Six teams converged on Cleveland High School Saturday for the Two Rivers 3A Conference wrestling tournament.
It may as well have been called “The Corinth Holders Show.”
The Pirates captured eight out of 14 weight classifications while also securing the team title by a whopping 51.5 points. The effort included a string of five titles in a row from 170 pounds through heavyweight.
“To be honest, through the first couple of rounds I wasn’t real pleased with the guys today because we were kind of coming in a little bit lethargic,” said Corinth Holders coach Kristian Stewart, who will take his Pirates into the state dual tournament as a No. 1 seed.
“We had a little bit of a wakeup call going into the semis because it was a lot closer but they were resilient and they turned things around and wrestled really hard through the finals.”
The Pirates’ run of individual medals began with Nate and Austin Palmer, a set of twins who relocated from Ohio prior to this, their senior year. Both came up just short of conference championships last year in Ohio but both pulled off impressive victories Saturday.
At 120 pounds, Nate Palmer found himself tied with Western Harnett’s Mason Morris, ranked seventh in the state, in the late going before scoring a reversal with just 30 seconds left to win 6-4.
“It was difficult but I knew if I kept wrestling and didn’t give up I was bound to get points sometime,” Palmer said. “He was trying to scramble to a position where he could get me to my back and I noticed that I could hook the leg and if I could get that arm free I could pop up behind. It was just something I picked up along the way over summers of wrestling.”
In the next match, 126-pounder Austin Palmer took just 1:40 to pin Cleveland’s Cameron Marquess.
“I did my technique to take him down and worked on top until he made a mistake and I put him to his back,” Palmer said.
The victory, just minutes after his brother’s, was extra special for Palmer. “It means a lot,” he said. “We both just missed being conference champions last year as juniors so it’s nice being conference champions this year.”
More drama ensued at 152 pounds when Corinth Holders’ Cameron Smith and Western Harnett’s Jordan Guimont were locked in a scoreless tie late in the match. With just four seconds left on the clock, Smith forced Guimont onto his back and stuck the pin.
The Pirates then flashed their dominance starting at 170 pounds, the first of three matchups against wrestlers from host Cleveland. Luke Turner got it started with a second-period pin of Cleveland’s Lee Sugg.
At 182, the Pirates’ Dylan Barton ran up a 7-1 third period lead over the Rams’ Trevor Bryant. Bryant forced the upper hand late in the match to cut the deficit to 7-6 and was inches from pulling off the pin before Barton hung on for victory.
At 195, Dylan Brennan of Corinth Holders needed just 1:15 to finish off Cleveland’s Quinton Ross.
The streak then continued as Elliot Lindley scored a 4-2 win at 220 pounds and Frankie Miller topped South Johnston’s Donovan Guineral 14-7 at heavyweight.
The home team wouldn’t be completely silenced in its own gym however. At 132 pounds, the Rams’ Mathew Cruz-Cruz toyed with Western Harnett’s Jacob Dawson, building a 14-1 lead before finally finishing him off with a pin with less than a minute to go in the second period.
“I thought it was a great fit to actually have it in our own gym,” said Cruz-Cruz, a junior who captured his third straight conference title and was named the Two Rivers Wrestler of the Year.
“I knew what he was going for and I’ve been working on a move to counter that so I kind of fed him my legs so he could take it. It’s really more of a defensive move but it’s what scored me the most points. Then on top I did a move I learned my freshman year and I’ve been working it ever since called the ‘guillotine.’”
Fellow Cleveland teammates Chris McIver (106 pounds) and Chandler Daughtry (113) each joined Marquess with second-place finishes.
Smithfield-Selma’s Caleb Brown (160) and Corinth Holders’ Alex Staples (138) also came up short in the finals.
Cleveland finished second in the team standings followed by Western Harnett, Triton, Smithfield-Selma and South Johnston.