EVENSVILLE — It is common knowledge the road to the TSSAA state wrestling tournaments run directly through the Bradley County I-75 corridor.
The third-ranked Bradley Central Bears proved it to be true once again Saturday afternoon as they bested top-ranked Cleveland by 10 points to win the Region 4-AAA championship at Rhea County High School.
The Bears walked away with the trophy after scoring a team total of 234.5 points, with winning five individual championships.
The Blue Raiders finished second with 224.5 points and scored four gold medals.
Soddy-Daisy ended the tournament in fourth with 116 points, East Hamilton finished fourth with 92.5 and Walker Valley rounded out the top five with 73 points and brought home a championship medal.
The Bears and Raiders qualified wrestlers for next weekend State Traditionals in Franklin in all 14 weight classes and are the odds-on favorites to battle it out for the title. The Mustangs will be looking to win state championships in five weight classes.
“We had a good day. I've always felt like the strength of this team has been seemingly a little bit more on the individual side of things. Our mantra for this week has been after looking at things, we could send 14 kids to the state tournament, and, we could win a state title — this year. It's not out of the question for us, legitimately, to be in the state title match, this year, with this team,” said a pleased Bears coach Ben Smith.
“We just tried to get our kids to believe that. We've got as many legitimate, deep, point scorers as anybody out there.”
“We've had a real positive week. Our emphasis was winning some of the matches we should have won against Cleveland, Soddy-Daisy and Walker Valley in the duals region tournament,” Smith continued.
“I thought we wrestled well. I thought we wrestled composed in most spots. I thought we wrestled relaxed and were in shape. We won some matches we previously hadn't and we got some momentum on our side after the first couple of matches in the finals. We had a little bit of a lead on Cleveland after the semifinals and we were able to keep it.”
Each defeated a Raider in the title match, Ethan Wilson (106-pounds, 44-1), Easton Lipsey (113, 43-9), Luke Belcher (120, 42-5) Gavin Hughes (132, 38-6) and Seth Gregory (138, 31-10) all wrestled to first-place finishes for Bradley.
Trae McDaniel (126, 32-5), Robert Laxton (152, 35-3), Nate Schilling (160, 33-10) and Ashton Davis (220, 32-4) stood at the top of the podium for Cleveland. All but Schilling defeated a Bear for their crown.
Walker Valley's Jadon Langford (285, 30-2) will go for the state championship as a regional champion for the Mustangs.
Bradley Central's Taron Patterson (126, 46-12), Austin Lynn (152, 27-23), Tyrone McDonald (182, 41-10), Gavin Sewell (220, 34-17), Austin McClure (285, 40-13) all won silver medals Saturday.
Bears Knox Watson (160, 16-22) and Caleb Jeffers (170, 7-2) ended with third-place finishes, while Chase Stansberry (145, 29-22) and Cody McDaniel (195, 24-19) both took fourth.
“I'm pretty proud of this team. I would say I'm very proud, but wouldn't be a Bradley coach if I didn't say I didn't expect it. I always expect our kids to perform well and be in the state champion mix. I'm more pleased with how well we wrestled. Getting 14 through is 14 chances to score points in the state tournament,” said Smith.
“I think we've put ourselves in a pretty good position as a team to legitimately to be a 2020 state championship team. That's what we are after. I know Cleveland isn't worried about it. We're not worried about it. We're not in this for region championships. We're both after state championships. We'll do this thing again in four or five days and hopefully, one of the two of us, if not both of us will be leaving with hardware again.”
The Blue Raiders brought home six silver medals with Bentley Ellison (106, 31-6), Arlo Laxson (113, 25-6), Jackson Bradford (120, 12-2), Charles Randall (132, 24-12), Burns Meagher (138, 13-13), Zach Brezna (170, 24-12) all finishing in second.
Garrett Stevenson (145, 35-16), Tetoe Boyd (182, 30-12) and William Harris (195, 29-14) earned third-place medals. Nick Nicodemis (16-16) capped the medal count for Cleveland with a fourth-place finish at 285.
“We had four region champions, so that's not a bad day. I thought we could have had eight. That's not great, but that's why they call it competition, you have to go out and compete and we didn't go out and compete today. We thought everybody was going to roll over. Sometimes you get the effect of 'we're state champs' but, we've still got work to do,” said a somewhat disappointed Blue Raider coach Joey Knox.
“We qualified all 14 wrestlers so that is good. The good thing is we're all healthy and ready to wrestle. I think we got our eyes opened today, but I think we're ready to go.”
The Mustangs will also send Kallum Lowe (28-9), who finished in the runner-up spot at 195, Heath Tanksley (26-9), third-place finisher at 182 along with Alex McCord (120, 19-21) and Jacob Anderson (220, 21-17).
“I'm happy for the five guys going to the tournament, but I'm a little disappointed because I thought we would have more,” said Mustang coach Al Morris. “We didn't really wrestle well and the results are what they are. We had Jadon Langford repeat as region champ and that was big for him. Kallum Lowe wrestled a one-point match in the final against a guy who has beaten us a few times, but we closed the gap and I was pleased with his runner-up finish. Jacob, Heath and Alex also came through for us.
“It wasn't a great tournament for us, but we'll move forward with the five guys we've got and we'll see what happens.”