East Rowan victorious in county wrestling tournament
MOUNT ULLA — There’s nothing sweeter than an unexpected happy ending — especially the one East Rowan’s wrestling team provided for outgoing coach Barry Justus on Saturday.
The Mustangs crowned five weight-class champions, totaled 160.5 team points and gave their soon-to-be-retired coach another first-place finish in the Rowan County Tournament.
“When you’ve been there you always want to win it,” Justus said at West Rowan High School, where East captured its sixth county title. “You’re not satisfied with anything other than first. And this being my last year, it’s nice to go out on top.”
The Mustangs prevailed in a tourney that many felt was up for grabs. Salisbury (145) outpointed defending champion Carson (143) for second place. West (132), North (96) and South (68) completed the field. East junior Max Wall won the 170-pound weight class and was named tournament MVP.
“It’s a surprise because we don’t really have the people this year,” East’s Jeff Burrell said after clearing the room at 126 and winning his second straight county championship. “We just worked hard. Nobody slacked off.”
East won despite entering wrestlers in just 12 of the 14 weight classes. “We didn’t have anyone at 106 or 113,” explained Justus, who plans to retire on May 1. “We have some very experienced wrestlers and some kids who never started before, but I didn’t think we had a shot.”
He started believing after seven Mustangs qualified for the finals and two for the consolation finals. “We needed to put people in the finals and we got seven,” Wall said. “That was a surprise.”
Wall improved to 18-2 this season when he avenged a 2014 final-round loss to Carson’s Jaron McMasters — a defending champ and a fourth-place finisher in last winter’s 3A state meet. McMasters has been sidelined with a neck infection much of the season and suffered a twisted knee late in the third period against Wall.
“He’s one of those kids who would take it to the end,” first-year Carson coach Tim Boyd said after instructing the referee to stop McMaster’s match. “If I didn’t ask for it, he would have kept wrestling with a bad leg. He’s that kind of kid.”
Wall led 5-3 with 47 seconds remaining when the match was called. “I knew he’d been out a while and knew it would be close,” he said. “But as long as I wrestled smart and hard I still had a chance. He took this from me last year. I wasn’t going to let him have it this time.”
Burrell, a junior with a 17-4 mark, recorded two pins to defend his title. He stopped Salisbury’s Erixon Avila in 22 seconds in the final.
“He was a lot stronger than I thought,” Burrell said. “But Coach (Justus) told me not to use any of my signature moves. I used the moves we’ve been working on in practice and they worked.”
Other East champions included Landon Carico (120), Colton Carico (138) and Daniel Muncey (182), who clinched ER’s second title in three years when he flattened South’s Jonathan Hunt in less than a minute.
“We knew it was about a four-team race,” said Salisbury coach Tim Pittman, a former East wrestler for Justus. “East had been there before. If I’m going to lose a tournament, I don’t mind losing to that man.”
Salisbury claimed four weight-class champions and rallied late to sneak past Carson in the team standings. It came down to final match of of the tournament, where Marquise Peele (285) decisioned North’s Tyler Cain, 10-7. “We had five freshmen in our lineup,” Pittman said. “And we had our chances. But overall, it’s not a bad day.”
Other Salisbury winners included Timmy Boyd (113), Jibri Cowan (132) and Willie Clark (152). Clark used a takedown in the final 10 seconds to gain a dizzying 6-5 win over Carson’s Michael Sloop.
“It was 4-4, and in my mind I was wrestling for overtime,” Clark said. “Then I got called for a stall with about 17 seconds to go, so now I’m thinking, ‘It’s my senior year. I’ve got to win this.’ Fortunately I caught him backing up and took a quick shot. I knew it was now or never.”
Carson had six finalists and three prevailed — Josh Vega at 106, Cameron Rayfield at 145 and Bailey Rayfield at 160. Bailey, a No. 3 seed, used a last-second escape to edge top-seeded Darius Jackson of Salisbury, 5-4.
“We lost a lot of experience from last year,” said Boyd, who replaced former coach Bryce Vandenberg. “I had one freshman that won it (Vega) and two freshman that got seconds. We did all right.”
Senior Lee Poteat (195) was West’s only champion and Michael Hughes (220) represented North on the all-county team. Poteat posted two pins, one in 20 seconds and the other in 1:26. “I just took the right opportunities,” he said.
Hughes, a No. 2 seed, outscored No. 5 Josh Malloy of Carson to win his first county title. South had no champions but Tristian Gabriel (138), Roland Grant (145) and Hunt (182) were second-place finishers. Top-seeded Simeon Caldwell (182) of Salisbury failed to place and No. 2 seed Zach Ridenhour (145) of West was upset early before placing third.