By JOE CANNON
Racing out of the gate to win nine of the first 10 matches, Cleveland High made its case as the top team in the state before Thursday’s near-capacity crowd at Jim Smiddy Arena.“The focus we had …
Racing out of the gate to win nine of the first 10 matches, Cleveland High made its case as the top team in the state before Thursday’s near-capacity crowd at Jim Smiddy Arena.
“The focus we had here tonight, in front of this big crowd (some 1,800-2,000 fans), that’s the type of focus we have to take to the state tournament,” proclaimed first-year Blue Raider head coach Joey Knox after the 44-9 victory over two-time defending double state champion Bradley Central.
“We start the preseason off talking about what are we going to do against Bradley. This is our biggest match so far this year and to come out and get a win like this in their gym is sweet.”
Now 24-1 on the season and ranked No. 1 in both state polls, the Raiders will host Walker Valley for the District 7 championship next Thursday.
After winning just three matches, the third-ranked Bears don’t have any time to lick their wounds as they head to Johnson City today for a big weekend.
“We’ve got second-ranked Science Hill, plus Potomac Senior, out of Virginia (tonight in the Moffatt Duals), and then the Fandetti Brawl Saturday,” related Bradley head coach Ben Smith.
“I felt like we wrestled like a team that didn’t believe they could win,” he said after the loss to their archrivals slipped his squad to 14-6 in dual meets this season.
“We wrestled like a team that didn’t believe in themselves and our training.
“I’m not upset or disappointed in my team, but they’ve got to learn how to win,” he assessed.
Cleveland jumped out quickly with four straight victories, including a 31-second pin from second-ranked heavyweight Titus Swafford.
“(Wilson) Benefield wrestled his best match of the year and started us out with a big upset win at 220 over a guy (Kevin Gentry) who was state ranked (earlier in the year),” praised Coach Knox of the 3-1 decision.
“Then Swafford gave us the quick pin and (second-ranked) Trey McDaniel got us a major (decision, 17-5) at 103.”
The Raider mentor stated the “match of the night” followed at 113, where a pair of state-ranked grapplers battled it out.
Trailing 7-0 and starting the third period in the down position, No. 6 Jackson Bradford was able to literally flip the script on second-ranked Wesley DeVaney, getting a reversal with 95 ticks on the clock before putting him on his back and hearing referee Don Elsea to slap the mat at the 5:12 mark.
“That was big from a freshman, who hadn’t been in this kind of atmosphere before,” proclaimed Coach Knox.
“He wasn’t intimidated. He didn’t let it bother him, even though he was behind, he just kept believing and buying in.”
Trailing 19-0, the host Bears finally got on the scoreboard when Daniel Mroz got a 9-2 decision at 120, but then the Raiders rolled off five more straight wins.
Cleveland got an 11-3 major decision from second-ranked Bryce Pond at 126 before No. 6-rated Jayce Mullin “stuck” his 132-pound opponent in 103 seconds.
The Raiders then recorded three decisions in a row.
Fifth-ranked Logan Whiteside edged Ian Marchese 6-5 with a takedown in the final 25 ticks at 145.
No. 4-rated Cody Mathews claimed a 7-2 win at 145.
Stepping in for fifth-ranked Austin Sweeney, Cael Laxton also notched a takedown with 25 seconds remaining to squeak out a 6-4 decision over Skyler Bradley at 152 and push the Raider lead to 38-3.
The Bears picked up back-to-back decisions at 160 and 170 as Seth Gerena pitched 5-0 shutout before Henley Headrick upset fifth-ranked Dylan Jones, 12-5.
Cleveland answered with its final pin of the evening as third-ranked Jack Hicks put his opponent’s shoulder to the mat at the 2:32 mark at 182.
After things got a little too heated a minute into the 195-pound match, the coaches agreed to a double forfeit to end the meet.
“I told my coaches at (1)70 and (1)95 if there’s any show of emotion, we were going to shut it down,” explained Coach Smith.
“We’re too close to the region duals. I can’t afford to lose anybody for a couple of matches (due to a suspension). If we are going to make a run, I’ve got to have everybody I’ve got to get to the state tournament.
“There’s no hype to Cleveland. We know they are good. Wrestling them make us better.
“This ain’t my first butt whippin’ from them,” the Bear coach confessed. “Look on the (city/county) trophy, they ripped up 63-9 a few years ago. A couple of the teams when I first took over were some nasty ones (scores) as well.”
Coach Knox was very pleased with his first go-around as the head man in the heated rivalry.
“It was a great night everywhere, all through our lineup. We had a couple of starters out due to minor injuries, but they’ll be back before region.
“Each guy came out tonight and worked their strategy and it really paid off. Top to bottom, our guys went out there and wrestled with heart.”
Bradley will make the tough trip to Soddy-Daisy next Thursday for the District 8 title match.
“That’s a big match because the winner doesn’t have to face Cleveland in the Region Duals semifinal, with a state tournament berth on the line.
“I think we match up well with Soddy, but we’ve got to go into it with a positive attitude and a better effort than we had tonight.”
Blue Raiders (C) 44, Bears (BC) 9
Match started at 220
106: Trey McDaniel (C) major dec. Glen O`Daniel, 17-5. 113: Jackson Bradford (C) pinned Wesley Devaney, 5:12. 120: Daniel Mroz (BC) dec. Burns Meagher, 9-2. 126: Bryce Pond (C) major dec. Gaven Hughes, 11-3. 132: Jayce Mullin (C) pinned Alex Dees, 1:43. 138: Logan Whiteside (C) dec. Ian Marchese, 6-5. 145: Cody Mathews (C) dec. Andy Robinson, 7-2. 152: Cael Laxton (C) dec. Skyler Bradley, 6-4. 160: Seth Gerena (BC) dec. Seth Eachus, 5-0. 170: Henley Headrick (BC) dec. Dylan Jones, 12-5. 182: Jack Hicks (C) pinned Trey Johnson, 2:32. 195: Double forfeit. 220: Wilson Benefield (C) dec. Kevin Gentry, 3-1. 285: Titus Swafford (C) pinned Gavin Sewell, :31.
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