High School Sports

Jackets, Bearcats battle in what should be epic contest

The gloves will be off -- but of course, they don't use gloves in wrestling -- when Fort Mill and Rock Hill hit the mat tonight.

They will battle in a dream match, one folks around here have been wishing for since the Class AAAA Upper State playoffs began.

Three rounds are in the record book, and four teams are left. Fort Mill and Rock Hill took care of business and there is one last meeting before one of the two heads to the state championship round at 6 p.m. Saturday at Ridge View High School.

Tonight's winner wrestles the Lower State champion -- Fort Dorchester or Summerville.

"It doesn't get more exciting or competitive than this,'' Fort Mill coach Chris Brock said. "I like the way the playoffs are set now as far as playing it out at a home site until the finals.

"This way it gives to your community and fans get to come see you. In the past they grouped it together and you didn't know how is was going to turn out. That didn't give the community time to prepare.''

For several years, eight teams advanced to the championship rounds at one location and wrestled until a winner was crowned. For the last couple of years, the field was trimmed to four teams, with two matches on Friday and the championship on Saturday.

This season, as Brock pointed out, teams wrestled it out on the higher seeded team's mat until the championship.

Fort Mill, No. 3 in the state rankings, went undefeated in Region 3-AAAA at 7-0, winning the title by handing Rock Hill, No. 5 in the state, its lone region loss, 31-26.

Rock Hill and Fort Mill have wrestled twice in the state semifinals, in 2004 and 2005. The match in 2004 was won on the last match, 27-24, and had eight lead changes. The match in 2005 also ended with both teams needing a victory and Rock Hill, leading 27-24, won the final match for a 30-24 win.

"It's the same old story with us and Rock Hill,'' said Brock, who wrestled and coached at Rock Hill. "There will be a couple where they're favored and a couple where we are.

"There will be a lot of swing matches that could go both ways, so it'll come down to who wins those and wants to go more. Rock Hill's a great team and I'm sure they will be ready to come in here and go after us because we beat them in our region match.''

Rock Hill has its fourth coach in four seasons, but finally seems to have found stability. Cain Beard, who came to Rock Hill from North Carolina this season, has his wrestlers believing they can win any time they step onto the mat.

The Bearcats are 28-2 and have gone on the road in their last two matches and knocked off a pair of region champions -- Greenwood in the second round and Lexington in the third.

"This is what you want,'' Beard said. "We were talking about it last night, that the best two teams in the Upper State are from the same region. The last time we wrestled, it came down to the last match. It will be another good one.

"Rock Hill has always been legendary in wrestling. When I first got here, I was told the talent is here. Chris told me in an e-mail a couple of weeks ago that he's glad to see Rock Hill wrestling back to where it was.''