COLUMBIA -- Jonathan Wright addressed his team during practice on Saturday, telling his teammates they were going to win a state wrestling championship.
The Battery Creek High School heavyweight's mother, Almarie, had died two days earlier after a prolonged illness. He never doubted where he would be Tuesday night -- at Airport High School helping the Dolphins defeat Liberty for the Class 2-A/1-A duals title.
Wright, after a slow start, pinned Liberty's Dee Mansell in the third period and pointed to the sky. The Battery Creek supporters knew the meaning of the gesture, exploding in the stands adjacent to the Battery Creek bench.
Wright returned to being a teammate, encouraging Joseph Cuevas in the 106-pound match and helping the Dolphins finish off a 39-18 victory. The duals championship was the school's fifth and the fifth for coach Nathan Day, whose most recent title had come in 1996.
The senior Wright said he had expected the bad news for some time.
"I had prepared myself before, and this is what she would have wanted," said Wright, who received hugs from Battery Creek administrators while a gold medal was placed on his neck. "I had to continue."
Battery Creek won by avoiding a pin all night. The Dolphins dropped only five of 14 weight classes.
Liberty missed four days of practice last week due to weather closing school. Red Devils coach Dale Burrell said his wrestlers gained a lot of weight during the lapse and had to cut more than he would have liked.
Burrell's team had defeated Battery Creek early in the season when the Dolphins had to shuffle. Battery Creek won the toss Tuesday and benefited from not showing its hand in key matches, Burrell said.
"Battery Creek was ready to go," Burrell said. "We made mistakes, and they made us pay for them."
The Dolphins won by showing the heart Wright encouraged them to exhibit.
Diontre Delaney earned a big decision at 120. Alex Nelson fought off his back for what looked like a sure second-period pin at 220 and picked up a decision. Top-ranked Isaiah Sloan earned a tough decision against second-ranked Tanner Chambers at 182.
Tyler Muterspaugh and Craig Truett drew some of Day's biggest emotional outbursts after losing but avoiding pins.
"I just kept thinking 'If I get pinned, we might not win it. It might come down to me at the end,' " Nelson said. "The little things you do during the match, fighting for every point -- it always counts."
The Dolphins finally made it count again for Day, who resumed his head coaching duties before the 2012-13 season after stepping away 15 years before. Former Dolphins coaches Chad Cox and Kyle Kimrey were among those watching Battery Creek finish off the team title.
Day was frustrated at times early in the season with an incomplete lineup. He fielded his strongest group earlier in the month for the Lower State tournament and did so again Tuesday.
That included Wright, the sixth-ranked wrestler at 285 pounds.
Day told Wright last week to do whatever he needed and not the worry about the team.
"He said 'I talked to my mom about this, and there is no way she would let me not come to this thing tonight,' " Day said.
Class 2-A/1-A duals championship
Battery Creek 39, Liberty 18
Note: Match started at 145
106: Joseph Cuevas (BC) major dec. Nikki Weidman, 11-3
113: Matt Frey (L) dec. Omar Daniels, 8-6
120: Diontre Delaney (BC) dec. Tristan Oglesby, 20-15
126: Sky Weimer (L) dec. Desmon Mullen, 9-8
132: Caleb Weaver (BC) pinned Brandon Pilgrim, first period
138: Brian LaBean (BC) dec. Garrett Whitmire, 7-3
145: Kris Murphy (L) dec. Porter Mahan, 9-4
152: Jimmy Knott (L) major dec. Tyler Muterspaugh, 11-3
160: Darien Painter (L) tech fall Craig Truett, 17-1
170: Malik Morgan (BC) tech fall Sammy Vidal, 17-1
182: Isaiah Sloan (BC) dec. Tanner Chambers, 7-3
195: Cooper Kaminsky (BC) pinned Eric Sturtevant, first period
220: Alex Nelson (BC) decision Dolan Holdar, 11-8
285: Jonathan Wright (BC) pinned Dee Mansell, third period