The hope around the Orange wrestling camp was that things would be different this year.
Last year in Cameron, Union Pines defeated Orange 49-24 to win the Eastern Regional championship in the 3A State Dual Team playoffs. It was no surprise that the two teams would meet again with the same stakes on the line a year later. The Panthers had ten starters back from last year’s team. Union Pines had nine.
But the result was the same. The Vikings depth proved to be too much for the Panthers.
Behind pins from Colton Collins, Nick Mascolino and Brock Sullivan, Union Pines won the 3A Eastern Regional Championship for the second straight year, outlasting Orange 37-30 at Panthers Gymnasium on Wednesday night. For the second straight year, the Vikings (27-1) will face Fred T. Foard for the 3A State Dual Team Championship at the Novant Health Fieldhouse in Greensboro on Saturday.
Orange (23-2) was denied its eleventh regional championship.
The Panthers may have been fazed by its opening match earlier in the night. Orange squeezed out a 38-30 win over Swansboro in the regional semifinals in a back-and-forth affair that come down to the last match. Orange’s Dillon Heffernan, in his final matches inside Panther Gymnasium, pinned Klint Rhude to ensure an Orange victory. Moments earlier, with the Panthers trailing 30-26 and its season on the line, Orange’s Talan Pearly pinned R.J. Caines in 55 seconds to vault the Panthers into the lead. It was the eighth and final lead change of the night.
While Orange was struggling in a fighting to the finish against the Pirates, Union Pines completed its business against First Flight quickly. The Vikings cruised 42-31 over the Nighthawks and waited about 40 minutes on the adjacent mat for Orange’s match to finish before the Eastern Regional final.
“They’re a great team,” Orange coach Spenser Poteat said as his team rolled up the mats afterwards.”I think they were just deeper than we were. I’ve seen them a couple of times this year and they’ve been stronger than we’ve been in tournaments. Hopefully, we can rebound from this and get ready for individuals.”
There were four individual rematches from last year’s regional Final. To start at 170 pounds, Brock Sullivan pinned Orange’s Andre Hill in 5:27. Last year, Sullivan prevailed via pinfall at 1:46. Sullivan was ahead 11-3 at the end of two periods before the pin.
At 195, Orange senior Acoya Isley pinned Dantrell Williams in 4:46 to cut the Union Pines lead to 12-6. Isley struggled to gain an opening in the match and got a late escape in the second period to even the score 2-2. The head official took about one minute between periods to clarify the score, which gave Isley a rest as he appeared to be winded late in the second period. Isley rode his strength to earn his 32nd win of the year in his final match at Orange High. Last year, Isley pinned Williams in 1:23.
At 220, Union Pines Colton Collins pinned Orange’s Elijah Acosta in 1:26. Collins was the aggressor from the start and kept Acosta backpedaling. In 2022, Collins defeated Acosta in 2:53.
The Vikings’ Keaton Crawford, at 113, got more bonus points when he scored a major decision over Adrian Sierra 12-2. Last year, Crawford pinned Sierra.
Before Isley’s victory, Nick Mascolino of Union Pines pinned Orange’s Jayden Medley in 1:35 to send the Vikings to a 12-0 lead.
At heavyweight, Orange’s Hugo Vazquez went the distance in an 8-2 win over Sincere Bonner. Vazquez led early after a takedown, but the Vikings’ fans loudly applauded Bonner after the loss since he didn’t give up any bonus points.
Union Pines broadened its lead in the lightweight classes. At 106, Aidan Enright defeated Logan Scarantino 8-2. Paired with Crawford’s decision over Sierra, the Vikings led 25-9.
At 120, Jayden Crawford of Union Pines held off Quadir Medley in 5-2. Medley nearly had a takedown in the opening period but the officials ruled he was out of the circle. After a scoreless first period, Crawford escaped and got a takedown with 52 seconds remaining in the 2nd.
In possibly the most thrilling individual match of the evening, Orange’s Braeden Crawford held on to beat Joe Lloyd 6-5. Lloyd clung to 5-4 lead when Crawford escaped and reversed with :12 remaining in the third period to get the two points, then held on for dear life to prevent Lloyd from escaping and earned the win.
Orange’s Jared Hutchins drew the Panthers closer when he pinned J.T. Erle in 1:39. It was Hutchins 26th win of the season.
Finnius McCafferty of Union Pines regained the momentum at 138 when he pinned Ben Musser in 2:38, increasing the Vikings’ lead to 34-18.
At 145, Orange’s Dillon Heffernan pinned Joe Vraback in 3:16. With two matches remaining, Houston Leeah defeated Orange’s Sam Crawford to 6-4, which ensured the Vikings’ 2nd straight regional title. Leeah trailed 2-0 after Crawford scored the opening takedown just 12 second in. Leeah scored a reversal late in the 2nd period to even things at 4-4, then gained a reversal to open the third period and scored two back points to ride out the win.
Orange’s final dual match win of the season over Swansboro to start the night was a memorable one. There were six lead changes in the first seven matches.
As was the case in opening round wins over Southern Nash and C.B. Aycock, Orange had Sam Crawford and Heffernan compete a weight class higher because of a slew of injuries at 160 pounds. The Pirates’ Theo Yager scored a major decision in a 9-0 win over Crawford.
Andre Hill needed only 53 seconds to pin James Smith at 170. Swansboro responded with Jason McEwen beating Medley in 1:50 to take the lead back 10-6. Isley, who won all four of his dual matches in the team playoffs, pinned Marcos Jimenez in 50 seconds.
At 220, Acosta led Brayden Cline 1-0 going into the third period. Acosta held on until the very end when Cline scored an escape with three seconds remaining to claim a stunning 2-1 win, sending the Pirates back into the lead 13-12.
At heavyweight, Vazquez won the only overtime match of the night when he gained the back of Hyuga Doreus of Swansboro with 3 seconds left, winning 5-3. That put Orange ahead 15-13.
Paul Vaught of Swansboro defeated Scarantino 7-2 at 106 pounds. Sierra pinned Seamus Sullivan in 1:26 to put Orange back ahead 21-16.
At 120, Ayden Goodman pinned Medley in 2:50. Swansboro’s Tyer Cowell defeated Braeden Crawford 12-3, sending Swansboro to a 26-21 lead with four matches left.
The emotional peak of the night was at 126 when Hutchins faced Aiden Russel. Early on, Russel got back points after a reversal to take a 7-1 lead. Russel led 9-2 when Hutchins started his comeback with a quick reversal in the second period. Russel was penalized a point for an illegal move in the third, Hutchins got an escape to even the match, then scored the pin to send the building into a frenzy. Orange was penalized a team point for excessive celebration, which kept the match tied 29-29.
Mason Cooper defeated Musser 10-0. With Swansboro leading 30-26, Pearly quickly pinned Caines in 55 seconds, followed by Heffernan’s victory at 152 over Rhode.