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SMITHFIELD — The gravity of what his bout would mean for the final score Wednesday night didn’t dawn on Neuse Charter wrestler Matthew Pelletier until he was already deep into it.
“I actually didn’t realize at the beginning that it was that match,” Pelletier said. “I looked up at the scoreboard and saw it was tied and knew I was the last match. I felt like I had to go all in or something bad was going to happen and the team needed it. I needed it.”
Wrestling against North Johnston’s Ethan Brasewell in the 160-pound bout, Pelletier looked up to find the team scores were tied at 36, meaning his performance would decide the match.
With his teammates cheering him on from the side of the mat, Pelletier pinned Brasewell by fall one minute, nine seconds in.
“That North Johnston match was awesome,” Neuse Charter head coach Chase Crocker said. “It went down to the last match and our guy got the pin in the last match, so that’s always fun when everything rides on that last one. It doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does, man, it’s heated, it’s hyped up.”
The win by Pelletier ensured his team won a battle to the end, enjoyed for how close it was by both programs, in a night full of matches at Neuse Charter’s gym.
“That was a really good match,” North Johnston’s Alex Logan said. “We all wrestled really hard.”
In a quint that welcomed a team from each of the four North Carolina High School Athletic Association classifications — 4-A Raleigh Wakefield, 3-A Smithfield-Selma, 2-A North Johnston and 1-A Rocky Point Heide Trask — each program got something different out of the competition.
Wakefield was decidedly the most complete team to take the mat, bringing an army of polished wrestlers that helped the team to a 4-0 finish against smaller schools.
Neuse Charter was 3-1, capturing a 42-36 win over North Johnston, 42-24 decision over Trask and 54-24 victory over Smithfield-Selma, but fell to the much bigger Wolverines, 63-18.
North Johnston went 2-2, beating Trask and Smithfield-Selma, while the Spartans, who had low numbers, got plenty out of the experience traveling the short distance across Booker Dairy Road.
Falling in the closest match, North Johnston head coach Jeff Knittle was pleased to see how well his team competed in crucial moments, even though it fell to the Cougars.
“I’m very proud of them,” Knittle said. “We’re very young. We have a total of 18 guys and 10 of them are freshmen or have never wrestled before. We are young and inexperienced, but at the same time, we’ve only had two weeks of practice because of football.”
Amongst the youth, Knittle pinpointed three wrestlers who performed particularly well — veterans Logan and Justin Richardson, as well as freshman Michael Linko — and all three captured key victories for the Panthers.
The team can already see the improvements made from last year, but it knows there are more strides that need to be made to win some of those close matches going forward.
“From the point we are right now to where we were last year, we’ve just greatly gone up,” Richardson said. “But there’s still a lot more we need to work on.”
Or put another way by Linko: “We’re not very high on the list, but we’ll get there.”
Taking a look at the final score did not give the perception the Spartans wrestled very well on Wednesday night, but the odds were already somewhat stacked against them.
Due to injuries at key weight classes from wrestlers coming in from fall sports, Smithfield-Selma had to forfeit seven bouts in every match. Take those away, head coach Craig Faircloth said, and the results tell a different story.
“We were seven weight classes short tonight, but the guys we have wrestle hard,” Faircloth said. “If we only had to go with the matches we wrestled and not forfeits, we’re in every match we wrestled. But you know, there’s 14 weight classes and we’re filling seven.”
The Spartans’ best performance of the night came against Trask, when a period of rest in between matches came in handy for the program. The wrestlers also went into the match more confident.
Wednesday put the team up to seven matches out of 40 on the season, so there’s plenty of time for the program to build on the positives it saw.
“We did good,” 170-pound competitor Jason Estrada said. “We worked with what we had, so that’s all I can say.”
The hosts of the quint wrestled comfortably in their own gymnasium, in front of a home crowd and with the school’s cheerleaders cheering them on.
While teammate Pelletier got the glory of clinching the win over North Johnston, junior Camden Gurley and freshman James Evans both displayed consistency with 4-0 nights.
Evans captured two pins by fall and two forfeits, while Gurley pinned three opponents and won by forfeit against Smithfield-Selma.
“It was good matches, I thought a good crowd came out tonight,” Gurley said. “It was all around good stuff tonight.”