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SHALLOTTE — The emotional journey this season has been for the Fike High wrestling team hit a high note Saturday at the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A East Regional tournament as sophomore Aaron Bancroft led a parade of five Golden Demons to qualify for the state tournament next weekend in Greensboro.
Bancroft was Fike’s only regional champion, claiming the latest installation of his dramatic, season-long series against South Brunswick junior Zain Tittle in the 145-pound final. However, teammates Jayleen Bullock, Isaiah Proctor, Linton Holmes and Saulo Rodriguez all finished in the top four of their respective weight classes to punch their tickets to the Greensboro Coliseum, site of the NCHSAA championships.
In addition to the Fike quintet, also bound for the state tournament from The Wilson Times readership area are Hunt senior Tanner Klutey, Southern Nash’s Zachary Coble and Jesus Raya, the 195-pound regional champion, and C.B. Aycock’s Devin Maldonado, who won the 113-pound regional crown.
Fike, which lost head coach Mike Wickham to cancer on New Year’s Day and suffered a disappointing first-round exit from the NCHSAA 3-A dual-team playoffs last week, finished third out of 26 teams in the regional field with 113 points. The Demons of interim coaches George Bancroft and Bradley Watson, trailed only host and champion West Brunswick (137.5) and Cleveland (117). North Brunswick (109.5) and South Brunswick (89) rounded out the top five while Southern Nash (66) was 13th, Hunt (50) was 17th and C.B. Aycock (46.5) was 18th.
Bancroft entered the regional seeded No. 1 in his weight class and he lived up to the billing. He pinned Havelock’s Jamie Duffy in 21 seconds in his first match Friday and then won by technical fall, 15-1, against Swansboro’s River Carroll to move into Saturday’s semifinals. There, he dispatched Franklinton’s Harrison Tharrington, the No. 4 seed, also by technical fall, 17-1, to set up his fourth match against Tittle.
Bancroft won a 3-2 decision against Tittle in the first day of the WRAL Invitational at Raleigh Athens Drive but Tittle gained revenge with a 2-1 outcome in the third-place match the next day. Tittle took the lead in the season series with an 8-6 triumph in the championship match of the Jolly Roger Invitational on Jan. 13 at Corinth Holders.
This time, however, Bancroft was ready.
“I just wrestled my own match. I didn’t have my mind right in those earlier matches,” Bancroft said. “I was kind of scared. … Today I took a different look. I just did my own thing and it worked.”
Bancroft need just 95 seconds to pin Tittle for his 48th victory against three losses. However, Bancroft said he expects to see Tittle (38-2) again in the state tournament, although he warned that they will have plenty of competition in Greensboro.
“From the first seed to the 15th, it could go either way,” he said. “It’s a pretty stacked weight class, to be honest, but luckily for me, my region has the first seed, the third seed and the fourth seed (in the state), so it got me warmed up for states.”
Bancroft credited his older brother, George Bancroft Jr., who flew from the Virgin Islands for the regional and state tourneys, for helping him win his first regional crown.
“Having my brother here, especially, working with me on every little detail and getting my moves better so I’ll be more effective at the end of the match,” Aaron Bancroft said. “I definitely have new things to learn but I’ll give all the credit to him because if I didn’t have him, I probably would have lost the match today because he changed all my offensive moves and had me perfect it completely.”
Firebirds senior Raya won his first regional title but by the narrowest of margins over up-and-coming Fike freshman Bullock. Raya, the top seed at 195 pounds, pinned his first three opponents, including No. 5 Joseph Saul of Jacksonville White Oak in 3:08 of their semifinals. However, in order to get his 32nd victory against just one less, Raya needed overtime to dispatch sixth-seeded Bullock. The decisive point in the sudden victory for Raya was a controversial one was he was awarded a point when Bullock was called for stalling.
“It was a bad way to lose an overtime match in the finals. I wish it could have been another way,” Watson said.
It was the second one-point loss to Raya for Bullock (20-11), who fell 8-7 in the 3-A Big East Conference individual tournament on Jan. 27.
