By RYAN HERMAN
VALE –– If West Lincoln’s wrestling team is going to win the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference it’ll need some help. And there is a lot of wrestling left.
Top-ranked and defending 2A state champion Newton-Conover won eight straight matches on Tuesday to down the fourth-ranked Rebels in an early-conference showdown that could ultimately determine the league title.
Since teams meet only once during conference play, the Red Devils (1-0 SD-7) now hold a half-match lead on West Lincoln (28-8, 1-1). Since they won’t meet again during the regular season, the Rebels must hope someone else can knock off last year’s state 2A champions.
“It was the very first conference match and that could have been for the championship,” West Lincoln coach Butch Ross said. “Right now, we’ve got to beat West Caldwell Friday to maintain second, and then hope that West Caldwell beats (Newton-Conover) to be in the mix.”
For the first few matches Tuesday it looked as if West Lincoln would be in the mix the entire night. But then the bottom fell out.
Coleman Carter’s major decision over Dillon Morris at 126 pounds broke a 9-9 tie and began a run of eight consecutive wins by Newton-Conover.
The Red Devils had five pins during the stretch, and the match was clinched when Rolen Benson pinned Julian Brown in 55 seconds.
“They’re a well-coached team and they’re the defending state champions, and they have everybody back but three kids off that team. They’re a real good team,” Ross said. “They’re just real solid.”
The match was the second since Friday that the Rebels had faced a tough opponent.
They wrapped up last week by facing defending 3A champion and current 3A top-ranked Fred T. Foard, which beat them 58-9.
Like the SD-7 match against Newton-Conover, several of the Tigers’ 12 wins were by three points or less, and in the pins West Lincoln found itself on top in scoring until one wrong move put it on its back.
“What happened here today happened against us at Foard. There were about four or five matches that were real close, winnable matches, that we didn’t win, and it makes the score look bad. Team wise, we wrestled good, so I really am pleased with the way we wrestled,” Ross said. “We just didn’t win those close matches. If we’d have won them, we’d have been right in there to win it or it’d have been close.”
Ah’Ron Hope opened the match with a 1-0 decision over Andres Gonzalez at the heavyweight class for the early 3-0 Red Devils lead. West Lincoln’s Jake Clary pinned Matthew Banks in 5:19 at the 106 class to go ahead 6-3. Newton-Conover went up 9-6 when Austin Klutz pinned Robbie Hallman in 3:16, but the Rebels tied it at 9 with Hunter Carpenter’s 10-4 decision over Jashon Propst.
West Lincoln didn’t win again until Charles Mack George picked up his 37th win in 37 matches with a 1-0 decision over Junior Hewitt at 195 pounds.
“They didn’t come off (the mat) hanging their heads, they came off with their heads up. They know that they’re wrestling good people. I’ve always said that I’d rather lose to somebody real good and we get better than to just go beat a team that’s not real good,” Ross said. “They’ll get better.”