As of right now, the varsity wrestling Fighting Scots are biding their time before the start of the conference tournament which begins the weekend of Feb. 9. It’s what they’ve waited for all season long, as it begins the home stretch leading to regional and state competition.
But in the meanwhile, the Scots had the chance to both improve their conference record and honor their five seniors Thursday night, as Scotland hosted Lumberton for “Senior Night.”
And Scotland did exactly that, besting the Pirates 55-18 in an impressive performance from top-to-bottom. After a frustrating loss to Pinecrest two weeks ago, Scotland wrestlers and coaches alike firmly believe that the team will be singing a different tune when both squads inevitably clash again in conference tournament action.
“Senior Night is special, and with me being a leader on this team, it was refreshing to see the younger guys step up and wrestle well tonight,” said Scotland senior Adrian Soto-Perez, who along with fellow seniors Nick Kee, Bobby Diggs, Deshawn Williams and Matthew Sabin was recognized prior to the start of Thursday’s match.
“At one time, all of us seniors were in the younger guys’ shoes, so it was cool to see them wrestle like veterans. After tonight, I think we are in the position to have a way better match with Pinecrest the next time we wrestle them,” he said.
Scotland started their night in the 138-pound weight class, which featured Diggs taking on Lumberton’s Felix Yang. Diggs would make short work of his opponent by pinning Yang 17 seconds into the first period to give the Scots the early lead.
Next up was junior 138-pounder Jessi Kee, who was bumped up in weight to take on arguably the top 145-pound wrestler in the conference Jordan Powers. Kee would remain firmly in control throughout the match, earning takedowns in the first and second periods before earning a pair of reversals and nearfalls to win her match via the major decision victory.
With her dominant performance, both Kee and her coaches see her as the conference wrestler to beat at 145-pounds.
“I feel like I’ve gotten stronger as a wrestler since I was bumped up a weight class,” said Kee after the match. “I was nervous when they first did it, but now I feel good that I can wrestler at a higher weight and win matches for my team.”
Scotland’s Willis Benoit (152) would keep the Scots’ momentum rolling by earning a 12-8 decision over Josh Watts, and then it was time for Soto-Perez (160) and the older Kee (170) to compete. As they’ve done for most of the season, both Scotland seniors smothered opponents Monquez Townsend and Troy Hunt, respectively, to earn first period pins and maintain their standing as North Carolina’s top-ranked wrestlers in their weight classes.
A series of four forfeits (three going to Lumberton) made the score 37-18 in favor of Scotland as both squads’ 106-pounders took the mat.
It would be Lumberton’s only points on the night, as every match wrestled between the two teams was taken by the red-hot Scots.
Scotland sophomore Joey Dinkins (106) continued his recent stretch of stellar matches by earning a pin at the 1:33 mark in the first period, which gave him more than 25 wins on the season to just six losses.
And closing the night for the Scots was 113-pound freshman Josiah Williams, who wrestled Thursday’s most exciting match against Lumberton opponent Kent Bryant.
After falling behind 4-0 in the first two periods after a takedown and reversal, the waning seconds of the third period saw Williams earn a reversal of his own which suddenly gave the young wrestler an opportunity to take advantage. With the crowd on hand and his teammates on their feet in anticipation, Williams finally secured Bryant’s shoulders to the mat with 21 seconds left to earn the comeback pin victory and send Scotland fans into a frenzy.
“It was a huge win for us after such a hard loss to Pinecrest,” said Scotland coach Nicky Kee. “We were hard on ourselves in the days following that loss, and every day has been about us being more aggressive with our conditioning, drills and practices. Now we’re practicing for the conference tournament, and knowing that we have to go through Pinecrest to win it all is our motivation.”
Thursday was a unique night at the SHS new gym, as Scotland welcomed the St. Andrews University wrestling Knights who competed against Cumberland University under the same roof.
And in a contest which came down the wire, the Knights were just barely edged by Cumberland by a final score of 33-21.
After jumping out 12-0 over Cumberland due to a pair of forfeits, the Bulldogs came back to tie St. Andrews with a pair of pins in the 141 and 149-pound weight classes. A St. Andrews forfeit later, and Cumberland had taken the lead 18-12.
But then the Knights evened the odds against Cumberland in dramatic fashion as 165-pounder Steffan Baker scored the pin over his opponent with just 10 seconds remaining in what was the highlight of the night for St. Andrews.
However, St. Andrews surrendered two pins and a decision victory in the following three matches to allow Cumberland to clinch the NAIA showdown. Knights’ 285-pound All-American Denzel Vaughn ended the night on a high note for St. Andrews, edging his opponent 9-7 for the decision victory.