Warriors run away with state championship
By Eric Sprott
WEST COLUMBIA — For much of the season, the West-Oak High School wrestling team has easily outdistanced itself from its competition, as it has run across few equals on the mat.
With that said, it shouldn’t have come as any surprise that was once again the case Saturday afternoon against Swansea with the Class 3A state championship on the line, as the Warriors overcame a touch of early adversity en route to another dominant effort to secure their third state crown in four years.
The top-ranked Warriors capped a perfect season with a 58-18 victory at Airport High School, as they won 10 of the 12 contested matches on the afternoon, with six of those wins coming by pin.
After trailing 18-15 after the first six matches against the ninth-ranked Tigers (19-9), West-Oak (27-0) reeled off eight straight wins to close the match, with senior Lake Alexander’s 9-0 victory over Grant Sebok at 145 pounds clinching the Warriors’ second straight championship with three matches to go.
“We felt good about our lineup and our kids,” West-Oak coach Greg Brewer said. “We had some calls go against us early, and that is what it is. We got it back, and we were able to kind of hold them at 18, and we kind of got going a little bit.
“I’m just excited for our community, our school, our kids and our coaches. Our coaches put in a tremendous amount of hours, our kids are dedicated to their craft, and we’ve got great support from our school, community and administration. It’s just a great time to be a Warrior.”
The win was the Warriors’ 109th over the last four years, and it marked the fifth title in school history. And it didn’t come without a little bit of early controversy, as West-Oak’s Ethan Powell suffered a loss in the second match of the night after he was forced to forfeit his 195-pound match after William Nogues was unable to continue after Powell was called for an illegal slam.
That gave the Tigers an early 6-3 lead, and while Tate Capps and Gavin James followed with pins for West-Oak, Swansea eventually led 18-15 after getting a pin of its own at 106 pounds and picking up another six points after the Warriors forfeited at 113 pounds.
“I don’t agree with the call against Ethan, but it is what it is,” Brewer said. “Luckily it didn’t cost us. He’s a resilient kid, and he’ll be fine.”
After the forfeit at 113 pounds, Clayton James started West-Oak’s strong finish with a major decision victory at 120 pounds, before senior Jordan Lee picked up the first of three straight pins — his came in the third round — at 126 pounds.
Ryan Dobbs then followed with a third-round pin of his own, while Matt Williams earned a second-round pin, helping balloon the lead to 37-18.
“We’ve worked so hard, so there’s no point in slowing down,” Lee said of lopsided final score. “We want to win by as much as we can, and we’re not going to slow down for anybody.”
The three pins set the stage for Alexander, who received seven stitches above his right eye after being injured in the Warriors’ 49-15 victory over second-ranked Indian Land in the Upper State championship on Wednesday.
The senior didn’t give up a single point in the title-clinching win, as he capped his career in team duals competition with a win he’ll never forget.
“It’s unreal, and it’s hard to believe it was my last match,” he said. “I’m really just speechless. It was the best feeling ever. I’m just proud I was able to wrestle with all these guys.”
“We’re just tough,” Brewer added. “Our kids are dedicated to one another, and I don’t think Lake would have allowed for a cut above his eye to keep him out of this one.”
Jesse Taylor followed with a technical fall victory before Damien White won by forfeit at 160 pounds. Senior Ian James then ended the match with a first-round pin — which took just 45 seconds to secure — to put an exclamation point on the title-clinching victory.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had,” James said. “Being the last match in my last team dual match and winning it, it was the best feeling in the world. I’m just so happy, and all the hard work paid off.”
The win was West-Oak’s second of the season over Swansea, as it also defeated the Tigers by a final margin of 57-22 on Dec. 14 in Westminster.
And while many of the Warriors aren’t hanging up their singlets just yet — the individual state tournament is just around the corner — Saturday marked the last time seven of their seniors wrestled in team duals competition.
But it was certainly a stelllar note to go out on, as West-Oak left no doubt in another convincing victory to close an unblemished season.
“I feel beyond great, that’s for sure,” senior Gavin James said. “I feel really blessed, and it feels great to be a part of something bigger than me. I had a great time wrestling today in one last dual with my brothers, and it’s been a fun ride.
“I’m excited to see how moments like this can impact my life in the future, and I’m always going to look back and remember things like this.”
West-Oak 58, Swansea 18
106 — Alvarez (S) pinned Mobley, second round
113 — Were (S) won by forfeit
120 — C. James (W) maj. dec. Emeterio, 8-0
126 — Lee (W) pinned Jacob, third round
132 — Dobbs (W) pinned Williams, third round
138 — Williams (W) pinned Aycock, second round
145 — Alexander (W) maj. dec. Sebok, 9-0
152 — Taylor (W) tech. fall Landaverde, 19-4
160 — White (W) won by forfeit
170 — I. James (W) pinned Padgett, first round
* 182 — Butts (W) dec. Brantley, 5-2
195 — Nogues (S) defeats Powell, forfeit (unable to continue)
220 — Capps (W) pinned Snyder, second round
285 — G. James (W) pinned Williams, first round
* — Starting point of match
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