By RYAN HERMAN
CATAWBA –– Longtime West Lincoln wrestling coach Butch Ross knew the only way his team had a shot at making the dual-team playoffs was to beat Bunker Hill.
After Ross stressed the gravity of a victory, the Rebels delivered.
West Lincoln opened with four pins in the first five matches and was never threatened as it routed the Bears 52-24 on Friday to claim third in the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference and keep the possibility of a playoff wildcard alive.
While Ross won’t find out for sure until later today if his team had a high enough overall winning percentage to qualify for the 2A West’s lone wildcard spot, he knew for certain that had West Lincoln lost, its season would have been cut short of the dual-team postseason.
“We had to win this match,” Ross said. “This was a must-win, and the kids knew it.”
Jake Clary, the state’s second-ranked wrestler at 106 according to RetroRankings.com, pinned Beau Conner to start things off in Bunker Hill’s cafeteria after the match was moved from River Bend Middle School at the last minute.
Robbie Hallman picked up a forfeit win at 113, then Hunter Carpenter started a chain of three consecutive pins by lying Corey Knighton flat on his back in 4:35.
Dillon Morris pinned Shae Maske in 38 seconds, and Nathan Ward pinned Derrick Artis in 41 seconds for a 30-0 lead that was never threatened.
“This might be one of the best matches that we’ve wrestled all year,” Ross said. “We got on a roll, there. … They did their job.”
The Bears, who finished fourth and were tied with the Rebels entering Friday’s match, tried to make a comeback by taking the next two weight classes –– a major decision by Avery Newland at 138 and a tech fall by Cody Dobbins at 145 –– but Dustin Headrick ended the threat with an 8-0 major decision victory over Jordan Speaks at 152.
The pairings for the dual-team tournament will be released by the NCHSAA today. The top two teams from each conference are automatic qualifiers in the 2A bracket, and those went to league champ Newton-Conover and runner-up West Caldwell. The wildcard spot will be filled with the third-place team with the best overall win percentage.
All Ross can do is wait, and hope his team doesn’t miss out like it did in 2012.
“I told them we had to win it,” he said, “and we beat a lot of good (Bunker Hill) kids to do it.”