SOCASTEE — After his teams region-clinching win in a back-and-forth affair with St. James, Socastee wrestling coach Jeff Gibbins gave his players a relatable bit of sentiment.
Any day, you can be this teams Hunter Renfrow, he said to one of his athletes as they grinned and walked past, referring to the schools quarterback standout. Thats what I always tell them.
Momentum was difficult to hold onto Tuesday night, but the Socastee Braves made sure they had it last in a 39-28 victory over St. James to clinch a Region VII-AAA title.
The win also gave the Braves (19-1) the advantage of hosting first- and second-round playoff matches, but the result was much closer than the final score indicated.
I would much rather win a match like that than win a match by 30 points going into the playoffs, Gibbins said. As the competition tightens up in the playoffs, youre going to play more tight matches.
What finally gave Socastee the edge it needed to close out the Sharks (19-14), didnt come until the last possible second, though.
Junior Jordan Hodge trailed St. James Randall Nielsen 8-2 with the final seconds ticking, but the 132-pounder flipped the senior for a pin with 3.9 seconds left. The win turned what couldve been a nail-biter into a 12-point Socastee lead.
Its always exciting when you get a pin, but whenever its for a region championship, that makes it a lot better, Hodge said. The crowd was into it tonight; that always makes your match so much more.
The Braves held on from there, dropping the next two matches but closing the night with a pin by John Leggett to slam the door on the Sharks.
Whenever the match is on the line you have to go out there and pin whenever its needed, Hodge said.
The back-and-forth match never rested, though, as the two teams swapped leads from the get-go. The Sharks jumped out to a 9-0 lead after a quick pin from Steven Deible and a 6-1 decision from James Sanders.
Enter Socastees Zach Mor.
What makes him so good is he works real hard, and he loves the sport, Gibbins said of Mor, the No. 1-ranked 182-pound wrestler in Class AAA. Hes a tactician, he studies it, he is really always trying to improve, and thats what makes him so good.
The junior netted a second-round pin of St. James Bradley Mewharter to get Socastee on the board. He was followed up by senior Joe Smolenski also with a second-round pin and then Kyle Burton (220), who netted an 11-0 decision.
All three played to the large crowd after their wins, with Smolenski adopting Cam Newtons Superman celebration.
I think our seasoned wrestlers understand that if we give a few points here and there and dont get pinned, weve got those guys coming up, Gibbins said of the trio. Some of those matches, we get the momentum going, anything can happen.
But the momentum quickly turned again. With Socastee leading 16-9, St. Jamess John Foster netted a quick pin, and Mackenzie Tecco just missed a pin on Socastees Eugene Utley at 106 pounds, taking a decision. St. James Chase Smith then netted a reversal in the final minute to take a 6-5 decision over Socastees Quin Gammon to extend their lead to 21-16.
Weve got the guys just about where want them, said St. James coach Matt Anderson. [Neilsens] gotta learn from his mistake, and he will. Im proud of our guys they battled hard. We had a feeling it would come down to a match at the end.
The result put Socastees Dylan Martin in a precarious position, which he made sure he capitalized on. With a lead in his match against St. James Larry Miller, he pulled out a late pin to net six points and the final lead change of the night.
That was really big, said Gibbins, noting that Martin is currently in remission from Leukemia. For anyone to go out there and do that, whether he wins or loses, he uplifts our team.
With the win, Socastee sets up a showdown with Berkeley on Saturday, while St. James will travel to Hartsville for a matchup with Hanahan.
If both teams win out, the Sharks will end up right back in Socastees gym for the Lower State championship something Anderson said he feels confident about.
We just proved ourselves to be one of the best for the Lower State, he said. By next Wednesday we might be right back here beating them for the Lower State title.
• 106: Mackenzie Tecco (SJ) def. Eugene Utley 9-3; 113: Chase Smith (SJ) def. Quin Gammon 6-5; 120: Dylan Martin (Soc) pin Larry Miller 4:30; 126: Justin Knipper (Soc) def. Jason Wiggins 21-6 (Technical Fall); 132: Jordan Hodge (Soc) pin Randall Nielsen 5:57; 138: Jacob Seifert (SJ) def. Koy Mai 13-2 (Major Decision); 145: Michael Mewhorter (SJ) def. Sam McKinney 3-1; 152: John Leggett (Soc) pin Alex Mauricio 1:18; 160: Steven Deible (SJ) pin Andrew Badoo 1:20; 170: James Sanders (SJ) def. Aydin Imani 6-1; 182: Zach Mor (Soc) pin Bradley Mewharter 3:54; 195: Joe Smolenski (Soc) pin Barrett Coker 4:35; 220: Kyle Burton (Soc) def. Logan Richards 11-0 (Major Decision); 285: John Foster (SJ) pin Kevin Taylor :45.
Contact JEFF NOWAK at 444-1767.