BAILEY – When deciding a conference championship, just a few seconds can mean everything.
In an instant Thursday at Southern Nash High School, the Big East Conference championship became that much clearer – with an abrupt change.
Both coaches agreed that the match at 138 pounds would be key. It took five seconds at the end of the third period for the result to go from Southern Nash’s favor to the spark that jettisoned Rocky Mount High to a 36-18 victory and into sole possession of first place in the Big East Conference.
“Right now, we’ve got a headstart,” Rocky Mount coach Jermaine Jones said.
Down by three points in the waning seconds at 138 pounds, Rocky Mount’s Ahjailah Sims went for the only move he could – his opponent’s head.
He scored a reversal with five seconds to go and was awarded a two-point nearfall as the buzzer sounded.
“They said that (was) the match that we needed to win, so I just went hard and didn’t give up,” Sims said. “... I felt like we needed it, so I just pushed myself through it.”
Four points in five seconds and a match-changing victory.
Rocky Mount (23-6, 5-0 Big East) went on to win seven of the next eight matches, three by major decision. Southern Nash’s lone victory was a 1-0 decision from Jacoby Benjamin at 160 pounds.
“It let the whole team down, honestly,” Southern Nash coach Eddie Coble said of the loss at 138 pounds. “The whole team was watching that match, and we’re winning and feeling good about ourselves. ... It just took the wind out of everybody, I think.”
Southern Nash (15-7, 4-1), which wrestled without 113-pound state qualifier Cody Thorne, will have another chance to beat Rocky Mount on Saturday at the Big East’s final meet of the season. Each team will wrestle all five other teams in the league in a meet beginning at 9 a.m. at Northern Nash High School. Thorne is out for the rest of the season with a dislocated shoulder.
“I can sleep for a night,” Jones said. “But I have to come back and do it Saturday. Saturday is going to be a war, but at least we got this one done.”
Jones, who said that the match was closer than at 18-point spread would have indicated, hoped that his team would be paired with the Firebirds for the final bout Saturday.
Thursday’s match originally was scheduled for Wednesday but was pushed back because of snow.
As a result, Rocky Mount couldn’t practice the day before. So, Jones made the decision to practice for an hour-and-a-half before the bout against Southern Nash.
He was worried about fatigue, but his team was able to come through in its key matches following the swing at 138 pounds.
“It sparked a whole lot,” Jones said. “I told (Sims) that it was his match. If he won that match, we pretty much had what we wanted.”
Just before Sims’ victory, Southern Nash’s Jordan Decosse, who wrestled up a weight class, gave the Firebirds a six-point lead with a 5-0 decision.
The two matches after Sims’ last-second win were a pair of major decisions by Rayshawn Elliot and Alex Henderson. By the time Keyaad Coley took the mat and scored the third major decision of Rocky Mount’s run, the Gryphons had a 12-point lead with three matches to go.
“It (was) just all those toss-up matches that I had been playing in my mind that we could win,” Coble said. “I thought we’d win, but we didn’t win. ... It’s not over yet. That’s just the first round. We’ll see them again on Saturday.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org