Photo by Katie Medley 

December is always a busy month for the Orange wrestling team.

They usually compete in three individual tournaments, including hosting their own on the first Saturday of the month. There’s always the Tiger Holiday Invitational, among the largest in the state, either the week before or the week after Christmas. And then there’s the annual two hour trip to Oakboro for the West Stanly Duals.

As a team, Orange will go into the new year with an undefeated dual record.

On Friday, the Panthers emerged from Oakboro with five wins. The Panthers defeated Montgomery Central 54-24; West Stanly 66-16 and Metrolina Christian Academy 69-9. Orange also won two other dual matches to remain undefeated during the dual season.

Orang also had another wrestler move closer to 100 career wins. Dillon Heffernan pinned Jagger Dry of West Stanly and Luke Niday of Metrolina Christian Academy. That places him at 99 career wins. Heffernan will attempt to become the latest member of Orange’s 100 career wins club on Wednesday night in Hillsborough when the Panthers face Northwood. Fittingly, it will be senior night.

A year after the Panthers reached the Eastern Regional Finals of the 3A East Dual Team Tournament, the Panthers are 14-0, 4-0 in the Central Carolina Conference. Orange is two wins away from its third consecutive conference championship. Following Northwood, Orange will face Person.

Orange has won 18 conference championships in the last 19 years.

A week earlier, four Panthers placed in the Tiger Holiday Invitational. The annual event brought 37 teams from across the state to Chapel Hill High School on December 22 and 23.

Orange’s Acoya Isley, whose record was 16-2 after the tournament, wound up finishing 2nd at 195 pounds. In the championship match, top-seeded Joshua Knipe of West Carteret defeated Isley 6-3. With 40 seconds remaining in the first period, Knipe scored a reversal and scored back points to take a 3-0 lead. Isley escaped but trailed 4-2 at the end of the first period.

In the semifinals, Isley defeated Bo Schiano of William Hough 12-1 to reach the finals. Isley started the tournament by pinning Elisha Roberts of Southern Durham in 1:26. In the quarterfinals, Isley pinned A.J. Pile of Croatan in 1:18.

At 152 pounds, senior Sam Crawford finished 4th place. Crawford reached the consolation final after a forfeit win over Adam Yessef of Pinecrest. Crawford pinned Ja’Bari Stroud of Durham School of the Arts in 28 seconds. In the consolation round, Crawford pinned Jonathan Moses of Jacksonville in 2:22. Crawford, who is 14-6 on the year, defeated Houston Leeah of Union Pines via pinfall in 2:43.

Heffernan finished fifth at 145 pounds. He pinned Har Htoo of New Bern in 1:55  in the fifth place match to improve to 18-3 on the season. Heffernan reached the semifinals after he edged Will McRae of Hough 2-0. In the second round, Heffernan pinned Noah Ramirez of Jack Britt in 40 seconds. Tyler Tracy of Cardinal Gibbons, who eventually won the championship, defeated Heffernan via technical fall.

At 126 pounds, Orange’s Braden Crawford also finished fifth. Crawford defeated Mason McMullen of Jacksonville 10-4 in the opening round. Crawford reached the semifinals after beating East Chapel Hill’s Asher Yeo 7-4. Liam Hickey of Cardinal Gibbons, another eventual champion, pinned Crawford in the semis. In the fifth place match, Crawford defeated Yeo again by an 8-4 margin.

Junior Andre Hill finished sixth at 170 pounds. Hill, an offensive lineman in football, started with a 10-1 major decision over Dustin Maness of Union Pines. Hill advanced to the semifinals after Richard Post of Rutherfordton-Spindale was injured.

Orange went into the Tiger Holiday Classic without the services of two wrestlers who qualified for the state championships last year. The Panthers finished eighth in the team standings with 109 points. Union Pines won the team championship with 180.5 points. Cardinal Gibbons finished second with 150.5 points.

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