Leesville had been close for years. The Pride had given Millbrook a run in recent seasons, but fallen short and out of the annually competitive Cap Eight playoff picture.
That changed Thursday when Leesville Road handed the Wildcats their first conference loss of the year, 39-27.
“I’ve got some good young kids who have worked really, really hard, and my seniors really showed up tonight,” Leesville Road coach Jason Wyss said. “We had a senior win an overtime match and another one bumped up two weight classes and got us a tech fall to put the match out of hand.
“We’ve been so close for the last three or four years, and this is the first time in five years we’ve been able to beat them. I was a little worried because we were forfeiting two weight classes. ... So it was very rewarding to finally get over the hump.”
The win put a Pride team, which had fallen just below the Cap Eight’s top tier in recent years, in playoff contention. Leesville’s only conference loss was a 40-33 result against Sanderson in December.
Millbrook travels to conference leader Sanderson on Wednesday in a match that will decide the fate of all three teams. If Sanderson wins, the Spartans will finish the Cap Eight season undefeated and go on to their fifth consecutive conference championship. That could also make Leesville Road, which faces Wakefield on Wednesday, the conference’s second-place seed for the N.C. High School Athletic Association dual team playoffs.
If Millbrook wins, the three teams will each have one loss, forcing a three-way tie. The possibilities left Wyss unsure of which outcome he would prefer.
“I’m a big Millbrook fan right now,” Wyss said after Thursday’s match. “Now I’ve got to hope that they can beat Sanderson. Honestly, if they do beat Sanderson, we still may get left out of the playoffs because they go into a three-way draw. So maybe I want Sanderson to win and we go in as a second seed.”
Two years ago, Sanderson, Millbrook and Wake Forest finished the season in a three-way tie, forcing the coaches to use a random drawing to determine seeding. With only the top two teams from the conference guaranteed a playoff spot, the team that drew third place ended up as a wild card seed in 2013.
“We know every year when we wrestle these teams that they’re going to be tough ones,” Millbrook coach Scott Saby said. “Leesville works very hard and they have some really good kids, and they just got the job done tonight. We’ll go back to work and keep trying to grind and improve like we do in this part of January, and know this is an important part of the schedule and get ourselves ready for the postseason.”
Millbrook started the match with a 12-point edge, as Leesville Road had to forfeit the first two weight classes – 182 and 195 pounds – and Millbrook’s Vincent Ngwu (220) and Jacob High (285) added to that cushion with wins by pin in 46 seconds and 7-3 decision, respectively, to put the Wildcats ahead 21-0.
From that point on, the Pride controlled the match, winning nine of the remaining 10 matches.
Justin Tibbs (106) and Zach Jones (138) won by pins in 40 seconds and 39 seconds, while Jason Mills (113), Saige Akers (120) and Cade Collins (170) won by decision.
Daniel Mills (126), Cole Collins (132) and Carson Dean (160) each won by tech fall for Leesville Road, and Michael Henderson took a 4-2 sudden victory overtime win at 145 pounds.
Millbrook’s Joshuan Reid won by pin at 152.
“You know these teams are going to throw everything they have at you,” Saby said. “The Cap Eight overall has been pretty young (this year), but it’s been really entertaining. There’s been some good matches. We’ve got to put this behind us as quickly as we can. ... That’s all we can do, and go after Sanderson, because I know they’re prepared for us. I think that’s what we’ve done for each other over the last however many years.”
The Cap Eight championship tournament, which was canceled last year due to weather, is scheduled for Saturday at Leesville Road. The NCHSAA dual team tournament is scheduled to begin Tuesday.