Taking Lars von Trier’s advice of “If you can’t beat them, join them,” Cleveland High’s wrestling team snapped a 19-year losing streak to crosstown rival Bradley Central Thursday night at Jim Smiddy Arena.
“We wouldn’t be what we are today if not for them,” an elated coach Eric Phillips declared after his second-ranked Blue Raiders posted a 51-11 victory over the fifth-ranked Bears. “They have been the standard for so long. We copied their blueprint to become the team we are today.”
Cleveland, the defending state traditional champions, is now 14-4 in dual meets this season, while Bradley, which won its 12th state duals title last February, is 11-3.
“I’m so proud of the way our guys wrestled tonight,” added Phillips. “We had a bad night the other night (a 43-15 loss to top-ranked Soddy-Daisy), but we put that behind us and wanted to come out strong tonight.”
“We’ve waited a long time to reach this level,” Phillips continued. “Our seniors knew this would be their last chance to beat Bradley, so we came out determined to get every point we could.”
With the meet starting at 170, Cleveland came out of the gate strong, winning the first four matches to build a quick double-digit advantage. After the first of just three Bradley wins, the Blue Raiders put the match away with a run of seven straight, including five of their half dozen pins on the night.
“They took us to the woodshed,” proclaimed first-year Bear head coach Ben Smith. “Once the snowball started we couldn’t get it stopped. We had some guys perform better than we expected, but others we expected strong performances from not only lost, but gave up bonus points.”
“We just couldn’t stop the bleeding,” he added. “This hurts right now, but it could be good for us down the road. We’ve got to pick right back up and face (second-ranked Division II) Father Ryan tomorrow (Friday at the Fandetti Duals in Johnson City).”
The Bears will also participate in the Fandetti Invitational Saturday, while Cleveland heads to Brentwood to wrestle in the G.P. West Invitational this weekend.
With an estimated crowd of around 1,800, Thursday night’s action started in exciting fashion when Cleveland’s J.C. Bobe earned an escape in the final five seconds to claim a 4-3 decision over Tait Rakestraw in the 170-pound match.
The Raiders did a little shuffle with their normal lineup in the following two matches, with top-ranked 182-pounder Jesse Jones stepping up to 195, while Oleg Stukanov dropped to 182.
Stukanov led Austin Roderick 2-0 after the opening period and 4-2 at the second break before putting a little distance between them for a 9-3 decision.
Jones had his hands full with Devon Carroll, who has only been starting for the Bears since the holiday break. Jones was able to post a pair of takedowns, plus a reversal, but Carroll earned four escapes to prevent any bonus points in a 6-4 decision.
Third-ranked Seth Snyder earned the first and quickest pin of the night, putting his 220-pound opponent’s shoulders to the mat in just 62 seconds to put the Raiders up 15-0.
In the first of six matches that pitted state-ranked wrestlers against each other, reigning heavyweight champion Patrick Benson squared off against fourth-ranked Jordan Hines.
After leading just 2-0 at the first break, Benson stretched his advantage to 5-0 in the second before playing a little cat-and-mouse in the final two minutes for a 12-3 major decision for the Bears’ first points.
At 106, top-ranked Chris DeBien welcomed Bear newcomer Toribio Navarro to the state rankings (fourth) by building an 11-0 lead before “sticking” his fellow freshman with just 19 seconds left in the match.
Top-ranked Austin Stevison and No. 5 Dakota Ream had a tight battle going in the third period of their 113-pound match, before the Raider sophomore got the referee to slap the mat at the 4:45 mark.
Second-ranked Austin Oliver kept the Raiders rolling with their third-straight pin at 4:48 of the 120-pound match against Dakota Bromley, who received state-ranking votes in the latest state poll.
It was a Top 3 battle at 126 with third-ranked Raider Ezra Taylor earning an escape in the final five seconds to upset No. 2-ranked Jericho Crutcher.
In the hottest contested match of the night, Cleveland’s Joel Simpkins got a takedown with 10 seconds left in overtime to win the 132-pound match. Bradley’s Taylor Kazy had forced the extra period with a takedown in the final 10 seconds of regulation.
With both stepping up a weight class, the Raiders stretched their lead to their largest margin (51-4) with pins from third-ranked Haden Hamilton 64 seconds into the 138-pound match and fourth-ranked Brandon Strickland with just 6.6 ticks remaining at 145. Bradley’s Robbie Clark had Strickland tied at 10-10 early in the third period before the Raider senior capped the Cleveland scoring.
The hosts were able to salvage wins in the final two matches of the night as second-ranked Tyler Schuch put a 9-3 decision on No. 6 Josh Hamilton in the 152-pound match before third-ranked Jacob Bailey posted a 12-4 major decision at 160.
“We won the matches we were supposed to and then we won a few that could have gone either way,” Phillips assessed. “Once we got off to the strong start, the other guys started feeding off that.”
“I give credit to Eric (Phillips), his staff and his wrestlers; they have done a tremendous job over there,” commented Smith, who was a Bear assistant for eight years before taking over the top spot.
The outcome was just the second home loss for the Bears since Cleveland’s last win in Smiddy Arena on Jan. 23, 1992. Bradley had won the previous 38 meetings between the two squads.
BLUE RAIDERS 51, BEARS 11
(Match started at 170)
106 — Chris DeBien (C) pinned Toribio Navarro, 5:41; 113 — Austin Stevison (C) pinned Dakota Ream, 4:45; 120 — Austin Oliver (C) pinned Dakota Bromley, 4:48; 126 — Ezra Taylor (C) dec. Jericho Crutcher, 7-6; 132 — Joel Simpkins (C) dec. Taylor Kazy, 5-3; 138 — Haden Hamilton (C) pinned Caven Rogers, 1:04; 145 — Brandon Strickland (C) pinned Robbie Clark, 5:54; 152 — Tyler Schuch (BC) dec. Josh Hamilton, 9-3; 160 — Jacob Bailey (BC) major dec. Chuck Norwood, 12-4; 170 — J.C. Bobe (C) dec. Tait Rakestraw, 4-3; 182 — Oleg Stukanov (C) dec. Austin Roderick, 8-3; 195 — Jesse Jones (C) dec. Devon Carroll, 6-4; 220 — Seth Snyder (C) pinned Zach McFarland, 1:02; 285 — Patrick Benson (BC) major dec. Jordan Hines, 12-3.