Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 21, 2013
SALISBURY — It’s been a fabulous season for East Rowan’s wrestling team — and now the rest of the county knows it as well.
The Mustangs were spreading the news Saturday at Salisbury High School, where they claimed five weight-class champions and captured their first Rowan County Tournament title since 2009.
“Right now it’s a team-building kind of deal because I’ve got eight guys that have never wrestled in high school before,” coach Barry Justus said after East outpointed the host Hornets 152-150.5 in a dramatic race to the finish line. “We’ve been coming on and coming on, but we’ve been second in the county three years straight.”
East gladly traded the Susan Lucci Award for a county title plaque. Runnerup Salisbury had four individual champs, while Carson (126) crowned three titilists and placed third in the team standings. West Rowan (116), South Rowan (93) and three-time defending champion North Rowan (83) rounded out the field.
“It’s been a while for us,” said unbeaten East senior Wyatt Blume, a two-time county champ who prevailed in the 152-pound weight class. “It’s a lot more fun being on the winning side.”
Blume, a state placewinner last winter, improved to 19-0 with a pair of pins. He stopped South’s Patrick Viars in the semifinals and made quick work of Carson’s Jaron McMasters in the finals, winning in 29 seconds.
“Everyone on our team has a little bit of fire in them,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of new material, but it all seems to be working.”
East — 9-2 in dual meets with nine straight wins this season — placed seven wrestlers in the championship round. Other Mustangs placing first included Sam Cornacchione (106), Logan Haas (120), Luke Miller (145) and Max Wall (160). Teammates Wesley Porter (126) and Jake Boltz (195) earned second-place ribbons.
“It’s all coming together at the right time,” Justus said.
It did for Cornacchione, who earned two back-points as time expired in a 2-0 win over Salisbury’s Tyrell Blakeney. Haas, a junior, won his 16th match while Miller pinned West’s Zach Ridenhour in 3:50 despite trailing 5-2 at the time. Wall, a freshman, won by injury default when West’s Ben Kluttz was hurt with 1:08 remaining in their final-round bout.
Salisbury coach Tim Pittman was a member of East’s first county championship team in 1996. He led North to the title three straight years before joining Salisbury’s staff this season.
“We had a good run over there but now we’re gonna turn this program around just like we did at North,” said Pittman. “It’s already happening.”
The Hornets took a sturdy first step, thanks largely to Marc Gonzalez. The 113-pound senior — a two-time state champion — improved to 16-0 when he bested South’s Angel Ruiz 12-7 in the finals.
“I came out thinking he was going to be strong and give me a tough match,” Gonzalez said. “But when I took him down in the first period, I knew the match would be mine.”
Teammates Jeffrey Burton (182), Dequan Vann (195) and Sajimarion Stiller (220) also won titles.
Carson’s Brandon Sloop collected a pair of decisions and was named the meet’s Outstanding Wrestler. “It’s just a small goal that I wanted,” he said after boosting his record to 18-0. “I worked all summer long for this.”
Teammate Alex Lyles (285) won his third county championship by pinning West’s Francisco Castro in 1:38. “I saw the half (nelson) and went for it,” he explained. “Coach (Bryce Vandenburg) has been working with me about being quicker — seeing it quicker and hitting it right away.”
Other weight-class winners included Carson’s Cameron Rayfield (126), South’s Tyler Hall (132) and North’s Jaleel Hitchins (138). Rayfield and Hall notched final-round pins.