 170 pounds, Josiah Ramirez finished off Leo Walsh in 37 seconds. After Braden Homsey earned a pin at 182 in 1:01, Jamar Davis defeated Dylan Porter in 1:38 to give Orange at 31-6 lead. At 220, Payton Wilson, who earned a football scholarship offer from Michigan State on Wednesday, defeated Tony Tyndall in 51 seconds.
“We’re thankful,” said Orange coach Bobby Shriner, who will coach for his sixth state championship on Saturday. “All the guys worked hard. We did what we’ve done all year.”
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Gray’s Creek (17-8), making its first ever regional final appearance, defeated West Brunswick 41-33 earlier in the evening.
Orange’s regional semifinal win over Swansboro produced the most drama of the night.
The Panthers had defeated the Pirates 51-19 on Jan. 14 during the Havelock Duals. Yet Orange trailed 15-12 at the end of six matches after Justin Cartese scored a major decision over Caleb Brimmer.
Orange scored pins from Ramirez and Wilson to reassume a 27-18 lead. At 285, Swansboro’s Patrick Peterson led the Panthers’ Daylan Alston 6-4 in the waning seconds of the final period when Peterson went too high on a ride.
Alston took Peterson down and scored the pin with eight seconds remaining, clinching the match. The Panthers forfeited the final two bouts to win 33-30.
If Peterson had held on, Orange’s lead would have been trimmed to 27-21 with two matches remaining. One of them would have featured the Pirates’ Nick Butler, the top-ranked 106 wrestler in the state.
Remarkably, Alston won despite feeling less than 100 percent.
“He was under the weather yesterday,” said Shriner. “He felt a little sick, but he blocked it out. That was huge because. It ended the match. It was a crazy, crazy match.”
Last year, Morehead defeated Orange 31-29 in second 2nd round of the state playoffs in a match that came down to the final individual bout. Alston, then a sophomore, lost to Morehead’s George Blackstone 8-3. Morehead captured the state championship four days later over Enka.
“I just did what I was coached to do,” said Alston. “I learned a lot from last year.”
At 132, Orange junior Bailey Hawkins defeated Jakob Burkett 9-5 to earn his 100th career victory.
Since the NCHSAA created dual team playoffs in 1990, Orange has now won nine in three different classifications. It’s their fifth in 3A.