LEXINGTON — Socastee wrestling coach Jeff Gibbins has modeled his emerging program after a handful of the perennially successful teams in the state.
His wrestlers discovered Wednesday night why Eastside High is among those.
In the team’s first appearance in a state championship match, the Braves fell 47-21 at River Bluff High to an Eastside program that has made a habit of winning state titles.
Eastside has now won 10 of the past 15 AAA titles, including six straight from 2004-09 and now two more in a row.
“We expected a championship match and that’s what we got,” said Socastee senior Joe Smolenski. “They were conditioned well and fought well out there, and they didn’t really let up. None of our guys did either, I think. We gave it our all.”
Socastee was Eastside’s fourth Grand Strand victim in the championship match over its dominating stretch. It defeated Georgetown in 2004 and North Myrtle Beach in 2006 and ’07. The Eagles haven’t lost in the championship match since 1999.
“We knew exactly what we were getting into,” Gibbins said. “It’s the first time our kids have performed on a big stage like this and I think maybe some of our younger guys in our lower weight classes kind of got stuck up in that.”
The school from Taylors, outside Greenville, failed to reach the championship match from 2010-12. “That was a rough three years,” Eastside coach Jack Kosmicki said.
Wednesday’s championship match began promisingly for the Braves.
It began at 195 pounds through a random draw, and Smolenski rallied from a 4-2 deficit through the first half of the match to earn a 5-4 win over Michael Fernandez to give Socastee a 3-0 lead.
In the 220-pound match, Socastee’s Kyle Burton earned a pin in 1:51 to push Socastee’s early edge to 9-0. But it was the last points the Braves would earn over the next seven matches.
“We knew coming into it we wanted to draw either 182 or 195, and that way we could maybe get some momentum, because if you get that momentum going you never know what’s going to happen in some of those matches where we’re the underdog,” Gibbins said. “So we started right where we wanted: no excuses.”
The heavyweight match was third and Socastee’s Tevin Ferreiras dropped a 2-0 decision to Faud Serdah, cutting the Braves’ lead to 9-3.
Eastside quickly established its dominance in the lower weight classes with pins in the first period by Zane Mitchell and Fred McCurry in the 106- and 113-pound weight classes, and Charlton Clark earned a 19-3 technical fall over Dylan Martin at 120, despite having to fend off a couple attempts at pins by Martin, to give Eastside a 20-9 lead.
Kosmicki considered the key stretch of matches to be the victories his wrestlers earned at 120, 126 and 132 pounds. David Walker pinned Justin Knipper in 4:46 at 126 pounds and Clay Walker pinned Jordan Hodge in 12 seconds at 132.
Though he’s been wrestling all year at 126 pounds, Knipper is ranked No. 1 in AAA at 120 pounds, Martin was thought to have a chance against the tough Clark, and Kosmicki intentionally matched the accomplished Walker against Hodge to keep Hodge from recording an easy victory against a lesser grappler.
“Martin and Justin [Knipper] are just so tough, I was crossing my fingers and we came through big on those, and I wanted to make sure I had Clay on Hodge because the Hodge kid is a good wrestler, too,” Kosmicki said.
Cole Anderson recorded another pin for Eastside at 138 pounds, and when Kaden Clark avoided being pinned in a 13-7 loss to Socastee’s Sam McKinney at 145, the Eagles were assured of victory with four matches remaining.
Socastee won two of those final four matches, including a closing pin in 27 seconds by Zach Mor.
The Braves hope the 2013-14 season becomes the foundation for more title runs. They ended the year with a 24-2 record, with their other loss to AA state semifinalist Aynor, and the squad is dominated by juniors.
Socastee moves up to Class AAAA next year after losing three seniors in Smolenski at 195 pounds, Quin Gammon at 113 and Andrew Badoo at 160.
“This definitely opened a door for us and showed us we definitely need to step it up next year,” said John Leggett, a junior who earned a win at 152 pounds. “We’re going in there with some fire in our belly and we’ve got to leave our mark.”
The remaining Braves will use Wednesday’s loss as motivation going into next season.
“Going into AAAA next year I think we’re going to walk in with our heads up, but definitely with a different intensity,” Leggett said. “We’ve got to leave this behind us and go into AAAA swinging.”
195 | Joseph Smolenski (Soc) dec. Michael Fernandez, 5-4; 220 | Kyle Burton (Soc) pin Jesus Esparza, 1:51; 285 | Faud Serdah (East) dec. Tevin Ferreiras, 2-0; 106 | Zane Mitchell (East) pin Eugene Utley, 1:57; 113 | Fred McCurry, (East), pin Quin Gammon, 1:45; 120 | Charlton Clark (East) tech. fall Dylan Martin, 4:29 19-3; 126 | David Walker (East) pin Justin Knipper, 4:46; 132 | Clay Walker (East), pin Jordan Hodge, 0:11; 138 | Cole Anderson (East) pin Brad Melnytskyy, 2:59; 145 | Sam McKinney (Soc) dec. Kaden Clark, 13-7; 152 | John Leggett (Soc) dec. Ian Rodgers, 8-5; 160 | Rash Almasri (East) dec. Andrew Badoo, 16-10; 170 | Taylor Chemell (East) pin Aydin Imani, 2:46; 182 | Zach Mor (Soc) pin DeShawn Sullivan, 0:27.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.