ROCKY MOUNT — Darius Dunn and Jhavonte Moon left no doubt as to the identity of the best wrestler in their respective weight classes Sunday in the 3A eastern regional. The two champions – both winners by pinfall – led a group of seven Johnston County wrestlers who earned bids to this week’s state championships in Winston-Salem.
Dunn, a 113-pounder from Corinth Holders, Moon, a 145-pounder from Cleveland, will both be joined by a pair of teammates at the state tournament: Cameron Brewer and Jason Gonzales for Corinth Holders and Matthews Cruz-Cruz and Chanse Wallace for Cleveland.
Senior Tyler Talley of Smithfield-Selma also qualified for the state finals, which run Thursday through Saturday.
Dunn (44-1 this season) defended his regional championship with a pin of Swansboro’s Bryan Mol 70 seconds into the second period.
“I just keep everything out of my mind when I’m out there on the mat,” Dunn said. “It’s all about doing whatever I can to get a win. I don’t feel like I really know what I’m doing while I’m doing it, I just go by instinct.”
Dunn had three pinfall wins and a 12-3 decision in the regional. He will try to improve on last year’s fourth place finish in the state.
“Darius probably has the hardest path to a state championship, with who I think is the best wrestler in the state in his weight class (two-time defending champ Mitchell Langford of North Henderson),” said Corinth Holders coach Eric Wischhusen. “He will have to wrestle his absolute best, but if anybody can do it, Darius can.”
Moon dominated Rocky Mount’s Rahshaun Elliott in their 145-pound title bout but didn’t get his pin until just nine seconds remained in the match.
“The tournament went very well,” Moon said. “I felt like I was in control in every one of my matches. (The championship match) was tough, that guy’s a good wrestler, almost had me off of my feet, but I was able to stay on my feet and eventually get the pin.”
Havelock’s Ryan Davis downed Brewer in their 138-pound championship match, 4-2. Brewer will take a 40-8 record into the state championships.
Gonzales carried just a 15-16 record into the tournament but came in third for the Pirates.
“We were able to get three of our guys qualified for states and it’s a special group with three of our four seniors going to states,” Wischhusen said. “Gonzales was the surprise. I don’t think you’ll see many 11 seeds make the state tournament. But he had so many close matches – 10 of them were one-point or overtime losses – that he’s been so close. It clicked for him this weekend.”
Wallace took third at 182 pounds and Cruz-Cruz was fourth at 126.
Talley, in just his third year of wrestling, won three straight elimination bouts to earn his state championship ticket.
“Tyler’s a guy who has just started to put it all together,” said SSS coach Kristen Stewart. “He had a great tournament, wrestled well when he needed to. And in wrestling it’s all about being able to do it at the this time of year if you want to be good.”
The Rams missed out on another likely state qualifier if not another regional championship when defending 132-pound regional champ Derrick Applewhite suffered a broken arm in his semifinal match with eventual regional champ Jacob Butler of Swansboro. Applewhite was unable to continue in the tournament but finishes his career with 138 career victories, a school record at Cleveland.
Best: 919-524-8895; Twitter: @dclaybest