The Lord Botetourt wrestlers took first place in the annual Big Orange Classic wrestling tournament at William Byrd High School last weekend. James River finished 12th among 18 teams with just seven wrestlers competing and both Botetourt County schools boasted Big Orange individual champions.
It was a big couple days for the Cavaliers, who scored 248 points in the Friday and Saturday tournament to win the Big Orange for the third year in a row. Salem was runner-up with 220 while host William Byrd took third with 204.
“We had 12 scoring wrestlers and placed 10 of them,” said LB coach Paul Craft. “Our starting 190 was unable to wrestle and our backup, Alex Clarke, stepped in and wrestled better than we hoped and finished in fourth place. Alex is graduating a year early and hasn’t wrestled since I coached him in middle school. He wanted to give it another try in his last year. We’re glad he did. Alex is certainly our unsung hero of the tournament. We challenged our guys on Saturday morning leading into the consolation semifinals. We had seven in it and we won six of them.”
Botetourt took the lion’s share of honors as well. Craft was presented the Barry Trent Coaches Award and TJ Piluso won the Kip Nininger Scholarship and was named the Outstanding Wrestler after winning the 165-pound bracket. TJ defeated Matt McNeil of Liberty in “sudden victory” in the championship match to remain undefeated.
Two other Cavaliers finished second. At 138 Canden Saunders made the final before falling to Ben Armentrout of Hidden Valley, and at 150 Gray Arnold made the final but lost to Angel Rigney of Northside in Saturday’s championship.
Third places went to James Dean at 120, Declan Sullivan at 126, Cooper Roberts at 157, Seth Williamson at 175 and Ty Hensley at 215. Also scoring points for the victorious Cavs were Clarke with a fourth at 190 and Kevin Gergely with a fifth at 144.
“Our guys delivered,” said Craft. “We normally don’t talk about team scores during the tournament, but we were only two points out of second place when wrestling started on Saturday. Our guys rose to the challenge and as coaches we could not be more pleased with their results.
“Until 2021 Lord Botetourt had never won the Big Orange. We’ve now done it three times in a row and this last time was without our starting lineup. All the hard work the kids are putting in is paying off and I have nothing but praise for all our coaching staff, coach Gary Burdette, coach Danny Thomas, coach Mark Mast and coach Ken Gergely. I couldn’t ask for a better group to lead our kids.”
Brayden Forbes of James River remained undefeated with a Big Orange championship at 120. This was Brayden’s second Big Orange Championship in back-to-back years.
“He took on and beat a very experienced wrestler from Riverheads High School, Bryson Cash,” said River coach Bobby Stewart. “The 120-pound match was undeniably the toughest match in the finals. Cash, a freshman, is a three-time Virginia Wrestling Association (VAWA) triple crown winner, meaning he has won the Folkstyle, Freestyle, and Greco-Roman state championships for the Virginia Wrestling Association three times, which is a great accomplishment.”
Forbes won the match by a 6-3 score. The match was tied at 2-2 early in the third period before Brayden secured a takedown to Cash’s back and was awarded a near-fall for back exposure bumping Forbes to a 6-2 lead early in the last period. Cash fought off his back and secured another escape half way through the period and gained a point escape bringing the final score to 6-3.
Xaiden Wynn made the finals but lost to Byrd’s Darin Witcher in the final with a 5:20 fall. Jayden Alston finished fifth for River at 175.
“We had a good tournament for the kids that we entered,” said Stewart. “We’re battling low numbers this year to begin with and we were hit with the flu that kept three of our wrestlers from competing.”
This weekend the Knights will travel to Heritage High School for the “Take Down the New Year” tournament. Lord Botetourt will host a quad-match this Saturday in Daleville with Pulaski County, Carroll County and Magna Vista, beginning at 10 a.m.