Lexington washed away years of disappointment and frustration on Saturday at Dreher, claiming its first state wrestling championship with a 36-21 win against top-ranked Rock Hill in the Class 4A finale.
“We tried to approach this as just another dual meet, and it worked,” said Wildcats coach Derek Strobel, whose teams had gone 0-for-3 in the finals since 2006.
“The kids took me off the hook. I didn’t want to be known as the guy who (lost) three years in a row. Everybody contributed — the guys in the lineup today, the backups, everybody who has been in the room with us this year, the coaching staff. They all had a hand in it. I’m not sure it’s really hit me yet.”
The spotlight role fell to junior Andrew Carnes, who pulled out a 3-1 decision at 195 pounds in the 13th bout of the match that gave the Wildcats an insurmountable 30-21 lead.
Rock Hill then made a classy move, forfeiting the final weight (220) to allow senior veteran Nate Meagher to be part of the historic winning lineup.
But it was Carnes’ triumphant struggle against Cameron Bell that will be remembered.
“Man, I never expected it would come down to my match, but it did and it feels amazing to be able to come through for the team. I really felt after the first period that if I could get the first score, I could do it.”
Carnes and Bell dueled for two scoreless periods. Carnes rode out Bell the entire second period. Bell was on top in the third, but opted to let Carnes escape and go for the winning takedown.
It didn’t happen. Carnes countered a Bell move with a takedown of his own with 1:17 to go. Bell eventually gained a penalty point on a stalling call against Carnes, but could not deliver the equalizing take down.
“After he let me up, I didn’t want to risk being too aggressive, so I waited for him to make a move,” Carnes said. “He made a mistake by being out of control and I capitalized.”
The match began at 285 pounds, which gave Lexington a chance to get off to a fast start with the strength of the team being in the lower and middle weights.
The Wildcats responded with six wins at the first seven weights for a 24-3 lead. The run included no pins, but a technical fall by Jackson Myers (113) and major decisions by Andy Szalwinski (120), Blake Risinger (126), Trev Comstock (132) and Brandon Shepherd (138).
Rock Hill made its move starting with a pin in 44 seconds by Bishop Ashley at 145.
“We needed to have a good lead when Rock Hill got to their go-to guys, and the guys at the start really delivered,” Strobel said.
By the time the 195 bout rolled around, the Bearcats were within 27-21 with two bouts to go.
There would be, however, no bitter repeat of a late lead slipping away.
“We’ve lived a whole year with what happened last year, and we were determined not to let it happen again,” Carnes said.