“I’m very, very proud of Jayleen. He’s been working really hard,” Watson said of Bullock, who wasn’t in Fike’s lineup early in the season.
Aycock’s Maldonado, who has lost just once since Jan. 20, improved to 38-7 as he claimed a 9-5 decision over West Johnston’s Nate Mayfield in their 113-pound final. Maldonado, now 37-8, pulled out an 11-8 decision of Topsail’s Nate Bray in the semifinals after being victimized by an illegal slam by Bray.
Aycock coach Brian Doyle said that Maldonado was shaken up, holding a shoulder and his ribs in pain. After the injury timeout expired, CBA assistant coach Mark Bass asked Maldonado if he could continue and the response was, “I want to wrestle.”
“It was like that ignited a fire, Devin put the pedal to the medal and relentlessly went after Bray, almost pinning him to end it,” Doyle said.
Klutey, the No. 3 seed at 220 pounds, suffered his first loss of the season with a 5-0 decision to top-seeded Patrick Peterson of Swansboro in the regional final. The Warriors senior (13-1), who was injured early in the season, pinned Franklinton’s Michael Rogers in 5:02 to reach the championship match.
Fike senior Holmes, the No. 2 seed at 138 pounds, lost a 7-5 decision to No. 3 Nicholas Vasquez of Jacksonville, the eventual division champion, in Saturday’s semifinals. After win his consolation semifinals match, Holmes (46-7) then dropped an 8-4 decision to top-seeded Tony Locke of Jacksonville Northside in their third-place match.
Fike’s Proctor had to win three times to get to the 182-pound third-place match after losing his quarterfinals match Friday. There, he found Firebirds senior Coble awaiting him for a rematch of their Big East championship match two weeks earlier. Coble won that one 5-3 but Proctor got the better of him this time, claiming a 4-3 victory for his 33rd win against nine losses. Coble dropped to 36-10.
Perhaps the most inspirational run came from Fike heavyweight Rodriguez, who was pinned by Southern Nash’s Dakota Parker in the opening round of the 285-pound division. Rodriguez fought his way back through the consolation bracket, winning three matches to set up a rematch with Parker in the consolation semifinals with a berth in the state tournament on the line. This time Rodriguez (33-23) prevailed in overtime, 4-2. It didn’t even matter that Rodriguez was pinned by Swansboro’s Hunter Westerberg in their third-place match. The Demons junior had accomplished his goal of making it to states.
“I think I’m speaking on behalf of George and myself but I’m extremely proud of Saulo,” Watson said. “He has wrestled hard all season and really started turning the corner in the middle of the season and he has wrestled to his potential. … He’s been extremely driven to get to states this year. He’s had a lot of tough matches to go through, especially today, but he’s made it.”
Those who fell a win short of a state berth were Fike’s Jah’Mez Settles (106) and Henry Escamilla; C.B. Aycock senior Austin Doyle (106); Hunt’s Clemente Salazar (195) and Southern Nash’s Pedro Vargas (220).
Doyle finished the season 38-8 and posted a 119-40 record in his four years at Aycock.
2-A EAST REGIONAL
Bruins’ King places 2nd
NEWPORT — Beddingfield senior Patrick King came up just short in his bid for a regional crown, losing 4-3 to Southwest Onslow’s Tyler Proffitt in their 152-pound championship match Saturday at the NCHSAA 2-A East Regional at Croatan High.
King (18-3) won his first match Friday by forfeit and then pinned West Craven’s Jeremiah Murrell in 3:12 in the quarterfinals. King then collected a win by fall in 2:19 over Mason Ross of Ayden-Grifton in the semifinals.
The only other area wrestler to earn a spot in the state 2-A tournament was SouthWest Edgecombe’s Jaylyn Goins, who placed fourth at 160 pounds. Goins defeated Greene Central’s Jared Fields in the consolation semifinals.
Cougars 220-pounder Isaiah Thompson was also a win shy of finishing in the top four at the regional.