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Time runs out on Demons

Hillcrest hangs on for 30-22 victory in 4A Upper State wrestling finale

Posted: February 10, 2011 12:30 p.m.
Updated: February 11, 2011 5:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

L-E’S THEO SHEPARD BEGINS to put the finishing touches on Hillcrest’s Preston Pickens in Shepard’s 11-6 victory in the 215-pound contest from Wednesday’s 4A Upper State title match.

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Some sports are games of inches. Wrestling can be one of seconds.

Just when top-ranked Hillcrest looked to have Wednesday’s 4A Upper State championship match against host Lugoff-Elgin in hand, with Ellison Sanders building up a 9-1 lead over L-E Jacob Burr in the 152-pound --- and the evening’s final --- match, the Demon senior put the Hillcrest on his back and nearly scored a pin before the buzzer sounded to end the second period.

Ultimately, Sanders would turn the tables on Burr with a pin, 20 seconds into the final period to preserve what was a 24-22 Rams’ lead, which turned into a 30-22 victory over the hosts. It capped the 2010 AAA state champions’ first year in the 4A ranks with a 23-5 mark.

Hillcrest advanced into Saturday’s 4A state championship match and will face Lexington, which edged defending state champion Fort Dorchester, 33-32, for the Lower State crown.

In a wild scene inside the Demons Den which saw L-E head coach exhorting Burr late in the second period, his counterpart, Hillcrest head coach Tommy Bell, was pointing toward the clock which was approaching zero, to make sure the two officials heard the buzzer over the roar of the frenzied crowd.

A Burr pin would have given the Demons a 28-24 win. But the clock simply ran out on Burr’s bid.

“About 10 seconds. Ten more seconds would have done it,” Moxie said when asked how much more time Burr would have needed to come away with the second period pin and the six points which comes with it. “(Burr) did all he could. That’s a real good kid that he wrestled.

“(Burr) gave it everything he had and threw everything at it. He tried and he got stuck. Sometimes that happens when you’re throwing everything out there.”

Sanders, a sophomore, is ranked third in the state in 4A according to Trying to preserve a two-point team lead, he jumped to a 5-0 lead after the first period and was on top, 9-1, before Burr piled up five points with a pair of one-point escapes, a two-point takedown and three near fall points which came in the final five seconds of the second period.

“Our kid was up 9-1 in that last match and you could just see his conditioning was failing and that the pressure was getting to him. He’s out there winning 9-1 and it looked like he was losing 9-1,” said Bell of Sanders’ performance.

Bell said he was worried that the noise inside the gym might lead to Burr getting a win due to the officials’ not hearing the horn to end the second period.

“I knew we only had about five seconds left. I thought he could hold on for five seconds,” he said. “I was more worried that the officials weren’t going to hear the timer because it was so loud in here.”

A few minutes earlier, there was some doubt as to whether Hillcrest would even send Sanders out for the 145-pound match, hoping to have a large enough cushion that would allow the guests to forfeit the evening’s finale.

Johnny Sanchez, the state’s second-ranked wrestler at 135 pounds, rebounded from a 2-0 first period deficit and then a blow to the head in the second to rally and score five third period points for a 7-4 victory over L-E’s Alonzo Grant, who is one rung below Sanchez in the rankings. That gave the Rams the lead for only the second time of the evening at 21-19.

“Johnny Sanchez is a humungous leader for us,” Bell said. “He took a little shot to the head and he said he struggled through the second period. It wasn’t a concussion or anything. He just got his bell rung.”

The win at 135 gave the guests a two-point lead and the momentum. When Chris Higgins, the top-ranked 140-pounder in 4A, scored three third quarter points to hold off David Osteen, the Rams’ lead grew to 24-19 with two matches remaining. One of the pair featured Hillcrest’s Nick Devita, 4A’s top-ranked 145-pounder, going up against Parker Singleton, who is ranked 10th.

Showing that the polls mean little, Singleton scored a point on an escape and then recorded a two-point takedown in the final minute of the second period to carry a 3-2 lead over Devita into the final stanza. Singleton then scored three points, in identical fashion, in the third to come away with a 6-3 win which drew the Demons to within 24-22 with one match left on the docket.

Later, Moxie admitted that his bench may have been deflated following the loss at 135. But he was hardly ready to throw in the towel with whom the Demons still had left to wrestle.

“A little bit,” Moxie said when asked if his team’s spirits were down after the loss at 135. “I knew David Osteen, Parker and those guys were going to be ready to wrestle no matter what the score was.

