SUWANEE - Coming into the North Gwinnett Duals, Bulldog coach Steve Hassenger needed four dual wins to get to 400 for his career. He fell just short.
Despite missing some of its wrestlers, North reached the finals of its own tourney on Thursday and nearly knocked off sixth-ranked Union Grove. Hassenger's team fell behind 25-0 in the finals before rallying, but it was too little to late.
The Bulldogs dropped a tough 38-34 decision, leaving their coach stuck at 399 for the moment.
"It was close but no cigar," Hassenger said. "We battled back but we gave up too many points in the lower weights. We did a good job and were adequate in the middle weights but we have a lot of work to do to get to the state's elite."
North was without some of its key members who were on Christmas vacation and had to wrestle some of the wrestlers up a weight class. In the 135-pound weight class, Travis Sheehy finally got North on the board with a 15-7 win. It was 13-7 when Sheehy got an escape at the buzzer to get the extra point.
Senior Ellis Logeman pinned Brian Phelps in the 145-pound weight class to get North within 28-10. Chris West, who normally wrestles in the 152-pound weight class, was wrestling at 160 and pinned Stephen Bodiford in the first 30 seconds. West was coming off a victory over a three-time defending Alabama state champion and was very confident coming into the tournament.
In the next match North's Devin Bradford was leading 3-2 when freshman Jonathon Pippen pinned Bradford, which clinched the dual meet. However, North wasn't going down without a fight and got three consecutive pins, including a pin over state qualifier Mitch Henson by Kyle Chewning. Chewning was losing 13-3 after the first period and 15-6 when he turned a potential pin into one of his own.
"We knew it would be a tough match," said Union Grove head coach Joey DiNino. "We just wanted to hang in there and not get pinned in the later matches. We start five or six freshmen so we have a lot of young kids. Most importantly we didn't want to make mistakes. We made a big mistake when we were winning 15-6. there is no reason to get hung by a headlock. Luckily we had a big enough lead it didn't cost us."
Hassenger will try for win No. 400 on Tuesday at Oconee County and will have five tries to get the one win.
Other North winners were Robert Crowl with a pin vs. Blake Billingsley in the 189-pound weight class and sophomore Steven Buffington with a pin against Nick Harrera in the heavyweight division.
"It's been really beneficial working with a guy like Coach Hassenger," said junior varsity coach Mike Dunning. "He's big on organization. His organizational approach and technique is the most sound of any coaches around. His whole approach with kids is professional.
"You don't get to a milestone like 400 wins without hard work, dedication and perseverance. He just cares about kids, every one of them."