LINCOLNTON — West Wilkes’ wrestling team was denied a second-round North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2A dual playoff victory by the slimmest of margins Tuesday night at Lincolnton High School in a 36-35 loss to the Central Academy of Technology and Arts.
The match was tied 35-35 at the end of regulation and was decided by NFHS tiebreaker criteria (F), which awarded an additional point to CATA for forfeiting the fewest number of matches.
However, many in the gym couldn’t help but feel a reversed call by the officials in the 220-pound match, which cost West two points, was the key moment of the match.
“When you’re going into a match you never think of it going to criteria, even though maybe you should plan for that, because that one actually bit us,” commented West Wilkes Head Coach Kelly Nichols after the match.
After host Lincolnton was defeated by CATA 43-24, West Wilkes and the Cougars faced off to see who would advance to the third round of the 2A dual team playoffs.
It was a rematch from the 2019 playoffs where CATA defeated Blackhawks’ 43-27. This year’s matchup was different from the start as Garrett Shumate set an early tone for the Blackhawks with a first minute pin at 195 pounds to give them a 6-0 lead.
The match that would in many ways impact the final outcome was next at 220 pounds between Dallas Rash and Sam Dean.
Dean and Rash wrestled to a draw in the first period as neither wrestler scored. Rash chose down to start the second period and scored the first point of the match with a quick escape. The senior followed his escape with a takedown to take a 3-0 lead to the third period, but not before Dean was hit with a caution for stalling.
In the third period, Dean elected to start neutral but was taken down quickly by Rash. Rash’s lead was increased twice when Dean was once again hit with stalling penalties, this time each costing him a point, as the period was in the final 30 seconds.
In the final seconds, Rash rolled Dean to his back and scored three near-fall points, quickly followed by a whistle and slap of the mat by the referee, indicating a pin.
However after consulting with the scorer’s table, the referee reversed his decision, indicating the time had ended prior to his signal of a pin. Instead of the six-team points for a pin fall, West Wilkes was only awarded four for Rash’s 10-0 major decision.
“It was a huge one,” said Nichols in regards to the referee’s decision at the end of the 220-pound match. “I hate to say one call cost it, but if we get the pin there, we’re not talking criteria, we win by two. I thought Dallas did a good job with his opponent who was just trying to survive and not doing a whole lot. In the back of my mind I thought that may come back to bite us and it did.”
Despite the controversy, the match moved on and West Wilkes stayed hot as Gary Call recorded an important 3-2 victory at 285 pounds.
Riley Shaw and Uriel Frederico each scored important pins at 106 and 113 pounds, respectively, increasing the West lead to 25-0.
“Those pins were huge for us,” added Nichols. “They gave us a big shot in the arm and gave us a chance.
West was now faced with facing Central Academy’s premier wrestlers, including defending state champion, Kyle Montaperto, wrestling at 120 pounds.
All of CATA’s next seven wrestlers were state qualifiers in 2019 and all but one placed in the top five. At 120, West Wilkes forfeited to Montaperto, giving CATA their first points.
After Montaperto’s win, Hunter Ross scored a first-period pin over Caleb Roland at 126 pounds.
At 132, Branson Miller avoided the pin expertly without being cautioned for stalling, only conceding four team points, keeping West in front 25-16.
Dylan Ball was up next at 138, facing off against Preston Scarborough — a fifth place finisher at 126 pounds last year.
Scarborough came away with a 5-4 decision.
CATA’S Jake Dodson scored a quick first period pin over Grayson Neely at 145 pounds, tying the match 25-25.
After a major decision from Brady Ross over West’s Robert Heater and a forfeit win by the Cougars at 160 pounds, Central Academy held a 35-25 advantage with two bouts remaining.
West Wilkes’ John Shepherd needed at least a major decision to keep West’s hope of victory alive as he faced off against Ridge Harden.
The senior scored a major victory, 14-3, bringing West Wilkes within six points.
West’s Alex Roland took the mat at 182 pounds, knowing what he had to do — score a pin for West Wilkes to have a chance at advancing.
Roland came out hot, scoring a quick takedown, which quickly led to a first-period pin. As the referee slapped the mat, the gym erupted and it quickly dawned on everyone there that the match would be decided by tie breaking criteria.
After a short consultation with the scorebooks, the referee’s announced CATA would be awarded one additional point for having the fewest forfeits.
There were a lot of tears after the match for the Blackhawks (25-1), but Nichols had nothing but praise and adulation for his team.
“I can’t be more proud of the guys. We left nothing out there. We gave them everything we had. It’s not the result we wanted, but I can go home and lay my head down knowing my guys fought to the very end. I wouldn’t trade them for anybody,” said Nichols. “I told them even though our dual team season may be over, we’ve still got regionals and individual state championships coming up. We’ve got a lot of guys with unfinished business and we get to host (regionals) in front of our home crowd.”
In the opening match of the night, West Wilkes defeated South Point, out of Belmont, in the first round of the NCHSAA playoffs 50-28.
The Blackhawks looked dominant for the opening match at 182 pounds, getting pins in the first five matches to take a commanding 30-0 lead over the Red Raiders.
“Momentum was a big thing. We got off to a great start,” said Nichols. “Once we had it won, you run a risk of someone getting injured. We needed everyone in the lineup versus CATA, so we forfeited out.”
The Blackhawks would collect major victories at 113 and 120 pounds followed by another pin at 126 pounds to mathematically ensure victory with a 44-0 lead.
West Wilkes will host the 2A West regional beginning a week from today. The first round begins at 4:30 p.m.