“This is our ‘respect week,’” declared third-year Bear head coach Ben Smith after the 37-25 outcome. “We wanted to start off the second semester against the best competition we could to show we can wrestle with the best in the state. Even though we didn’t win, I feel like we showed that tonight.”
Slipping from fifth to seventh in the latest state poll after not competing since the weekend before Christmas, Bradley went toe-to-toe with the Red Raiders and will now turn around to take on defending state dual and traditional champion Cleveland High Thursday at 7 p.m. in Smiddy Arena. The Blue Raiders are currently ranked second, behind Baylor, in the state poll that includes both public and private school squads.
The challenging week doesn’t end there as the Bears will travel to Johnson City this weekend for the always tough Moffatt Duals at Science Hill High School Friday and the Fandetti/Richardson Brawl on Saturday.
“These kind of matches will help us when it comes to the region later this month and in February,” declared Coach Smith, whose squad owns a victory over sixth-ranked McCallie, another of the state’s top private school programs.
Dropping just its second of 18 dual meets so far this season, Bradley came into Tuesday’s battle not having wrestled since placing second at the annual Bradley Invitational back on Dec. 22. “We’ve practiced and had challenge matches, but it’s been more than two weeks since we’ve competed against somebody other than ourselves,” Coach Smith related.
Coming into Smiddy Arena for the first time since 1999, Baylor’s lineup featured nine state-ranked wrestlers, including a half dozen voted tops in their weight classes. The Bears have seven ranked in the latest state poll, two of whom are ranked No. 1.
The Red Raiders jumped on top in a hurry, opening the meet with a 65-second pin by fourth-ranked Jon Schmissrauter in the 220-pound match.
Sending out third-ranked Will Thomas for the 285-pound match, the visitors expected to add to their lead, but Bradley’s Jerry “JJ” Johnson had something else in mind. The senior heavyweight scrapped tooth-and-nail with the Red Raider big man, keeping the match scoreless through the first five minutes. Johnson got on the scoreboard with an escape with 45 ticks left on the clock and then added a takedown in the final five seconds for a 3-0 upset to cut the Baylor lead in half.
The victory started a run of six wins in the next seven matches as the Bears built a 25-9 edge.
The night’s only matchup of No. 1-ranked wrestlers followed at 106 with Ryan McElhaney getting a late takedown and back points for a 5-0 advantage at the end of the opening period. After a scoreless second frame, The Bear freshman had to hold off a late charge by Jack Reynolds, who earned a takedown and got a penalty point in the final two-minute span. The 5-3 decision evened the meet at 6-all.
In what was supposed to be another battle of top-ranked grapplers at 113, Baylor’s Michael Murphy was unable to go, still suffering from a pre-Christmas injury, so defending state champion Toribio Navarro had little trouble with his Murphy’s substitute posting a 48-second pin to give Bradley the lead.
Second-ranked freshman Knox Fuller continued the Bear roll at 120 with a 17-1 technical fall at the 5:11 mark before Baylor dropped No. 1-ranked Caleb Canada down a weight class to battle fifth-ranked Hunter Parker in what turned out to be a 4-0 decision to break up the Bear run.
With Canada not wrestling his usual spot, Taylor Kazy got Bradley back on the positive side with a 17-2 technical fall at 132, followed by a 7-2 decision from sixth-ranked Stephen Scott for the meet’s largest lead as the Black-and-Gold led by 16.
Unfortunately that would be the final victory of the evening for the hosts as top-ranked Tait Roberson, Blake Sutherland, Bryson Popp and Ryan Parker, along with No. 3 ranked Emory Norred, sparked the Red Raider final rally.
“We just ran out of bullets,” declared Coach Smith, whose team did meet Baylor in last year’s Fandetti Brawl, suffering a 31-27 loss. “We felt coming in that we had five matches we could win and they had five. That left four up in the air. We won a couple I didn’t think we’d win, but then we lost a couple I didn’t expect. JJ and McElhaney had really big wins and got the ball rolling for us, but when we got to the meat of their order we couldn’t pull it off.
“Our guys are hungry and I feel like we earned some respect tonight, not only from people outside our program, but our guys saw earned some respect for themselves,” he assessed.
RED RAIDERS 37, BEARS 25
Match started at 220
106 — Ryan McElhaney (BC) dec. Jack Reynolds, 5-3; 113 — Toribio Navarro (BC) pinned Newell Allison, :48; 120 — Knox Fuller (BC) tech. fall Andy Atchley, 17-1, 5:11; 126 — Caleb Canada (Bay) dec. Hunter Parker, 4-0; 132 — Taylor Kazy (BC) tech. fall Jesue Arciniega, 17-2, 5:58; 138 — Steven Scott (BC) dec. Caleb Pall, 7-2; 145 — Tate Roberson (Bay) pinned Caleb Adkins, :25; 152 — Blake Sutherland (Bay) major dec. Colter McConnell, 9-1; 160 — Bryson Popp (Bay) pinned Greg Wilson, 1:50; 170 — Cayman Seagraves (Bay) tech. fall Nathan Adams, 15-0; 182 — Ryan Parker (Bay) major dec. Brett Brown, 16-3; 195 — Emory Norred (Bay) dec. Zach McFarland, 9-5; 220 — Jon Schmissrauter (Bay) pinned Eddie Shalchick, 1:05; 285 — Jerry Johnson (BC) dec. Will Thomas, 3-0.