DAWSONVILLE — Perhaps the key to Lumpkin County’s thrilling win over Jackson County Tuesday -- one that clinched the Area 4-AAA Duals title -- was not repeating its near-mistake from the semifinal round.
Indians coach Brian Matthews switched his lineup after Lumpkin squeaked out a 30-29 win over Morgan County in the semifinals. The move more than paid off as the Indians won the first three matches, including an opening pin by Conner Heriot at 160 pounds, and five of the first seven matches to grab the early lead and then watched as senior Cole Hopkins (145) clinched the eventual 30-26 victory courtesy a pin. (Lumpkin County forfeited the final match, leading 30-20.)
“I wasn’t real happy with our effort against Morgan so we had a meeting and decided to change a few things and the kids responded,” Matthews said. “Jumping on (Jackson County) quick like that gave us some momentum for the rest of the match. Cole really stepped up for us in that (clinching) match. He knew what he needed to do and went out and did it.”
The Duals title gives the Indians the No. 1 seed from 4-AAA in the State Duals, which begin on Friday for Classes A-AAA and Thursday for Classes AAAA-AAAAAAA and run through Saturday at the Macon Centreplex.
Matthews said the top spot is crucial for any shot at a state title.
“The No. 1 seed is big,” he said. “It allows you to avoid the other top seeds until the later rounds. It’s tough from the No. 2 spot.”
Hopkins said he was just hoping to add to the lead, nothing more.
“I just wanted to get the win any way I could,” he said. “I was able to get a move on him and get the pin. It felt good to get the clincher like that. I think it was the first time I was able to show the team what I could do. It felt great.”
The Indians strong start pushed them to a 21-7 lead at the halfway point. The Panthers climbed to within 24-16 after a pin at 113 and a tight 2-0 win at 126 but missed a chance to pull closer, losing a 1-0 decision at 120. Senior Keller Brown also flipped three points, rallying from a 3-0 deficit late in the third period to take a 5-4 win at 132 for the Indians for a 27-16 cushion with three matches remaining.
Following the loss in the finals, Jackson County had to wrestle for second place against Morgan County since the two had not met during the semifinal stage. The Panthers fell behind early but rallied for a 36-34 win to knock off the Bulldogs to advance to the State Duals as the No. 2 seed.
In one semifinal, Lumpkin County trailed Morgan County 9-6 after the teams traded the first five matches. The Indians reeled off four straight wins, including pins at 220 by Zach Matthews and at 106 by J.T. Phines to pull away for a 27-13 lead. Lumpkin County’s Brown (132) clinched the match, as the Indians forfeited the final two matches to take a 30-29 victory and a spot in the finals.
In the other semifinal, North Hall opened strong with a win at 152 and a pin by Matthew Sewell at 160 for a quick 9-0 lead. But the Panthers answered with seven consecutive victories, including a pin at 195, to take a 27-9 lead. The Trojans notched overtime wins at 120 and 126 to get within 27-15 but Jackson County closed out the match with three straight wins, including pins at at 132 and 145 sandwiched around a technical fall win at 138 for a 44-15 victory to clinch the other finals slot.
In the consolation finals, Morgan County knocked off North Hall 51-28 to challenge for second place. Morgan County sprinted out to a 27-4 lead before the Trojans pulled within 27-22 after the upper weights. But the Bulldogs won four of the last five matches to clinch the match.
First-year North Hall coach David Nichols said it was a bittersweet day.
“Well, we’re disappointed we didn’t get to Macon,” said Nichols, who helped lead the Trojans to a third-place state finish in 2016 as an assistant. “But I was pleased with our effort overall. This is something we can build on as we get ready for the traditional season.”
Because of being postponed from last week and to complete the tournament in one day, the format was changed to four round-robin pools with the winner of each pool advancing to the semifinals.
Jackson County won Pool A, Lumpkin County took Pool B, and Morgan County took Pool C with little difficulty. Pool D was a barn-burner.
Dawson County beat Franklin County, which had beaten North Hall. The Trojans looked done, trailing Dawson County 33-10 midway through their match. But they responded to win the final six matches for a 42-33 victory with Erik Cochran taking a 5-2 decision at 132 to break a 33-33 tie. Bryson Smith then sealed the win with a pin at 138 to send the pool to tiebreakers. Franklin County was then eliminated because of an unsportsmanlike penalty during one of the matches. Then based on head-to-head action, North Hall was declared the winner of Pool D by virtue of its win over the Tigers.