ROCKY MOUNT — Cleveland’s first trip to the 3A East wrestling regional with a senior class turned out very, very well.
The Rams got their first regional champion, qualified five wrestlers for the state tournament starting Thursday at Greensboro Coliseum, and finished third in the team points on Saturday.
Junior Derrick Applewhite was not only one of three Rams to earn his 100th career victory during the event, but he beat Jacksonville’s Xavier Ross 10-7 to win the 120-pound weight class.
“It was a good showing,” Rams coach Scott Riley said. “The kids came out and wrestled well. We thought we might be able to get seven into states, but five is pretty good. It’s great Derrick was able to get our first championship.”
Applewhite, who was seeded only third in his weight class, improved to 40-11 on the season with the victory.
“It was a tough match,” said Applewhite, who has 101 career wins. “(Ross) is a great wrestler. We had both wrestled a lot of great wrestlers all year and that prepared us for today. This is my best year yet – first-time Johnston county champion, second-time (Eastern Carolina) conference champion and first-time regional champion.”
Three other Rams made the finals and didn’t have as much luck, but all gave good accounts of themselves.
Top-seeded senior Dakota Hill lost the 138 final to West Carteret’s No. 2 seed Chris Halstead 4-3, just Hill’s seventh loss against 46 victories this season.
“I just needed a few more seconds,” Hill said. “He was tough on top, and that’s where most of the match was. I hadn’t seen him before. But it’s been a good season, and I’m looking forward to the state meet.”
At 182, top-seeded senior Blaine Bryant dropped a 7-6 decision to West Carteret’s No. 2 seed Demion Tanguay-Penn.
“I’m extremely happy I’m going to states again,” said Bryant, who has 100 career wins and is 42-7 on the season. “I’m almost happy I lost, because I’ll have more drive at states. And (Tanguay-Penn) pinned me last year, so I’ve gotten better.”
The Rams Jhavonte Moon, who was seeded No. 3 at 145, lost to top-seeded repeat champion and meet Most Outstanding Wrestler Alexander Knight of Rocky Mount 7-1.
“He’s the best wrestler I’ve ever faced,” said Moon, now 42-10 on the campaign. “I had watched him before, but it’s different actually wrestling him. I adjusted some things and got better. I’ve improved a lot since last season. Now I need to get ready for a lot of diversity in styles at the state meet.”
Cleveland’s other state qualifier was 170-pound junior Chanse Wallace, who topped Hertford’s Grant Getty 7-2 for third place.
“My first match of the tournament I was good, but my second was sloppy,” said Wallace, who has 102 career wins and is headed to his second state meet. “I had to wrestle four matches today, and fortunately I got back to the third-place match. I’m going to states with a No. 3 seed, and my goal is to win a championship. I’m glad I’ve been before, because I’ll have a better idea of what’s going on.”