After Bradley Central and Walker Valley split the first 10 matches of Thursday night’s battle of state-ranked wrestling teams at “The Stable,” the Bear’s “Murderer’s Row” stepped on the mat to turn a two-point deficit into a 20-point victory.
“I feel really good when we get to that part of our lineup,” declared Bradley coach Ben Smith after the 44-24 victory. “They’ve been a real ‘Murderer’s Row’ for us. I’d be fine with them finishing our matches all the time.”
The first-year head coach is talking about senior Patrick Benson, the 2011 state champion and current undefeated and top-ranked heavyweight, freshman Toribio Navarro, who knocked off the fifth-ranked Dyer Rose in challenge matches over the holidays to win the starting 106-pound slot, plus juniors Dakota Ream, currently ranked fifth at 113, and Dakota Bromley at 120.
The foursome is a combined 53-4 so far this season, including sweeping the final four matches to rally the third-ranked Bears from a 17-point deficit for a one-point win over Heritage, the top-ranked class AAA Georgia squad, earlier this week.
The third-ranked Bears are now 10-1 on the season and travel to Soddy-Daisy tonight and tomorrow. Bradley will face sixth-ranked Science Hill (21-3) and 11th-ranked Pigeon Forge (10-4), the reigning class A-AA state runner up, in dual meetings this evening, before participating in the Trojan Invitational Saturday.
Walker Valley, ranked 10th in this week’s state poll, will face Rhea County and Cookeville tonight at Cleveland High’s Jones Wrestling Building.
The lead changed hands six times in the first 10 matches Thursday evening with second-ranked Jericho Crutcher (17-1) starting things off with a 15-7 major decision in the 126-pound match to give Bradley the first four points.
Caleb Langsford, ranked second in the state at 138, dropped to the 132 slot and gave the Mustangs their first lead with a pin 15 seconds into the second period.
Caven Rogers put the Bears back on top with a hard-fought 10-7 decision at 138 over Travis Reed, who is just returning to the mat after recovering from a fractured sternum.
Walker Valley retook the lead at 145 when Lawrence Cotton nipped Robbie Clark by a slim 3-2 margin.
Second-ranked Tyler Schuch (15-3) answered for the Bears with a pin in 2:34 of the 152-pound match, before No. 5 ranked Jacob Bailey (19-2) needed just three seconds more to do the same at 160.
The 160-pound match turned out to be the match of the night as Walker Valley’s Micah Langford earned a takedown in the final three seconds of regulation to send the match to overtime. Senior Tait Rakestraw got a takedown of his own 45 seconds into the extra period to take a 10-8 decision and put the Bears up 22-9.
The host Mustangs hit a full gallop in the next three matches, winning them all thanks to pins by Chase Gregory (182) and Zach Miller (220) with a 9-3 decision from Billy Raulston sandwiched between.
With the scoreboard showing the home team up 24-22, Benson (19-0) stepped onto the mat to begin the devastating blows. An immediate takedown set the tone as the reigning heavyweight champ posted the quickest pin of the meet, needing just 85 seconds to put the Bears ahead for good.
In just his second varsity match, Navarro also got off to a quick start and finished off his opponent 18 seconds into the second period.
Ream (17-1) put the match out of reach with Bradley’s third straight pin, needing just 1:53 to put his opponent’s shoulders to the mat.
After coming up with the match winner Tuesday night, Bromley (15-3) finished off the victory with a 10-0 major decision.
“This comes as no surprise to me,” proclaimed Smith. “I knew it would be a close meet. We were able to come up with some big wins and get bonus points, but we knew Walker Valley would battle us the whole way. The wins by Rogers and Rakestraw were huge for us,” he added.
“Anybody who thinks Bradley is down this year, better watch out,” remarked Mustang coach Alan Morris. “Coach Smith has done an outstanding job of getting them ready.”
“I’m proud of our guys. We won more matches (five) than we’ve ever won before against Bradley, which came in here with seven seniors to our one. Our 145 (Cotton) just got re-certified (he dropped from 160 to 145) and did a great job,” praised Morris, who was missing a pair of his own starters, including sixth-ranked 132-pounder Hunter Davis. “I know it’s still a 20-point loss but it was against a program that has been winning state championships for a long time and we showed some improvement.”
BEARS 44, MUSTANG 24
(Match started at 126)
106 — Toribio Navarro (BC) pinned Arrie Bramlettl, 2:18; 113 — Dakota Ream (BC) pinned Austin Gregory, 1:53; 120 — Dakota Bromley (BC) major dec. Tyres Hammrick, 10-0; 126 — Jericho Crutcher (BC) major dec. Braxton Brewer, 15-7; 132 — Caleb Langford (WV) pinned Taylor Kazy, 2:15; 138 — Caven Rogers (BC) dec. Travis Reed, 10-7; 145 — Lawrence Cotton (WV) dec. Robbie Clark, 3-2; 152 — Tyler Schuch (BC) pinned Ryan Hagar, 2:34; 160 — Jacob Bailey (BC) pinned Tryston Marl, 2:37; 170 — Tait Rakestraw (BC) dec. Micah Langford, 10-8 OT; 182 — Chase Gregory (WV) pinned Austin Roderick, 3:23; 195 — Billy Raulston (WV) dec. Devin Carroll, 9-3; 220 — Zach Miller (WV) pinned Zach McFarland, 1:23; 285 — Patrick Benson (BC) pinned Samuel Dworak, 1:25.