Knights advance to state duals tournament

Arab’s wrestlers strike a familiar pose after winning the 5A-6A Region 7 title Tuesday.

Arab wrestling coaches don’t get overly excited about winning region tournaments, but that’s exactly what the Knights did at home Tuesday night.

Again.

The Knights defeated Fort Payne 48-26 before blasting 5A-6A Region 7 co-leader Oxford 61-15 to capture the region title and advance to the state duals tournament.

“It’s a very small steppingstone,” said Arab coach Kyle Routon, who coached at Oxford until this season when he took over the reins of the Arab program from Michael Pruitt.

Routon seemed to enjoy seeing his old wrestlers than defeating them. He spent 15 minutes or more visiting friends after the final match.

“I was glad to see them,” he said. “A lot of friends. They’re a very similar wrestling family as here. Everybody’s very close.

“Just good people who get loud and rowdy.”

Routon had to be pleased at the way his wrestlers performed in front of his old friends. The Knights raced out to a 25-0 lead, withstood some adversity for three rounds, then closed with a fury, winning the last six matches by pins, all but two in the first period.

The region tournament actually started Saturday. In a split opening round, due to pandemic protocols, Arab defeated Alexandria 59-12 and Scottsboro 57-19 at home, with both the Knights and Alexandria advancing to Tuesday’s region semifinals and final.

Host Oxford and Fort Payne advanced in the other bracket.

Oxford defeated Alexandria 54-18 in the semifinals Tuesday before losing to Arab. Fort Payne defeated Alexandria 42-24 to grab third place.

Both Arab (29-5) and Oxford advance to the state duals’ round of 16 and quarterfinals, scheduled for Jan. 15-16, though Arab has a conflict and will try to move its matches to Jan. 14. Arab will take on the Region 8 runner-up while Oxford will face the winner.

“We could face Oxford again in the quarterfinals,” Routon said.

Although Oxford has its own history of success, that might be a good thing for the Knights, considering how Tuesday night went. Ty Collins, Jacob Holland, Caleb Roe, Christian Eaton, Jonathan Pugh, Michael Robertson, Cody Morgan and Jaxon Ivey all won by pins.

Oxford got as close as 25-15 but Caleb Roe’s pin stopped a three-match slide and fueled the late rally.

Eaton’s pin made it 37-15, essentially closing the door on the Yellow Jackets. Pugh was next and only needed to avoid a pin to clinch the match. Instead, his pin made it 43-15 and continued the rally.

Oxford won 6A state titles in 2017 and 2018 and finished third last year. The Yellow Jackets are ranked No. 6 in the latest 5A/6A poll. Arab is ranked second but recently defeated No. 1 Gardendale.

Arab and Oxford will learn their next-round opponents on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Knights will stay busy. Arab will compete in quad matches Friday at Hoover and Saturday at Bob Jones.

Arab’s Invitational is scheduled for Jan. 15-16. It’ll be a dual meet featuring 16 teams, and because of pandemic restrictions, the tournament will be held in two gyms at two different times each day.

That’s because no more than four teams can compete at any one site.

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