It was about rematches for Fort Mill – and capitalizing on those second chances.
Both sophomore AJ Leitten and senior Jake Strong won state wrestling titles Saturday for the Yellow Jackets at 126 and 132 pounds, respectively.
Leitten beat Westwood’s Evan Carrigan by technical fall in the second period after leading 18-1. Leitten, who lost twice during the season with one of those losses coming against Carrigan, beat the Blythewood-area wrestler, who was 50-1 entering the finals.
Carrigan’s only loss was a 6-4 overtime match to Leitten during the state dual playoffs. Leitten went 12-1 after the first period. Carrigan’s only point came on an escape Leitten allowed during the match.
Leitten was confident in his ability, but was surprised at the score.
“I didn’t expect it at all,” he said. “I (thought) it was going to be a really good match.”
Leitten and Carrigan were ranked first and second in the state at 126 pounds and Leitten is ranked No. 29 in the nation by Wrestling USA magazine.
Fort Mill head coach Chris Brock said he wasn’t surprised by Leitten’s easy win in the championship match.
“AJ is very, very talented,” Brock said. “You don’t crack national rankings for no reason.”
The other Fort Mill win came from Strong at 132. He defeated Nation Ford’s only representative at the event – junior Dalen Byerley. Strong and Byerley, the top two ranked wrestlers in their weight class headed into state tournament, squared off twice this season and split those matches.
Even though it was for an individual rather than team title, their winner-take-all match Saturday was the first time that athletes from Fort Mill and Nation Ford met head-to-head in any sport with a state title on the line.
Unlike Leitten’s title bout, the Byerley-Strong rubber match was a nail-bitter. Neither scored after the first period and Strong was given a point on an escape after Byerley let him up at the start of the second period.
After a back-and-fourth scramble, Strong was awarded another point after too many cautions for illegal procedure against Byerley.
“You are always trying to get an advantage and so that is what happened,” Byerley said. “I was just trying to get an advantage.”
Strong allowed an escape by Byerley in the third period and then held him off to win the match 2-1.
“I just wanted to wrestle smart and not give up any mistakes,” Strong said. “It’s good to go out on a high note.”
Nation Ford head coach Leon Boulware said he is proud of the match Byerley wrestled.
“Jake is a good wrestler,” he said. “I am really proud in how they competed. There is nothing I would change about that match in how he wrestled.”
Daley places for Warriors
In the AA classification, Indian Land brought four wrestlers, but had just one place. Senior James Daley finished third at 145 pounds.
“It is good being in this atmosphere,” said Warriors head coach Kevin Mager. “We are trying to get the ball rolling for the future.”