With four of the Top 6 ranked Class AAA teams duking it out at “The Barn” in Ooltewah, the No. 1 Blue Raiders didn’t punch their ticket for Franklin until the next-to-the-last match of the evening in a 39-28 victory over the fourth-ranked Bears. Third-ranked Soddy-Daisy claimed the other state tournament bid by holding off a determined Walker Valley, ranked sixth, with a 40-32 come-from-behind win.
“In my opinion this is the toughest region in the state. For us to be able to win the region championship and get the No. 1 seed in next week’s state tournament is great,” declared Cleveland coach Jake Yost, whose team is 22-3 in dual meets this season. “Our guys wrestled well tonight. We have shown a lot of improvement as the season has gone along.”
Once again this year, the two semifinal winners did not face off in a region championship meet, as both are advancing. Cleveland was awarded the region title after having defeated Soddy in the regular season dual meet.
Making their fifth trip in six years to the TSSAA State Duals, the Raiders will looking for back-to-back state duals title for the first time since they won three in a row back in 1992-94. The state event will once again be held at the Williamson County Agricultural Expo Center next Friday and Saturday.
The result of Thursday’s match was similar to Cleveland’s 40-22 victory at Jim Smiddy Arena 2 1/2 weeks ago, only this time instead of the Raiders jumping out to a 29-0 lead, the action was tighter throughout.
Bradley (19-5) opened the rematch with a 7-3 decision by Colter McConnell in the 152-pound match before the Raiders picked up back-to-back pins by Aaron Oliver (160) and second-ranked Josh Hamilton (170).
After Nathan Adams earned a 15-4 major decision for the Bears at 182, top-ranked 195-pounder Ethan West started a string of three straight Cleveland wins with an 18-1 technical fall over fifth-ranked (182) Brett Brown, who had bumped up a weight class.
Fourth-ranked Koran Kennedy (220) and heavyweight John Gaither added three points apiece to the Cleveland total with decision wins.
Down 23-7 at the midway point of the meet, the Bears bounced back with three straight wins of their own to close the gap to a single point.
In a battle of state-ranked freshmen, Bradley’s Ryan McElhaney, No. 3 in the latest poll, outbattled fourth-ranked Colton Landers for a 4-2 decision in the 106-pound match.
Top-ranked state champion Toribio Navarro got the Bears’ first pin of the night when he put sixth-ranked Tristan Blansit’s shoulder to the mat at 113. Bradley freshmen Knox Fuller, ranked No. 2, did the same to his 120-pound opponent.
The fourth match up of state-ranked wrestler came at 126 with top-ranked state champion Chris DeBien getting the Raiders back on track by sticking No. 5 Hunter Parker.
Austin Stevison, who also won a state title last year and currently carries a No. 1 ranking at 132 and second-ranked 138-pounder Ezra Taylor sealed Cleveland’s state berth with a 9-0 major decision and a pin to put the score out of reach. The Raiders forfeited the final match since the outcome was already determined.
“We did what we could with our ‘bumps,’ but the fact of the matter is Cleveland is just a better team than we are right now,” lamented Bear head coach Ben Smith. “Although we were down when we got to 106, I thought we still had a good chance. We pulled within a point, but that was as close as we came.”
“My hat’s off to Cleveland and Soddy. They are both very tough and well-deserving teams,” he added.
“Walker Valley put up a good fight against Soddy tonight. You have four of the best teams in the state in our region, but only two of them get to advance.”
“We’ll change our focus now and get ready for the traditional region in two weeks at Walker Valley,” Smith stated.
BLUE RAIDERS 39, BEARS 28
(match started at 152)
106 — Ryan McElhaney (BC) dec. Colton Landers, 4-2; 113 — Toribio Navarro (BC) pinned Tristian Blansit, 4:21; 120 — Knox Fuller (BC) pinned Taylor Bishop, 5:17; 126 — Christopher DeBien (C) pinned Hunter Parker, 3:09; 132 — Austin Stevison (C) maj. dec. Taylor Kazy, 9-0; 138 — Ezra Taylor (C) pinned Stephen Scott, 3:29; 145 — Caleb Adkins (BC) won by forfeit; 152 — Colter McConnell (BC) dec. Jonathan Martin, 7-3; 160 — Aaron Oliver (C) pinned Greg Wilson, 3:46; 170 — Josh Hamilton (C) pinned Corey Gatlin, 4:24; 182 — Nathan Adams (BC) maj. dec. Samuel Garcia, 15-4; 195 — Ethan West (C) tech. fall Brett Brown, 3:45, 17-1; 220 — Koran Kennedy (C), dec. Zach McFarland, 3-1; 285 — John Gaither (C) dec. Jerry Johnson, 10-5.