GREENSBORO — The last hour of the 2017-18 wrestling season for East Surry, Mount Airy and Surry Central came a little earlier Saturday evening than anyone had hoped. But there was still plenty of pride in what was accomplished.
Eight local wrestlers, including four Cardinals, three Granite Bears and one Golden Eagle, reached the final round of the consolation bracket of the NCHSAA state wrestling championships at the Greensboro Coliseum. Along the way, some of them faced old friends and rivals, including an all-Surry County showdown for the 1A bronze in one weight class.
“They wrestled well. Sometimes you get into the consolation bracket and kids give up, but ours fought through and I’m really proud of them,” said East Surry head coach Darrin Haywood, who saw two of his wrestlers finish third, those being Austin Vernon at 106 pounds and Mitchell Edwards at 195. Two other Cardinals, Joe Becker at 152 and Morgan East at 285, finished fourth.
For Mount Airy, Chris Butera placed third at 152, while brothers Austin (160) and Jackson Tumbarello (170) each earned a fourth-place finish.
In the 2A brackets, where the fields are larger and place-winners are determined down to sixth place, Surry Central’s Forrest Antwine completed his career with a fifth-place finish at 182 pounds.
Unlike a year ago, when three local wrestlers reached the state championship matches, the day ended early for all of the local schools. All seven of the matches that determined state place-winners occurred within about an hour of each other.
Austin Vernon of East Surry went first among the local grapplers. Vernon, one of several who lost in the opening round on Friday, had fought his way back through the consolation bracket, pinning Chandler Steele of Chatham Charter in less than a minute and Pender’s Andrew Ocampo in 3:22 for a shot at the bronze. In his final match of the year, Vernon (31-8) turned in a dominant performance against West Regional champ Averil Lafferty of Alleghany, winning 14-3.
Next up were two season-long rivals at 152 pounds in Butera and Becker, facing each other for the fourth time this season and for the third time in a championship tournament. The Bear had won in the regular season and in the regional, where he won the title, but Becker had prevailed in the conference tournament final. In the state tournament, both lost to the same Rosewood wrestler in consecutive rounds, but each shook off that disappointment. Becker won two consolation matches by five points each, while Butera scored a 4-2 decision over East Regional champ Jerry Jimenez of Uwharrie Charter, and then they met one final time.
In the final match, Becker (28-11) and Butera (43-11) were tied at 3 after one period, but the Bear started to take command in the second, scoring twice and carrying a 7-4 lead into the final period. It was 9-5 when he pinned Becker 18 seconds into the third to complete his career with two conference titles, well over 100 career wins, and a state third-place finish. Becker, only a junior, will have more chances to add to his resume next year.
The Bears remained the focus of attention for the next two matches. Following Butera on the same mat was teammate Jackson Tumbarello. The 170-pounder, who finished second at regionals, had been beaten by Bailey Parks of Uwharrie Charter in the opening round. However, the sophomore didn’t fold and battled his way back through the consolations, decisioning Cody Long of Swain County and Mason Coble of West Montgomery for a shot at third. Unfortunately, his nemesis Parks was waiting for him again there, and the younger Tumbarello settled for fourth.
Austin Tumbarello was next, on the adjacent mat. The 160-pound junior had been second at regionals and won his first match of the state finals, but then ran into eventual state champ Steven Fatz of South Stokes in the semifinals and lost 7-3. In the consolations, Austin beat Branson Lambert of Uwharrie Charter for a shot at third, but settled for fourth after a 7-4 decision loss to Ryan Richardson of Mitchell.
Edwards wrestled the final match of his distinguished career on the same mat soon after. The senior, a three-time conference champ, had taken the regional title last week and hoped to improve upon last year’s bronze-medal finish, but lost a 3-2 decision to Cory Farmer of Murphy in the semifinals on Friday. Farmer went on to win the title in dominating fashion, but Edwards, having suffered his first loss to another North Carolina wrestler, had to bounce back. In the consolation semis, he faced longtime rival Eric Olvera of Mount Airy and pinned him to return to the third-place match. In the battle for third, Edwards used a second-period escape and a penalty point late in the match to decision Uwharrie’s Dylan Jones, 2-0.
Coach Haywood was proud of the fortitude that his wrestlers had shown after so many of them had sustained tough early setbacks.
“I thought our kids has a rough day on Friday,” he said. “We didn’t wrestle well and we only won one match out of the five we wrestled. But we came back and went 9-2 today.”
Antwine’s turn came on a nearby mat right after Edwards’ finish. The senior, who finished his career with a 42-6 record this season, might be better known as a standout football player for the Eagles, but he had a fine senior season on the mat and finished second in the 2A Midwest Regional. He won his first match at states, but then lost to eventual state runner-up Daniel Pearce of Hendersonville. In the consolation rounds, he gutted out an 8-7 decision over Gabriel Guess of Bunker Hill and pinned Pierre Hakizimana of Wheatmore before losing to East Regional champ Andrew Ferguson of Washington. This dropped him into the fifth-place match, where Antwine came on strong late for a 6-1 decision win over East No. 2 Kyle Kort of Croatan.
The last local wrestler to contest a match this season was East Surry’s Morgan East, the third-place finisher at regionals in the 285 weight class. East had lost to eventual state runner-up Nyterrius Williams of Rosewood in his opening match, but in the consolations, pinned Albemarle’s Daelen Turner in just 18 seconds. He was supposed to face Zach Hill of Princeton in the consolation semis, but Hill bowed out due to injury, and so East (27-6) faced long-time friendly rival (and West Regional champ) Antonio Lopez of Starmount for the bronze. The two wrestlers battled all the way to the end. It was 6-6 in the final half-minute when Lopez earned a takedown and held on for an 8-6 decision win. They ended their fine careers with a hug and the distinction of being place-winners in the state finals.
Three local wrestlers, all of them from Mount Airy, missed the consolation finals by one match earlier in the day on Saturday. In addition to Olvera’s loss to Edwards, Barron Pilson had been bested at 106 by Alleghany’s Lafferty. At 182, John Bennett reached the consolation semis but lost to Blake Williams over Avery County.
In the final team points tally, the strong Saturday performances by both East Surry and Mount Airy meant that they both finished in the top 10. The Cardinals were seventh overall with 44 points, one spot ahead of the Bears’ 36. Uwharrie beat dual-team state champ Rosewood for the title, 115.5-110.5.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.