The Two Rivers 3A Conference championship is still months away, but Western Harnett may have all but wrapped up the league’s wrestling title on Wednesday night.
The Eagles rolled to a 42-21 win against Cleveland, the last Two Rivers test left for Western Harnett (10-3, 3-0), by winning nine of the 14 matches and five by pin. The Eagles’ remaining two league matches are to teams with losing records.
The Eagles already own a 42-27 win over last year’s conference champ: Corinth Holders.
“We were in the same situation last year; it was ours to win and we just blew it and lost to Corinth. We didn’t have a good showing,” Western coach Casey Gashaw said. “But we had them early, and I think it was good becasue we were healthy. We had Corinth first and Cleveland right after, and it was good for us.”
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Cleveland (13-6, 2-1), meanwhile, will have to focus on earning a spot in the dual-team playoffs by beating Corinth Holders.
“We came out flat. That wasn’t Cleveland wrestling,” Rams coach Kenneth Watkins said.
They said it
The league title would be the Eagles’ second in three years, but Gashaw – who was then an assistant – isn’t counting that 2013-14 one.
“I didn’t count a three-way tie as us winning conference, and I told them that the past couple of weeks,” said Gashaw, in his second year as a head coach. “We knew these two matches were going to decide it and we showed up today.”
Though a final 19-16 win by Cleveland 160-pounder Leo Berber was wild, the 220-pound bout between Western Harnett’s Sergio Ramirez and Cleveland’s Trevor Bryant was a test of wills. The two wrestlers went into overtime before Ramirez scored the winning takedown for a 4-2 win.
“I was tired most of the match,” Ramirez said. “He was kind of slippery after we both were sweating, and we couldn’t get nothing. When I slipped out and got the two at the end, I felt great.”
Western Harnett’s Anthony Thompson pinned his 113-pound opponent in 35 seconds, and Cleveland senior Quinton Ross won at 182 pounds with a 50-second pin.
The match winner
A 5-0 win by Jacob Dawson at 138 pounds put the Eagles up 42-21 and locked up Western’s win with three bouts to go.
Ross, 285-pounder Zach Jacobs (10-8), a forfeit at 120, 152-pounder Matthews Cruz-Cruz (8-5) and Berber all won for the Rams. Cruz-Cruz is typically a 138-pounder but moved up to help his team.
“There’s not one thing that we did wrong tonight to lose the match, it was a combination, as well as Western coming out and wrestling as tough as nails,” Watkins said.
Western Harnett’s winners
170-pounder James Clark (pin 4:42), 195-pounder Kelo Lowery (pin 3:13), Ramirez, 106-pounder Trevor Wicker (1:12), Thompson, 126-pounder Khamani Holmes (pin 3:30), 132-pounder Mason Morris (7-0), Dawson and 145-pounder Carl Smith (7-1) all won for the Eagles.
The strength of Western’s team is in the lower weights, so taking an early 15-9 lead through the five heaviest weight classes got the Eagles rolling.
“I did not expect to be winning coming out of that, and winning going into our stronger weights, that boosted our confidence,” Gashaw said. “The heavyweights stepped up tonight.”