“After David’s match, I didn’t know how Parker was going to do … I really didn’t. For him to go out there and perform and give us a shot going into the last match, that’s all you can ask for. And, just when you think it’s all done, Parker beats the number one kid in the state.”

Bell came out and admitted that he thought his team had wrapped things up after Sanchez’s victory. He said he never saw the loss coming at 145.

“I knew it was over and it wasn’t,” Bell said.

“Parker Singleton deserves a tremendous amount of credit. Other than maybe him and his mom and dad, I don’t know if there were a lot of people who expected that. He not only beat our kid, he smashed our kid and got all the momentum back in their favor.

“I go back to Parker Singleton, though. I think that their bench thought it was over and he gave their kids a chance. Momentum in high school sports is so big.”

With Devita on the mat, Bell turned to look at Sanders, who was not preparing himself as his coach thought that he should. Sanders was anticipating a Devita win, which would have locked things up for the Rams. Bell was not as certain.

“Over here,” he said, “I think (Sanders) felt like the match was over and that he was not going to have to wrestle. So when Nick (Devita) went out there, I went over to (Sanders) and said, ‘You start getting ready to wrestle. You expect Nick to get pinned and you expect this match to come down to you.’

“I was not really thinking that it would, by the way, but it did.

“I got him into his normal routine,” Bell added. “Then, when it was 0-0 after the first period (at 145), I really started getting on (Sanders) and saying that, ‘You’ve got to get ready because Nick’s fading a little bit here.’

“He’s (Sanders) a sophomore. He’s very talented, but that put a tremendous amount of pressure on him and he did not handle it well.”

The evening’s first of 14 matches opened at 160 pounds as HHS freshman Landon Sayegh gave the guests a 3-0 lead with a 6-1 win over Corey Edenfield. Then, the match came into the L-E’s wheel house.

Senior Will Connell scored a 16-6 major decision victory over Matt Errington, give L-E a 4-3 win in a contest in which the Rams saved points in not being pinned or getting a technical fall loss. Zach Connell made it 10-3, putting Justin Boozer on his back and getting a pin some 58 seconds into their 189-pound contest.

L-E senior Theo Shepard rebounded from his lone loss of the season, which came against Rock Hill on Monday, to rally from a 4-3 first period deficit and outscore Preston Pickens, 7-3, the rest of the way for an 11-6 win which extended the L-E lead to 13-3.

The hosts went on top, 16-3, when heavyweight Allen Jenerette scored a point on an escape to knot things with C.J. Barksdale at 3-3 before Barksdale was assessed a one-point penalty for stalling in the closing seconds of a match which was won by the L-E sophomore, 4-3.

“I thought (starting the match at) 160 was great for us,” Moxie said. “I thought that would give us a chance, kind of like it was against Rock Hill who had their two best kids at the end of the match.”

“We thought it was a good draw for us,” Bell said of opening the night at 160, while adding that he hoped to get wins at 160 and 215 pounds. “We liked what we drew because we thought that it got their two big guns (the Connell brothers) out of the way. We thought it would be good that we had our big guns at the end and it was just good enough.”

The Rams got back into this one when Alex Roberts pinned L-E’s Lake Stephens at 103. Things would get tighter when the Rams’ 112-pounder, Brandon Johnson, blanked Chris Jackson, 3-0, drawing the visitors to within 16-12. When HHS’ Dominique Thompson scored five third period points to overtake Chris Renfroe, the top-ranked guests trimmed to deficit to 16-15 with six matches to go.

“I give Hillcrest a lot of credit, they are a phenomenal team from top to bottom,” Moxie said. “They did their jobs. They kept Will Connell from getting bonus points. They kept Theo from getting bonus points. They pinned us at 103. They did what they had to do.”

The Rams took the upper hand for the first time since the opener when Nate Coy scored three near fall points with 42 seconds left in his match with Dreshon Wood in what was a 4-2 Coy victory which led to the key pairing at 135.

“I knew there were some swing matches in there,” Bell said. “Nineteen (119) and (1)30, those were big wins. I thought those were toss-up matches and they (Thompson and Coy) got them for us.

“We knew it would be tight. We did everything right until these last two matches. We did not handle the pressure very well. I’m very disappointed; we struggled those last couple of matches.”

While Bell was disappointed with the win, it hardly made Moxie fell any better after his post-match talk to his wrestlers, which came into the match as the third-ranked team in 4A.

 “We gave it away. I really feel that we gave it to them,” he said. “We had two tough losses at 119 and 135 where we were up early in the match and it cost us … guys just have to step up.

“But, I’m real proud of the kids. We just fell short in a couple weight classes. There’s nothing you can do about it. That’s the way it rolls.”


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