Rockets wrestle hard but fall short

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Even though Person snagged an early match victory on Tuesday night against Northern Guilford, the Nighthawks pulled away to deal the Rockets a 49-23 loss.

Person wrestler Derrick Laycock started off the match in the 106-lb. weight class, and his Northern opponent pinned him. In the 113-lb. class, the Nighthawks pinned the Rockets’ Payne Garrett.

Diego Jimenez got Person on the board in the 120-lb. weight class, as he earned a 22-12 major decision victory in his match to close the deficit to 12-4. Northern took over after Jimenez’ victory, winning the next five matches to extend the score to 34-4, before Person’s 152-lb. wrestler Dawson Thibodeau stopped the bleeding by pinning his opponent in 5:30. Alex Martinez, the Rockets’ 160-lb. wrestler, followed Thibodeau by pinning his opponent in 4:39, while 170 Christian Milligan was pinned in the second period. Karson Evans, at 182, lost a 6-5 decision, Keith Thompson, wrestling at 220, was pinned, and Marcus Vincent closed out the match for the Rockets on a high note with a 4-2 overtime victory.

“They have the experience over us, but some of our guys competed really well,” said Person head coach Mark Litchfield Jr. “I know that the score looked bad, but we were in every match. A lot of their guys are out-of-season, full-year wrestlers. It would have been great to pull out that win today, but in reality, they have the experience. It caught up with some of our guys tonight.”

Litchfield sees having a young team as an opportunity to teach, hoping that things his wrestlers learn in practice translate to live matches.

“They’ve just got some work to do. Sometimes you want to be patient, but then other times, we can’t be patient. The more time we get, the more matches they get under their belt. Hopefully some of the things will start to click. It’ll be “one-two-three-four” instead of “one move, stop.”

The Rockets welcomed back two wrestlers to the mat on Tuesday night, preventing Person from forfeiting their 145 and 220 matches.

“Dawson Owen, a first-year wrestler, was back in there,” said Litchfield. “All I asked him to do is step out there and give it his best. Today was Keith’s very first day (of the 2020 season). He’s our 220. We did not know we would have him until around 5 o’clock this afternoon. Our other 220, Mario Graves, is sick.”

Person will not see Northern Guilford again until February.

“We want to make the adjustments we need to make, and give them (Northern Guilford) a good run in the conference tournament,” said Litchfield. The Mid-State 3A conference wrestling tournament will be held Saturday, Feb. 1 at Rockingham County High School. “Overall, I thought our guys wrestled pretty hard today, but Northern Guilford was one step ahead of us.”

Last year, Person was on the verge of the state playoffs, but they missed out because of two losses in conference play. Last night’s match-up against Morehead, the only other team in the conference to beat the Rockets in the past, was key for Person in terms of state playoff positioning.

“We need to get everybody together on the same page, and just focus on the next team in front of us,” said Litchfield. “We have a great team, great group of guys, and some great athletes. It’s just the experience factor: the more they get, the better they can be.”

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