Next man up is what takes place when an athlete gets injured and his or her backup has to step in.
For Bryan County freshman wrestler Nathan Long it was not a matter of next man up. It was a matter of the man behind the next man up stepping into the breech.
Long got his first varsity win last Saturday to help spur the host Redskins to a 58-22 win over McIntosh County Academy and a third-place finish in the Area 3 Class A duals wrestling tournament.
Coach Zach Ledbetter’s team will now wrestle St. Francis Academy Saturday in the sectional tournament at Social Circle. A win over the Knights would send Bryan County into the Sweet 16 of state duals for the second straight year and a matchup with the winner of No. 1 seed Social Circle vs. Athens Christian.
Richmond Hill will also be wrestling as the Wildcats, who advanced to the Elite Eight last year in Class 6A, will take on Forsyth Central at North Gwinnett in a Class 7A sectional. That winner will take on the North Gwinnett vs. Marietta survivor.
The Wildcats are a No. 2 seed after finishing second to Camden County in last Saturday’s area tournament at Camden County.
Richmond Hill’s runner-up finish was no surprise as Camden is the defending state champion and is looking to win an unprecedented ninth straight championship. Camden started its run in 2015 after having won its first state title in 2012.
Bryan County found itself behind the eight ball right off the bat when it lost its opening match to ECI, 56-45, before rebounding to beat Savannah High, 60-24, and MCA. Screven County beat ECI in the championship match.
“It was a good day overall,” Ledbetter said. “We came up a pin short against ECI. It was a good match but we bounced back and a lot of guys had a good day.”
Colton Gunter went 3-0 at 138 pounds as did Riley Shuman at 113. Tarrell Singleton was 2-0 at 215 while Jett Lewis (285) was 2-1.
Singleton, one of the top wrestlers in Class A in his weight class, suffered a minor knee injury, however, and that paved the way for Long to get his opportunity to shine.
And Long’s win, followed by a clutch performance by Lewis, came at a crucial point in the Redskins’ match with MCA.
The Bucs had a 22-16 advantage in the early going when Bryan County flipped the script starting with Long who is third on the depth chart. Singleton couldn’t go nor could his backup, Eli Westcott, and Ledbetter pointed to Long.
Long was up 8-4 with less than a minute to go and appeared to be trouble when he escaped and wound up with a decisive 13-4 decision. In the next match Lewis, a junior all-region lineman in football, trailed 6-4 but turned up the pressure and got a pin.
Those two wins helped turn a close match into a rout.
“Nathan had to step in and won his match at a critical time for the team,” Ledbetter said. “It kept us tied and he stepped up very big at that moment.
“It was a very, very big momentum swing,” Ledbetter said. “The boys really rallied behind him and then Jett got his pin. That raised the morale and created some separation for us.”
Long was not expecting to be thrust into action but he was proud and happy he could contribute when called upon.
“It was exciting and unexpected,” Long said. “I didn’t think coming in today I would have a match with both Tarrell and Eli in front of me.
“Then Tarrell got injured and Eli has a recurring shoulder injury,” Long said. “I’m glad I got my opportunity to put myself out there. It was fun and exciting.
“I just knew I had to help us win the match because we had been kind of cold. We had had a really good showing against Savannah High and I just wanted to keep the streak alive.”