Both Cleveland and Soddy-Daisy showed Thursday night why they’ve been ranked 1-2 in the state all season and will now represent the Southeast Tennessee area at next week’s TSSAA Class AAA State Duals.
The second-ranked Blue Raiders ended sixth-ranked Bradley Central’s run of 14 consecutive state duals berths at 14 with a 34-33 victory over the Bears in Region 4-AAA semifinals, while the top-ranked Trojans gave up just one match in a 68-3 win over 11th-ranked Walker Valley.
For the third straight year no region championship match was wrestled, since both victors are assured of a spot in the state tournament.
“Tonight (Thursday) is all about advancing to the state, so once you’ve accomplished that, there’s no need to risk injuries,” expressed Cleveland coach Eric Phillips, who, once his team had enough points that Bradley couldn’t come back, forfeited the final three weight classes.
Having been the state runner-up to the Bears in 2009 and 2010, plus missing last year’s state duals after dropping a one-point decision to Bradley in last year’s region semifinal, the Raiders are looking forward to making the trip to Franklin.
“Just getting out of our region is as tough as wrestling in the state,” commented Phillips. “Bradley has been a great championship team for many years. With them and Soddy (which was the state runner-up last year) in the same region as us, you won’t find any tougher competition anywhere in the state.”
“The last time we met (Jan. 12) everything went our way,” the Raiders coach said in reference to his team’s 51-11 victory. “Tonight it went liked we hoped for. I wasn’t surprised with the way things went. They (Bradley) are champions and we knew it would be a tough match.”
Although ranked fourth in the state at 138 pounds, Brandon Strickland stepped up to 145 and opened the match with a hard-fought 9-5 decision over Robbie Clark to give Cleveland the first points of the night.
Bradley responded with back-to-back pins from team captains Tyler Schuch, ranked fourth at 152, and No. 3-ranked Jacob Bailey.
After missing a couple of weeks with a torn rotator cuff injury, Schuch jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first period before putting his opponent’s shoulders to the mat at the 3:36 mark.
Bailey followed with the fastest pin of the night, needing just 51 seconds of the 160-pound match to put the Bears up 12-3.
Cleveland didn’t stay down long, posting four straight wins with a 95-second pin from third-ranked 220-pounder Seth Snyder, a 14-4 major decision by Oleg Stukanov at 182, plus decisions from top-ranked Jesse Jones, who stepped up to 195, and 170-pounder J.C. Bobe.
In the tightest match of the night, defending state heavyweight champ Patrick Benson, currently ranked second in the state polls, had his hands full with fourth-ranked Jordan Hines.
After a scoreless opening period, Hines drew first blood with an escape in the second frame but Benson responded with a hard takedown. The Raider heavyweight was able to escape again to knot the score at 2-all heading into the final two-minute period.
Starting in the down position, Benson earned an escape of his own and then another takedown, before Hines finished the scoring with his third escape to give the match a 5-3 final.
With its lead cut to just four points, Cleveland wrapped up its state berth with three straight wins from a pair of top-ranked and a second-ranked wrestlers.
Freshman Chris DeBien has been atop the state’s 106-pound poll all season and showed why with a 17-0 technical fall over former fourth-ranked Dyer Rose with just 13 seconds left in the match.
In a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2 at 113, top-ranked Austin Stevison earned an 11-3 major decision over second-ranked Dakota Ream.
The state bid was sealed when Austin Oliver, ranked second at 120, was able to get the referee to slap the mat just a second before the end of the opening period in his match with Dakota Bromley, who is receiving votes in one of the state polls.
Despite having two more state-ranked wrestlers ready to take the mat, coach Phillips decided that with the state duals bid in hand, the risk wasn’t worth taking to contest the final three matches.
“You don’t want to hurt your chances at the state by risking an injury in matches that don’t matter,” he rationalized.
“We did a few things we thought would give us a better chance to win, but it didn’t work out for us,” expressed Bear head coach Ben Smith. “We rolled the dice but some of the things we needed to happen, didn’t.”
“Cleveland and Soddy are tremendous teams that will probably meet in the state championship,” he added. “I feel bad for our guys, especially our seniors, but we’ve still got the traditionals to get ready for.”
Now 13-6 on the season, the Bears are heading to Dalton, Ga., for an NCWA duals event and will then prepare for the Region 4-AAA Traditional Region in two weeks on their home floor.
Cleveland takes a 17-4 record into the state duals, while Soddy has lost just two of 26 matches this season.
BLUE RAIDERS 34, BEARS 33
(Match started at 145)
106 — Chris DeBien (C) tech. fall Dyer Rose, 17-0, 5:47; 113 — Austin Stevison (C) major dec. Dakota Ream, 11-3; 120 — Austin Oliver (C) pinned Dakota Bromley, 1:59; 126 — Jericho Crutcher (B) won by forfeit; 132 — Taylor Kazy (BC) won by forfeit; 138 — Caven Rogers (BC) won by forfeit; 145 — Brandon Strickland (C) dec. Robbie Clark, 9-5; 152 — Tyler Schuch (BC) pinned Josh Hamilton, 3:36; 160 — Jacob Bailey (BC) pinned Matthew Herd, :51; 170 — J.C. Bobe (C) dec. Tait Rakestraw, 5-0; 182 — Oleg Stukanov (C) major dec. Austin Roderick, 14-4; 195 — Jesse Jones (C) dec. Devin Carroll, 9-4; 220 — Seth Snyder (C) pinned Zach McFarland, 1:35; 285 — Patrick Benson (BC) dec. Jordan Hines, 5-3.