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Tough morning to be a Knight
Bamberg-Ehrhardt takes down North Central for AA-A title, 39-31
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NORTH CENTRAL’S KALAB HAVEN (left) has Bamberg-Ehrhardt’s Desean Brown stuck in their 171-pound match won by the NC sophomore by pin in only 47 seconds. - photo by Tom Didato/C-I
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NORTH CENTRAL’S KYLE LESSO has B-E’s Colby Hiers on lockdown en route to winning their match-opening 126-pound pairing in Saturday’s AA-A state championship match at Airport High School. - photo by Tom Didato/C-I

WEST COLUMBIA --- Only the winning score was the same.

In a AA-A state wrestling championship rematch of their memorable Dec. 5, 2018 contest in which host North Central defeated visiting Bamberg-Ehrhardt on the ‘H’ criteria after the two sides ended in a 39-all stalemate. Saturday morning, B-E avenged that early season loss in Boonetown by taking down the Knights, 39-31, at Airport High School for its second straight AA-A state title.

The loss capped a 34-5 season for Jason Brazell’s squad which saw many new faces against the Red Raiders this time around.

In their first meeting of the season more than two months earlier, B-E was still led by head coach Jacob Stewart, who resigned last month after allegedly striking a student. In his place was interim head coach Mark Moody, who was heading up the middle school team prior to being named to take over the helm of the defending AA-A state champions.

Not only was Moody new but so, too, were several Red Raiders who took the mat on Saturday who did not wrestle earlier this season in the match contested inside the old Castle at North Central.

After returning from having stepped outside to grab a breath of fresh air following the post-match awards ceremony, Brazell talked about the different lineup which the Red Raiders threw at his team Saturday.

“They had a couple kids who, basically, came out of nowhere and wrestled for them,” he said. “That was the biggest turning point; kids that we didn’t see all year wind up wrestling today.”

The Knights looked to be in control of things, leading 25-8, at the halfway point of the contest after the Haven brothers --- Hunter and Kalab --- scored consecutive first period pins at 160 and 171 pounds.

In last Wednesday’s 54-27 victory over Ninety-Six for the AA-A Upper State championship, Hunter Haven, a senior who was runner-up at 152 pounds in last year’s state championship, wrestled at 171 pounds while Kalab, a sophomore and defending AA-A state champion at 160 pounds, was inserted into the 182-pound slot. Brazell thought moving the two into lighter weight classes gave the Knights their best opportunity at coming away with a win.

“I figured that we had a better chance of getting two sixes (pins) instead of a six and a three (points for a decision win),” he said. “I figured we would get two sixes if we bumped them up in the lineup.”

The Red Raiders never flinched after losing the two quickies to the Andrew Jackson transfers. Their answer came in a third period pin from Amir Muhammad at 182 pounds before two-time defending state champion KeSean Brown was given a forfeit at 195. 

The Lower State titlists came all the way back, going on top 26-25, when Trayvon Jamison, who wrestled at heavyweight against NC in December, moved down to 220 and scored a pin with 3.6 seconds left in the second period of his pairing.

The entire complexion of the match changed at heavyweight as NC junior Noe Herrera used a takedown with 58 seconds left in the second period to grab a 2-1 lead over Charles Jackson. The Red Raider evened things seconds later with an escape before a two-point takedown with 19.9 seconds left in the second period sent Herrera, the state’s top-ranked AA-A heavyweight, to the mat face first. After being tended to by the trainer, who signaled that Herrera’s injury was too serious for him to continue, B-E was awarded six points by injury default and took the lead for keeps at 32-25 with three matches left on the docket.

Herrera was helped off the mat and taken to the locker room by two teammates. His injury was a blow to NC’s hopes of the school’s first state wrestling crown.

“That was real big,” Brazell said of the sudden turn of events at heavyweight. “That was a match that we were counting on getting. That could have made the whole difference in the match, right there.”

B-E’s string of four straight wins ended when the Red Raiders forfeited to NC freshman Dalton Smith, the second-ranked wrestler in the state at 106 pounds, as the Knights closed the gap to 32-31. 

NC’s depth at 106 and 113 was compromised when senior Paula Velez, who can weigh in and wrestle in either of the two lightest weight classes, was still on the mend after having sustained a collarbone injury while competing in the Blue Devil Invitational at Dreher High School last month.

“That was real big,” Brazell said of Velez’s absence from the lineup. “Her not being able to wrestle and Noe’s match hurt. If we could have had Paula in the lineup, I’m about 110 percent sure that she would win her match.”

The Red Raiders sent out Zymire Chisholm at wrestle Zach Knopp at 113 pounds. Using two takedowns, Knopp jumped to a 5-3 lead and led, 9-7, after two periods of the penultimate match of the morning.Chisholm, however, came from off the mat to get three takedowns and a near fall, helping him to 14 third quarter points and a 21-10 major decision victory which gave B-E four points and a 36-31 lead heading into the 120-pound finale.

Needing to stay away from a pin or, a five-point technical fall which would tie the match and send it to criteria points, the Red Raiders had an ace up their sleeve in sophomore Jackson Stembridge at 120 pounds. Stembridge is the defending AA-A state champion at 106 pounds who had been wrestling at 113 most of the season. Going up against Zach Roberts, ranked sixth among 120 pounders, Stembridge broke a 2-2 tie with a takedown and a reverse to lead, 5-2 after the first period before using a reverse to carry a 7-2 advantage into the third period. He would hang on for the 10-4 victory which delivered a fourth state championship trophy to B-E.

NC had its way early on in a match which opened at 126 pounds as sophomore and third-ranked Kyle Lesso jumped to a 6-1 lead over Colby Hiers, who is ranked second at 113 pounds, with Lesso giving the Knights the first three points of the match with a 7-2 victory.

Cameron Hoffman made it 9-0 when he put Nyguen Glover on his back with 10.7 seconds remaining in the second period at 132 pounds.

Brazell said the 126-pound weight class was a good jumping-off point for his team. “I thought it was a pretty good starting spot,” he said. “I knew we had real good chances to win (the first) two matches. We came out strong and won those two.”

After forfeiting at 138, NC’s lead would shrink to 9-8 after Avery Sanders scored a five-point, 17-2, technical fall win over Wade Bowers at 145 only for Sanders to be penalized two points for biting Bowers as the Red Raiders carried a 9-8 lead into 152 pounds.

NC junior Jordan Small gave the Knights four points as he dominated Phillip Charles, using three takedowns to led, 6-1, after one period. Small did not let up and finished strong, with a near fall highlighting a six-point third period and a four-point, 13-1 major decision victory which led the way to the pins by the Havens.

“I knew we were going to be strong with the two Havens and at (1)32 and (1)26,” Brazell said when asked which weight classes he felt his team had the upper hand coming into the contest. “I knew we would get 152 and heavyweight, I thought, was a shoe-in.”

The loss, Brazell said, should take nothing away from what the Knights accomplished this past season. The future looks bright, as well, with NC having only two senior starters --- Hunter Haven and Velez --- graduating this spring.

“They did everything I asked them to do all year long,” he said of this past dual season which leads to this weekend’s AA-A Upper State individual tourney to be held inside The Castle in Boonetown Friday and Saturday. “I couldn’t be any more proud of them and be happier for them … I’m super-proud to be their head coach.”