CLAYTON — The Cleveland Rams will have to wait at least one more year.
Despite their best regular season record in the three-year history of the young school, the Rams fell short in their bid to notch their first dual team wrestling playoff victory Tuesday as Southern Nash won the final bout of the night and knocked off Cleveland 39-37 in dramatic fashion in the first round of the state dual tournament.
“It’s disappointing because it’s a match we thought we had a good chance of winning. We haven’t won a playoff match yet and we thought this would be the year to do it,” Cleveland coach Scott Riley said.
While the loss ended the team format of the season, the Rams begin individual postseason action on Feb. 22.
Having gone undefeated in the Eastern Carolina 3A Conference, Cleveland carried a 22-6 record into Tuesday’s contest and had won the previous five matches by a combined score of 304-68. But Southern Nash (25-7) proved to be the doorstop to the Rams’ success.
Over the course of 14 matches there were seven lead changes and five ties. Beginning the night at 160 pounds, the Rams built a 21-12 lead but Southern Nash took the next two bouts to square the match and eventually led 33-27 with three matches to wrestle.
At 138 pounds, Cleveland’s Dakota Hill scored a pin to even the score and Jhavonte Moon followed with a 15-5 major decision at 145 to give the Rams a 37-33 lead heading into the final bout.
At 152, Southern Nash’s Jacoby Benjamin pinned Josh Williams with 40 seconds left in the final period for the decisive points.
“I didn’t think it would be as close as it was,” Riley said. “We had a couple disappointments. We had some holes. We had a few injuries. Those things kind of hurt you.”
Cleveland won half the matches on the night with Hill being joined in the pin column by Chance Wallis (170), Jacob Pickering (220), Bryer Rodgers (heavyweight) and Derrick Applewhite (120).
While Moon came up big in a clutch situation, the match of the night for Cleveland belonged to Jonathan Williams at 182. Williams trailed 7-5 with 17 seconds remaining but scored an escape and a buzzer-beating takedown to defeat Ebraham Roham 8-7 and provide a boost of early momentum to the Rams.
In addition to the final bout, the Rams suffered another third-period pin at 195 pounds when Blaine Bryant – wrestling up a weight class – was pinned with 57 seconds remaining while leading the match.
At 106 pounds, Cleveland’s Ryan Flores fell 7-5 after a pair of third-period escapes by Dakota Medina.
The Rams will have a little more than a week to shake off the loss and prepare for the individual format of the postseason.
“We won the conference regular season and we won the (conference) dual team and we had more conference champions than we’ve ever had,” Riley said. “All those things are successes and we’re hoping to do well at regionals.”