If you were looking for excuses or, someone to sugar-coat his team’s 40-14 loss to Hillcrest, Lugoff-Elgin wrestling coach Ted Monroe was not the man to see.
Monroe, whose fifth-ranked Demons ran roughshod over their Region 4-5A foes a week earlier and then disposed of conference colleague Sumter, 63-0, in Saturday morning’s opening round of the 5A Upper State tournament, saw his team come out flat in the afternoon’s second round pairing with second-ranked Hillcrest.
It was a disappointing end to a 31-5 duals season for the hosts who will send 14 wrestlers into next weekend’s 5A Upper State individual tournament in Laurens. It was also an afternoon session on Saturday which left Monroe puzzled as to what went wrong on his team’s home mat.
“Hillcrest is really good. They’re not ranked second in the state for no reason,” Monroe said after talking to his team following the setback. “We’re a really, really solid team, but there’s a lot of teams that could have beaten us today. And, saying that, that’s not taking anything away from Hillcrest.”
With the win, the Rams traveled to meet Rock Hill in Monday’s Upper State semifinal with the Upper State championship match to be contested Wednesday night.
When asked why his team ran into a brick wall in the form of the Rams Saturday afternoon, Monroe was still scratching his head when looking for answers.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We were flat. We had a couple guys who cut a little bit of weight who are not used to cutting the weight. Hillcrest had several guys on their team who cut weight; they’re used to it. We didn’t respond to that. They wrestled well. They wanted it a little bit more than we did, for sure.”
The match opened at 220 pounds, what Monroe called an area that he felt “pretty comfortable in as far as just trying to get a feel as to what was going on in the match.”
Going in, the L-E staff had the opener between sophomore Ethan Hix and the Rams’ Gerald Bryant as being a match which could go either way. Bryant scored a one-point escape midway in the second period which proved to be the only point in the pairing as the visitors took a 3-0 lead. The advantage grew to 6-0 when Jacoreyn Boyd took a 6-0 lead into the third period and held off L-E’s Aaron Miller, winning 6-1, at heavyweight.
“We were really OK losing two decisions to start with,” Monroe said of his team’s early and manageable 6-0 deficit.
“We kind of got off on the wrong foot. Ethan (Hix) is going to be really, really good. He’s a first-year sophomore wrestler who really turned it on toward the end of the season. At heavyweight, I knew we were going to be a little bit of a slight underdog.”
The Demons got on the scoreboard in the third match as Jay Wilson, who dropped from 113 to 106 pounds, carried a 3-2 lead over Josh Wilkerson after one period, poured it on in the second with six points and then added six more in the third for a 15-5 major decision which brought four points with in as the hosts drew within 6-4.
Hillcrest only managed three points at 113 as Travelle Westfeld, ranked third in 5A, held off L-E’s Tanner Misenheimer, 5-2. “We were really impressed with our 113-pounder,” Monroe said. “They had a kid there, Westfeld, the only senior in their lineup, who was third in the state last year. Tanner Misenheimer wrestled really well for us.”
The Rams sent out brothers Dylan and Darren O’Keefe at 120 and 126. Dylan scored seven unanswered points in the final two periods to get past Brice Carron before Darren held a 5-4 advantage over Jacob Paulson which he made stand up in a scoreless third quarter as Hillcrest built a 15-4 lead after six of the 14 matches had been wrestled.
“The two matches (120 and 126) were, what we thought, were toss-up matches. We needed to really pick up one of those two against the O’Keefe kids,” Monroe said. “That really made it tough when we didn’t win at 120 or, 126.”
Michael Shiffer used an 8-4 victory over Jacob Vincent at 132 pounds to pad his team’s lead to 18-4. L-E senior Hunter Mathis followed and never lost the lead in handing Ethan Ellinger a 10-2 loss at 138 to give the Demons four points with their second major decision of the afternoon. The momentum was stunted at 145 as Grant Hopkins won on a second period pin as HHS went up, 24-8.
“We really should have won at 145. That one got away from us,” Monroe said of a pairing knotted at two following the first period. “We needed some bonus points at 152 and we didn’t get them there. After that, it was a snowball effect; it started with little things which led to bigger things. The momentum was never on our side at any point in the match.”
Klay Crossway added three points toward the L-E cause as he jumped to a 6-2 lead over Lucas Conti and held on for the 7-4 win to make it 24-11. The Rams came back with a third period pin at 160 pounds to sew this one up at 30-11.
“One-thirty eight to 160 were the weight classes where we had to win all four of those matches,” Monroe said. “As it turned out, we only split and won two out of the four.”
Brett Carder, who dropped weight to get to 170 pounds, came up with the final win of the day for L-E, stopping D.J. Wright, 7-3. The Rams closed with an Eyan McKnight pin at 182 pounds before adding four points with a major decision victory from Tyler Kilgore in the 195-pound finale.
“They were without their best wrestler, Walker Stephenson, the top-ranked wrestler in the state at 170,” Monroe said. “We ended up winning by decision there. Brett (Carder) was one of the guys who was kind of sucking down a little bit weight, not that he really needs to but the team really needs him at 170.”
Monroe said he was giving his wrestlers Sunday and Monday off before returning to the mat today to begin preparations for the Upper State individual tournament. As for what lies ahead, Monroe said there is work to be done.
“We only have two seniors, but Hillcrest only has one senior,” he said. “We’re going to have our hands full next year and the year after that, but we really like this freshman class that we have coming in and we really like the kids we have coming back.
“We had a little success during the year; we won the Demon Holiday Classic, which was tough tournament, and we won the Coastal Clash and beat the defending 6A state champs from Georgia there. We had a little success and, maybe, we weren’t used to that success and didn’t handle it well. Maybe, we got a little full of ourselves and just didn’t handle it well.”