After being recognized before their final regular-season wrestling match, Corinth Holders’ seniors made sure that they went out in championship style.
Seven of Corinth Holders’ nine seniors picked up victories for the Pirates, who capped a 14-0 dual season with a 52-24 victory over visiting Cleveland on Wednesday – claiming the Two Rivers 3A Conference championship with a 5-0 league record.
“It was a great senior group,” said Corinth Holders coach Kristian Stewart. “They have been leaders all year. They started out as freshmen, most of them, and the majority of them wrestled their entire careers. It’s been an exciting season so far. I’m excited for the guys. They worked so hard in the (practice) room.”
Two seniors who added some punch to the Corinth Holders lineup were the Palmer twins: Nathan who wrestled at 120 pounds and Austin at 126. They transferred in from Ohio and came with winning resumes.
The Palmers continued their success with the Pirates.
Nathan Palmer scored a first-period pin at 120 for his 100th career victory, improving to 27-3 this season.
“It feels pretty good,” Nathan Palmer said of No. 100. “I feel like it was very important for the seniors to get the championship. It was our last year and we gave it our all to try and be undefeated. And we did.”
Brother Austin got a pin at 126 for his 99th career victory and improved to 28-4 for the season.
A victory by Cleveland (9-6, 3-2) would have thrown the Two Rivers into a three-way tie for first with Western Harnett in the mix. But the Pirates started quickly and left no doubt about their focus. The loss leaves Cleveland in the field for the lone wild card bid to the state dual playoffs, w hich begins Tuesday.
Corinth Holders jumped to a 34-0 lead in the match that started at 138, getting victories from five seniors in the first seven weight classes.
After a pin by Alex Staples at 138, senior Sam Bargoil scored a 15-3 major decision at 145 to make it 10-0. Cameron Smith got a pin at 152 for a 16-0 lead.
Then came a succession of victories by seniors — a decision by Austin Ellis at 160, a pin by Luke Turner at 170, a pin by Dylan Brennan at 182 and a decision by Dillon Barton at 195.
Turner improved to 29-5 with his victory and Ellis won by a single point in what was the most exciting battle of the match.
Ellis led 3-0 after two periods but fell behind 5-4 in the final period after a flurry by Cleveland’s Leo Barber. Ellis won the match 6-5 with two points for a takedown with 10 seconds left.
“I just looked around at the crowd and I knew it was Senior Night and I had to do something,” Ellis said. “I’ve had several like that this season.
“It’s the greatest feeling (to win the championship). An undefeated season has never happened at the school.”
Stewart has won eight conference titles in his 15 years coaching, but this was his first since 2010 at Smithfield-Selma when he had another strong group of seniors.
“This is just the end of the regular season,” Stewart said. “We still have state playoffs and regionals. I’m sure we have some guys who are state caliber.”
Cleveland broke through at 220 pounds when Tevin Sanders picked up six points on a medical disqualification after a takedown that brought an unnecessary roughness penalty point and left him unable to continue.
Frankie Miller got a pin for Corinth Holders at heavyweight.
Cleveland picked up points at 106 on a pin by Chris McIver, on a forfeit at 113 and a pin by Mathews Cruz-Cruz at 132.
“We were hoping that we would catch them sleeping because they already had a share of the conference clinched and it was Senior Night,” Cleveland coach Kenny Watkins said. “But they are very well-coached. (Stewart) was my high school coach and I knew they would be prepared. They came out focused. The first two matches were key match-ups. They both went his way.
“Every coin-flip match that we had, they came out on top. That is their coaching and their discipline.”
A discipline that comes with an outstanding senior class determined to go out as champions.