SOUTHERN PINES — Everything was setting up just as Richmond Senior needed it at the Southeastern Conference wrestling tournament.
In the opening match Saturday morning, Richmond defeated Scotland, Lumberton beat Purnell Swett and Pinecrest edged Hoke. Those results forced a three-way tie for second place and the SEC’s final automatic berth to the state 4A dual playoffs.
This meant the team with the best record between the Bucks, Pirates and Raiders during the rest of the tournament would win the tie-breaker.
At the end of the fourth round, Hoke and Richmond were both 3-1 with losses to Pinecrest, while Lumberton was eliminated with a 1-3 mark. So it came down to a head-to-head battle between the Bucks and the Raiders — winner take all.
Hoke got off to a quick start in the 132-pound class as Kyle Lohman pinned Gary Blue before Richmond’s Dominique Everette responded by pinning Mike Ramos at 138. Then the Bucks began to pull away, reeling off two straight pinfall victories at 145 and 152 and earning a forfeit win at 160 to take a 24-6 lead.
Patricio Cifuentes padded the advantage for the Bucks with a 12-1 decision over Dalton Faurot at 170. The Raiders bounced back as Zavier Covington knocked off Lucas Hardin in a 19-10 decision in the 182-pound class and Kempton Wall pinned Tyger Bengel at 195. Those wins trimmed Richmond’s deficit to 28-16.
Despite losing the next two matches by pinfall at 220 and 285, Richmond earned a forfeit win at the 106-pound division to have a chance to tie Hoke with pinfall victories in the final three matches. Those hopes were quickly dashed as Bailey Cooper pinned Bryan Marsh to clinch the win for the Bucks. The teams split the last two matches — Richmond’s Trinity Hunt win by pinfall at 120 and Hoke won by forfeit at 126.
“What hurt us was 132, 145 and 220,” Richmond coach Earl Nicholson said. “I had question marks by those and we really needed two of three of those matches to tie the score. I’m proud of the guys, they did a solid job.”
Hunt finished 5-0 on the day with four forfeit victories. Jordan Jenkins and Zavier Covington were both 4-1. Jenkins had three forfeit wins and Covington had one. Six Richmond wrestlers posted a 3-2 mark: Josh Conrad, Bryan Marsh, David Watkins, Blue, Everette and Faurot.
Hunt was tops in the SEC at 120, Jenkins was second at 106 and Covington was second in the 182-pound class and all earned all-conference honors. Scotland’s Afiz Lateef was named the SEC’s top wrestler and Hoke’s Vernon Walworth was selected as the top coach.
Pinecrest is the conference’s top seed and will square off at 6 p.m. today against Wake Forest at Laney. The winner will take on the victor of the Laney-South View later in the evening. Hoke, the No. 2 seed, will travel to Jack Britt. The winner of that match will face either New Bern or Cary.
Nicholson added he knows his team is on the threshold of breaking into the top two in the conference, especially with the number of wrestlers expected to come back.
“We have 11 starters returning, so there’s no excuse,” Nicholson said. “For some strange reason they don’t seem to understand how well they did. They have to start thinking more about the team and not individually.”
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson may be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.