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Prep wrestling: Wonders reach Western final but lose to SEG

MOCKSVILLE — Tears flowed from younger teammates after a lopsided loss to Southeast Guilford in the 4A Western Regional dual-team wrestling final, so A.L. Brown’s 132-pounder Nick Sexton became an unpaid counselor as well as one of the state’s best in his weight class.

“I don’t mind the tears — actually I love the tears,” Sexton said. “Tears mean they care, and that’s why this team came a long way this season.”

It’s strange to talk about the Wonders competing among the state’s wrestling elite, but they were there Thursday, winning a thrilling 4A quarterfinal 39-31 against Alexander Central before being overwhelmed by unbeaten and second-ranked Southeast Guilford (25-0).

Officially, the final score was 38-30, but Southeast Guilford led the Wonders 38-6 and had the match clinched with four weight classes remaining and simply forfeited out.

Sexton and young 112-pounder Davonn Myers took decisions to account for the Wonders’ victories against Southeast Guilford, which forfeited out with a 39-16 lead and beat Davie 39-28.

Southeast Guilford will wrestle at top-ranked Fayetteville Jack Britt for the 4A state dual-team title on Saturday.

A.L. Brown coach Brian Ceresa, in his fourth year at the helm of the program, stayed on an even emotional keel through the win and the loss. Both went as he anticipated.

“We had to win all the close ones to have a shot against Southeast Guilford,” Ceresa said. “And we didn’t.”

The regional final began at 182 pounds. A.L. Brown’s strong 220-pounder Keechan Ware had a third-period lead but lost in overtime, and A.L. Brown heavyweight Cameron Hodges held a lead when he was pinned. It snowballed from there.

The Wonders (17-2) trailed 25-0 by the time Myers finally put them on the board.

The loss didn’t erase the excitement of the win against Alexander Central (27-6), a match the Wonders trailed 24-12  before closing with a rush.

“We hadn’t seen Alexander Central all year, but we thought we matched up well,” Ceresa said. “We never felt like we weren’t OK.”

The match started at 170. A.L. Brown’s 195- pounder Isaac Miles  provided early energy with a pin, and 120-pounder Avery Clinding supplied a pin that chopped that 24-12 deficit to 24-18. A quick pin by Sexton at 132 pulled the Wonders within 27-24.

Brown’s Diron White found himself in trouble, but he avoided a pin at 138.

“Guys stayed off their backs,” Ceresa said. “Guys didn’t roll over, and that’s the difference in this year and previous years.

“We’ve always had  kids like Sexton and Isaiah Johnston that are going to win against just about anybody, but we’re a different team now because we don’t give up pins.”

The Wonders were down 31-24 when Johnston, a sophomore, took the mat at 145 for the match that proved pivotal. Johnston’s opponent was Zane Knight, ranked second in the state.

“That’s a guy that beat me before, so there was a fire burning in me,” Johnston said. “I had a lot of motivation personally and my team really needed it.  It was my time.”

Johnston survived a furiously fought decision worth three points and a good bit of momentum. The Wonders still trailed 31-27, but Johnston punched the air as he exited the mat because he knew what was coming.

A pin by Marcus Bolick at 152 gave the Wonders the lead. Then a fast, furious pin by Jerry Donatien at 160 meant victory.

“We lost in the first round of the playoffs last year, so winning against a regional power like Alexander Central meant a lot,” Sexton said. “We just won our first conference championship in 27 years, and now we’ve gone farther in the state than A.L. Brown’s ever gone.”

The Wonders accepted the regional runner-up trophy after the loss to Southeast Guilford, but it’s not over.

Wrestling is a two-faceted sport. Now come the individual regionals (Wonders will wrestle at Hough) and state championship tournaments.

“Every coach will tell you his guys work hard, but this team has accomplished what it has because we also worked hard in the spring, summer and fall,” Ceresa said. “Ninety percent of our guys wrestle year-round. The most guys we’ve ever qualified for the states is five. Our goal now is to top that.”

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