Gross wins state title, Rockets finish third
Forrest sophomore Jeffery Gross’ won the Class A/AA state championship at the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s Wrestling Championships at Franklin Saturday night, capping a sparkling weekend for the Rockets, who posted a best-ever third place finish in the team standings.
Pigeon Forge won the Class A/AA team title for the third year in a row with a score of 138.5, Hixson was second with 110.5 points, Forrest had 93, Greeneville 89, and Alcoa rounded out the top five with 83.5 team points.
“It was a great performance, these kids have really worked hard and laid it on the line all year,” Forrest coach Chris Slaughter said. “We are in the process of trying to build our middle school program and our youth program to get our numbers up.”
Gross (31-1) became only the second Forrest wrestler to capture a state championship, following Tyler McClendon’s win in the 195-pound weight class in 2013-2014.
“It feels great, I’m really at a loss for words here, and it’s really awesome” Gross said. “I knew I put in the time and the work, so I knew all I had to do was just go out there and perform.”
Junior Dylan Pendley (120-pounds), who was making a school record fourth appearance in the championships battled the flu all week but still finished as the runner-up for second season in a row in a gutsy performance.
“It’s disappointing, but I got one more chance next year, so I will give it everything I got,” said Pendley. “I started out strong, but I was fighting this sickness all week and finally got tired.”
Sophomore second seed Wesley McCoy (29-6) backed up his first appearance last year with a third-place finish in the 160-pound division.
Drew Carlisle (9-2), junior transfer from McGavock in Nashville also took home a third-place medal in his maiden appearance at the state tournament and his classmate Austin Geeting (16-11) earned a spot on the podium with a well-earned sixth-place finish.
Billy Clanton, making his third straight appearance did not medal in his final event in a Forrest singlet and the Rocket senior finished with an impressive 84-23 career record.
Gross is approximately 80 pounds lighter than McClendon, but is a lot like the low key, technically sound, aggressive former Rocket grappler.
The New Jersey native finished in fourth place last year and came into the tournament as the number one seed in the 113-pound weight class and received a first-round bye before surviving a 5-3 overtime win in a rematch from last year over Isaac Tate from Signal Mountain.
Gross came back with a vengeance, posting a 15-0 technical fall win over Scott Weaver from Boyd Buchanon in the semifinals.
It was a Region 3A/AA homecoming in the finals as Gross took on Eagleville eighth-grader Wyatt McLemore, who eked out a 14-12 decision over Hixson senior and returning state medalist Tucker Gill.
The Gross/McLemore bout was the fourth head-to-head battle of the season between the two grapplers, who are also friends off the mat.
Gross won the first three bouts by regular season scores of 14-8 and 7-6, followed by a 7-1 win in the region tournament.
The championship bout was a classic as the two young wrestlers vied for the title like a pair of veterans, tussling in a deadlock that was only broken on a 2-point reversal by Gross that ended up being the lone point-producing move in the 2-0 title clinching win.
“It was the fourth time we met this season, so I had a lot of nerves going into the match,” Gross said. “I’m just proud to be a Rocket and I look forward to doing it again next year and always improving and getting better.”
Slaughter talked about Gross’ title win and his dedication to the sport, saying, “It’s amazing, this kid puts in hours and hours of work. The credit goes to him and his family, they have invested a lot of time and energy in to off season programs and it has really showed tonight.”
Pendley also came out strong in Friday’s opening round, taking down returning state medalist Tanner Thornton (Knoxville Grace) in a 9-3 decision before blowing out Caden Cline from Red Bank 12-3 in a major decision victory.
Pendley took on Region 2A/AA runner-up Jaren Thames in the semifinals where he posted another big win, dominating the Whitwell wrestler 11-4.
The championship bout pitted two region champions in Pendley (Region 3/AA) and Pigeon Forge’s Caleb York (Region 1A/AA) against each other and it was an even battle before York got the best of Pendley via a pin.
“He (York) was a strong, good wrestler and he got me on my back and I couldn’t do anything,” Pendley said. “I was trying to keep him from turning me and he got his legs over top of mine, he was able to throw me down to the mat on a hip over and got me on my shoulders in a grapevine and I was trying to move out, but he had me tight and just stuck me.”
The junior will have one more chance to win the coveted title next year when he returns for a fifth season that could be capped off with a state record if Pendley can advance to the state tournament next year.
“It’s heartbreaking and just a tough pill to swallow,” Slaughter said. “I thought Dylan was a much better wrestler than that kid, but he just got caught in that one technique and it did us in.”
Wesley McCoy keeps on improving every year and the sophomore 160-pounder displayed a lot of character and determination in the event.
McCoy received a first-round bye before opening up his action on the mat with a pin over Jacob Keita from Pigeon Forge.
The win secured a medal for McCoy, who took on returning state medalist and Region 2A/AA champion Alonzo Heyward and the Chattanooga Central grappler pinned McCoy.
In the consolation semifinals, McCoy took on a second region title winner in Gunner Griffin from Sullivan East, but this time the Forrest grappler turned the tables with a pin, setting up a third-place bout with Notre Dame’s Daniel Hodges.
McCoy had the momentum in high gear versus Hodges and the two went the distance with McCoy coming away with a decisive 8-3 win to secure the third step on the podium.
Carlisle was like a Sherman tank all weekend, causing destruction everywhere as the Forrest junior kicked off his bracket play with a pin over Robert Charrette from Union County.
Carlisle drew Region 1A/AA champion Darien Smith from East Ridge in the next round and unfortunately, the returning state medalist had to concede due to an injury, giving the win and securing a semifinal spot and a medal for Carlisle.
It was not getting any easier for Carlisle, who went up against another returning state medalist and number one seed Noah Evans from Alcoa and it was Evans who stood firm and turned in a solid 5-0 win to advance to the semifinals.
Carlisle moved to the consolation semifinals and for the second time his opponent (Jackson Hash-
Red Bank) retired due to injury.
What was next was two tanks in a head-on battle as Carlisle drew a familiar foe in Fairview’s Joshua Ortiz-Derrick, a returning state medalist who beat Carlisle 3-2 in the region tournament semifinal.
The duo banged it out for the entire match and they were tied 1-1 after regulation when Carlisle managed a takedown to win the third place medal in his first year with the Rockets.
Forrest junior Austin Geeting had to work overtime in the tournament, wrestling his way out of a second round loss via pin to Region 1A/AA champion Austin Knight from Greenville.
Geeting came up huge in the consolation round, staying alive with big 10-2 major decision win over East Nashville’s Pierre Long.
Signal Mountain’s Jake Woodlief didn’t know what hit him when Geeting garnered a solid 7-3 win to set up a match with Page’s returning state medalist John Noe, who got a quick pin on Geeting.
Geeting, competing in his team-high fifth match of the tournament settled for sixth place when Allen Ashworth from Whitwell pinned the Forrest grappler.
Clanton opened up with a first-round fall over Kingston’s David Ward before Red Bank’s David Suddeth turned the tables on Clanton, pinning the Rocket senior.
Clanton moved to the consolation round were he came back to secure a resounding 16-0 technical fall blowout win over Cheatham County senior Josh Wilkerson.
Unfortunately, Canton’s stellar high school career ended when he was pinned by Joshua Dailey from White House.
“We have a new wrestling room we want to accommodate with new walls pads and get new mats and really try to grow this program,” Slaughter stated. “It’s going to take some time, but hopefully we can get the community involved so they can see what we are working towards and get that going.”