In what could be a preview of tonight’s Region 3-AAA duals tournament at Cleveland, the Blue Raiders and Walker Valley Mustangs tangled on the mat Wednesday in “The Stable.” The No. 7-ranked Mustangs were first out of the gate, but could not hold off the No. 2-ranked Blue Raiders in a 46-18 loss.
The Mustangs will battle Soddy-Daisy tonight at 6 with the Blue Raiders taking on No. 5 Bradley Central in region semifinal matches. The two semifinals winners will each earn a spot in the state duals in Franklin beginning Feb. 1. The championship match — if it takes place — is scheduled for 7:30. Admission is $5 per person.
“It was a tough match. If they are not the best team, they are right there with (No. 1) Soddy-Daisy. Those two teams have pretty much separated themselves from the rest of us,” said Mustangs coach Al Morris of the Blue Raiders. “But, I will say I was very proud of the fight our guys put forth tonight. We had some young guys in there, we had some backups and they fought. I was really happy and pleased with that effort.”
Morris got wins from Drake Haney at 106 pounds, Caleb Langford at 138, Chase Gregory at 170, Zack Miller at 220 and, in the hardest-fought match of night, Lawrence Cotton (145) pulled off a win in a three-overtime sudden victory battle.
“He has so much heart. He works his tail off and does everything right,” Morris said of his 145-pounder. “Tonight it paid off for him; that was a huge win for him.”
The Raiders, after falling behind 6-0 at 106, fought back with a Chris DeBien pin at 113 pounds, a pin by Austin Oliver at 126 and pins from Ezra Taylor at 132, Aaron Lopez at 160, Ethan West at 182 and Koran Kennedy at 285.
Cleveland coach Jake Yost was pleased with the effort from the Raiders and lauded the performance of the Mustangs.
“I thought we did well. They fought very hard and made us earn every point we got. There were a couple of situations that could have gone either way. I thought our guys fought hard and earned every point we got,” he said of the hard-fought win.
“I’m happy. We won the match and we did well. At 106 we were winning the match 2-0 and get pinned; it’s tough to be real happy about that. I’m happy with our 220-pounder. He fought hard. That kid (Miller) is a good kid. I think we are capable of beating him, but we fought the whole match. At 145, I felt like that could have gone either way. We might could have gotten one there. They made us earn every point we got.”
Decisions for Cleveland came from Austin Stevison at 120, Josh Hamilton (152), Oleg Stukanov (195) and Koran Kennedy (285).
“I never want to lose. I never like to lose, but realistically we knew coming in Cleveland was going to be every bit all we could handle and would dish it out to us. I was pleased with our effort,” Morris said as the mats were being rolled up.
“I saw a few things we’ve got to fix. Conditioning concerned me with a few of our guys and we’ve got to learn how to dominate people. We won some matches I felt like we could have actually got more bonus points. We were kind of content with just winning. We lost a close match at 152 that I felt like we were definitely capable of winning.”
The Mustangs and Blue Raiders have no time to celebrate a win or worry about a loss with a possible return engagement coming in tonight’s region tournament. Both teams know a trip to Franklin and the state duals tournament goes through traditional powerhouses, No. 5 Bradley Central and No. 1 Soddy-Daisy.
Yost said he has every confidence Wednesday’s win will be nothing more than a distant memory when the whistle blows tonight in the Dome.
“We’ve got Bradley first and if we beat Bradley we have Soddy-Daisy. If we wrestle hard and do the things we are supposed to do and are capable of doing I expect to win,” he said.
For Morris and the Mustangs, the road to Franklin will be rocky to be sure. Wednesday’s performance will have to be repeated and then some with four of the state’s Top 10 wrestling programs all looking for one of two spots for the duals tournament.
“We wrested Cleveland tonight and we are going to get to turn around and wrestle Soddy-Daisy tomorrow. They are every bit as tough as Cleveland. We’re going to have our hands full, but this time of the year is what we have been working for,” said Morris. “We are going to go with who we have in our lineup and we are going to hopefully go hard. Tonight I was pleased we went hard.”
BLUE RAIDERS 46, MUSTANGS 18
(Match started at 106 pounds)
106 — Drake Haney (WV) pinned Tristan Blansit (C), 3:20; 113 — Chris DeBien (C) pinned Logan Smith (WV), 1:31; 120 — Austin Stevison (C) major dec. Braxton Brewer (WV), 18-6; 126 — Austin Oliver (C) pinned Joe Munoz (WV), 1:03; 132 — Ezra Taylor (C) pinned Arrie Bramlett (WV), 0:58; 138 — Caleb Langford dec. Joel Simpkins (C), 9-3; 145 — Lawrence Cotton (WV) dec. Aaron Oliver (C), 8-7, 4OT; 152 — Josh Hamilton (C) dec. Ryan Hager (WV), 8-6; 160 — Aaron Lopez (C) pinned Micah Langford (WV), 1:09; 170 — Chase Gregory (WV) dec. Sean VonPotts (C), 6-2; 182 — Ethan West (C) pinned Chazz Fulford (WV), 1:56; 195 — Oleg Stukanov (C) dec, Ric Kennett (WV), 11-6; 220 — Zack Miller (WV) dec. John Gaither (WV), 11-7; 285 – Koran Kennedy (C) pinned Sam Dworak (WV), 3:41.