Prep Wrestling: East Rowan wins third straight county title
By David Shaw
East Rowan’s wrestling team is again the picture of health ó and that spelled trouble for everyone else in Saturday’s Rowan County tournament.
The Mustangs outscored five county opponents, claimed five weight-class champions and breezed to their third straight Rowan title.
“We’ve been dealing with injuries and sickness all season,” coach Barry Justus said at Salisbury High School, where East (5-0) won a fifth-round showdown against runnerup South Rowan (4-1) to clinch it. “We were finally hoping to have some sense of normalcy and be able to put a competitive team on the mat.”
East senior Aaron Plyler ó who weighed in at 129.4 pounds ó captured the 135 title and was named Most Outstanding Wrestler for an unprecedented fourth time. He pinned North Rowan’s Corey Angle in Round 1, was awarded three consecutive forfeits and outpointed South’s Eli Freeman 8-1 in a pivotal Round 5 match.
“Eli’s a tough wrestler. I’ve known him since fifth grade,” said Plyler, now 22-1 in duals. “His dad and my dad wrestled for the same East Rowan team in the mid-70’s. So he’s been doing this a long time.”
Eli Freeman’s dad is South coach Wayne Freeman, who gambled with a couple of match-time switches and came up empty.
“We moved some people around,” he said. “I moved my 125 guy to 130 and one of my 140 guys to 145. It just didn’t work out.”
It didn’t because East won six straight middleweight bouts and built a 36-15 lead when Franklin Wright pinned SR’s Alex Gutierrez in 1:33 at 140 pounds. Another key decision came in a battle of unbeaten wrestlers at 119, where East’s Chase Thompson handed Jake Freeman ó of the same Freeman family ó a 6-0 defeat that tied the score 15-15.
“I was surprised because I thought it would be a much tougher match,” said Thompson, a two-time county champ who placed first at 112 wearing a West Rowan singlet last year. “It felt good to beat him 6-0, but I did it for the team. We needed the points more than we needed another individual champion.”
Thompson (7-1) has seen only limited action due to a sprained right shoulder suffered early in the season. “This definitely silenced all those voices,” he said. “I know I’m 100 percent now.”
So were teammates Hunter Arey (152), Coleton Boone (160) and Alex Lawson (215). Each took home first-place medals.
“They came in aggressive,” said Wayne Freeman, who coached South to five straight county titles from 2001-05. “I watched them all day. They were wrestling to win this thing.”
South had a pair of individual champs ó Jonathan Ruiz at 103 and Thomas Lowe at 189. Ruiz locked his title up with an opening-minute pin against East’s Nick Cornacchione in Round 5 while Lowe, a recent transfer from East, pinned the Mustangs’ Barrett Stehr in 3:55 to open the final round.
“Everybody thought it would be closer,” Lowe said. “I don’t know what happened. But between the time we stepped on the mat and the time the buzzer sounded, something went wrong.”
Justus seemed to take the day ó and its remarkable accomplishment ó in stride.
“The county’s important,” he said. “But the conference and state playoffs are just as, or more, important. So this is only a small piece of the puzzle. It’s one goal that we set every year along the way to bigger and better goals.”
Later, Justus mentioned South’s recent dominance in the county as a motivating factor. “We put some pretty nasty teams together and didn’t win this,” he said. “Now we have. Maybe it was just our time.”
Or perhaps, as Plyler indicated, it was simply a matter of restocking the lineup.
“We finally had everybody back today,” he said. “We’re finally healthy. And you could tell.”
NOTES: Carson, Salisbury and West finished in a three-way tie for third place in the team standings. Carson had three champions ó Nick Golden (125), Anson Phillips (140) and Jacorian Brown (171). Salisbury’s Dontarius Mills (112), Joseph Figueroa (130) and Tre Jackson (145) were winners, while West’s Kenderic Dunlap cleared the room at heavyweight. … Complete results are in the Scoreboard on page 2F.