The highly anticipated wrestling battle between Cleveland and Bradley Central went “chalk down the line” Thursday evening at Jim Smiddy Arena as the defending state champion Blue Raiders continued their recent success in the long rivalry.
With 15 wrestlers listed in the latest state poll between the two top-notch squads, the higher ranked grapplers won their matches, plus Cleveland won three of the four matches that didn’t have a ranked wrestler participating while leading from pillar to post in the 40-22 tally.
“Coming off a long Christmas layoff, this was a good chance to see where we stand,” declared Raider head coach Jake Yost. “We’re not quite there yet. We weren’t firing on all cylinders tonight.”
“We wrestled tough, but we have some areas we need to improve on,” he added. “We got beat in some areas we weren’t prepared in. We’ll get where we need to be. If everybody stays healthy and does what they are supposed to do, we’ll have a good shot at another state title.”
The top-ranked Class AAA public school team in the state, Cleveland is now 20-3 on the season as they head to the G.P. West Invitational at Brentwood High School this weekend.
Ranked third in the same poll, Bradley is 16-3 on the campaign and travels to Johnson City today to battle Jefferson County and Eastside (S.C.) in the Moffatt Duals this evening, before participating in the always tough Fandetti/Richardson Brawl Saturday.
“This is a big week for us to prepare us for the postseason,” expressed head coach Ben Smith, whose Bears also dropped a 37-25 decision to Baylor, the top-ranked D-II school in the state, earlier this week. “We knew it was going to be a tough week, but it will help us come tournament time.”
With more than 1,300 fans in the Smiddy Arena stands Thursday evening, the match started with a surprise forfeit by the Bears to top-ranked 195-pounder Ethan West.
In a matchup of football linemen, Bradley senior Zach McFarland stepped up a weight class to face Koran Kennedy at 220 and didn’t allow the fourth-ranked Raider any bonus points in an 8-3 decision, which literally set off fireworks in the Cleveland student section, forcing a delay in the action.
After order was restored, the mat action continued with a hard fought heavyweight match that saw Raider John Gaither holding just a 1-0 lead of Bear senior Jerry “JJ” Johnson in the third period before being able to earn a pin at the 4:37 mark.
Down 15-0, Bradley rallied with three straight victories of its own, including a pair of major decisions, to cut the difference to just four points.
At 106, No. 1-ranked Ryan McElhaney broke open a scoreless battle against third-ranked Colton Landers with a second period reversal and three back points. The Bear freshman capped the 8-0 major decision with another reversal and a penalty point in the final two minutes.
After claiming the 106 state title last year, Bradley junior Toribio Navarro is the top-ranked 113-pounder in the latest poll and had his hands full with No. 3 ranked Tristan Blansit, whom he had pinned in their last meeting. After a scoreless opening frame, Navarro got a takedown for a 2-1 lead at the end of two periods and then added an escape in the final frame for a 3-1 decision.
Ranked second at 120, Bradley freshman Knox Fuller jumped out to an 8-0 advantage at the first horn of the next match on his way to a 13-2 major decision.
Top-ranked state champion Chris DeBien was able to stem the Bradley tide with a convincing win over fifth-ranked Hunter Parker at 126, building a 10-3 “cat-and-mouse” lead before getting the referee to slap the mat at the 2:48 mark.
A 2012 state title winner, Austin Stevison is ranked No. 1 at 132 and continued a Raider roll of four straight wins with a hard fought 8-3 decision over Taylor Kazy.
In a battle of ranked wrestlers at 138, Cleveland’s Ezra Taylor (No. 3) was able to break open a battle with sixth-ranked Stephen Scott with a 6-0 second period on his way to an 11-2 major decision.
The tightest tangle of the evening came at 145, where Raider William Haas got a reverse just before the second period horn and went on to a 7-6 decision over Bear Caleb Adkins to put the visitors up 31-11.
Bradley got its lone pin of the night at 152 when Colter McConnell was able to get a reverse and then put Jonathan Martin’s shoulder to the mat at the 3:17 mark.
Aaron Oliver was able to push the Raider lead past the point of no return at 160 when he scored an 8-2 decision over Greg Wilson before second-ranked Josh Hamilton put the final Cleveland points on the scoreboard at 170 with a 3:38-pin of sixth-ranked Nathan Adams.
Fourth-ranked freshman Brett Brown gave the home fans one last thing to cheer about at 182, scoring 14 first period points before sealing a 17-0 technical fall just 20 seconds into the second period.
“Plain and simple they [CHS were] better than us tonight,” proclaimed Coach Smith, whose lineup includes five freshmen and a pair of sophomores. "We felt like this was a winnable match for us, but we lost four close matches and two of the three swing matches that could have gone either way. We didn't get the bonus points that Cleveland got, but I'm proud of our effort. They beat us 63-9 last year and tonight we were able to show the improvement we’ve made.”
“This is Senior Night and I’m proud of my seniors,” the Bear coach declared. “They’ve come a long way as a group and are providing some good leadership for this team.”
For Cleveland, which won both the state duals and traditional titles last season, it was the third straight victory in the rivalry after Bradley had won 19 in a row, while accumulating 22 state championships.
BLUE RAIDERS 40, BEARS 22
(match started at 195)
106 — Ryan McElhaney (BC) major dec. Colton Landers, 8-0; 113 — Toribio Navarro (BC) dec. Tristan Blansit, 3-1; 120 — Knox Fuller (BC) major dec. Taylor Bishop, 13-2; 126 — Chris DeBien (C) pinned Hunter Parker, 2:49; 132 — Austin Stevison (C) dec. Taylor Kazy, 8-3; 138 — Ezra Taylor (C) major dec. Stephen Scott, 11-2; 145 — William Haas (C) dec. Caleb Adkins, 7-6; 152 — Colter McConnell (BC) pinned Jonathan Martin, 3:17; 160 — Aaron Oliver (C) dec. Greg Wilson, 8-2; 170 — Josh Hamilton (C) pinned Nathan Adams, 3:38; 182 — Brett Brown (BC) tech. fall Seth Garcia, 2:11 17-0; 195 — Ethan West (C) won by forfeit; 220 — Koran Kennedy (C) dec. Zach McFarland, 8-3; 285 — John Gaither (C) pinned Jerry Johnson, 4:32.