The opening match of the 1998-99 wrestling season for Cabell Midland and Parkersburg South was filled with mixed emotions for both teams. The Patriots and their fans were "up" after the match, despite losing 42-30 to the 1998 state runner-up Knights. South's loss almost went unnoticed by fans who were still jubilant after watching two of their wrestlers score upsets, one of which may turn out to be the biggest upset of the year. Mike Bosley and Josh Dearth of South got the Rod Oldham Memorial Fieldhouse rocking by defeating Jared Walters (1998 runner-up at 125) and Jason Ward (two-time defending state champion), respectively. Understandably, the two upsets made the victory a bittersweet one for Cabell Midland.
Midland got a quick jump on the match when Justin Stanley got a forfeit at 103, but J. J. Schmitt quickly got South on the scoreboard with his second-period pin of Jeff Snell. Snell didn't give up easily, fighting off a pin for over a minute in the first period.
South's youthfulness showed in the next two matches as sophomores John Duncan (119) and Casey Daggett (125) fell in their debuts as South wrestlers. However, neither wrestler should be ashamed as both lost to outstanding opponents. Duncan was pinned in the second period by Midland junior J. P. Stanley, who placed third last year at 112 and may be an early favorite to take home the top prize this year. Daggett was wrestling an exciting match with David LeMaster when the Knight senior scored a reversal with 28 seconds left in the match, taking a 6-4 decision. LeMaster was one of the top wrestlers in his weight class last year before an injury caused him to miss the last part of the season.
Even though South's lightweight trio of sophomores went 1 for 3, mark my word - you haven't heard the last from Schmitt, Duncan, and Daggett.
At 130, South's Clint Radcliff got the opening takedown, but seemed to lose some momentum as the match was delayed several times due to Todd Arbes' nosebleed. The score was tied 2-2 going into the third period, but Arbes pulled ahead for the 7-4 decision.
Up to this point, the teams had been wrestling well and had provided some excitement, but the home crowd got their money's worth when South junior Mike Bosley met up with Midland junior Jared Walters. The two had split a pair of matches in the 1998 season but didn't face each other at the state tournament, so fans were anticipating the third matchup. Walters got the opening takedown, but when Bosley scored an escape, the South crowd came alive. Bosley was in control at the beginning of the second period and did a great job of staying with Walters, who was fighting hard for the reversal. At one point both wrestlers were shoulder to shoulder with their backs to the mat, rocking back and forth, but Bosley still maintained control throughout the scoreless second period. Bosley scored a reversal in the final period, but Walters answered with a reversal of his own with less than a minute to go in the match. When it was beginning to look like Bosley would lose a hard-fought battle, he scored a reversal with 12 seconds left, winning the match by a 5-4 decision. Naturally, the South crowd was ecstatic, thinking this would be the biggest win of the night for the Patriots. Little did they know what was about to happen four matches later.
Once again, experience prevailed as Phillip Devaney (140) and Brian Tatum (145) didn't let Walters' loss affect them. Neither wrestler gave up a point in registering pins in their respective matches against their Patriot opponents (sophomore Kenny Parrish at 140 and first-year wrestler Josh VanMatre at 145).
Ty Emrick lived up to the South fans' high expectations as he pinned Scott Kyle with 3.8 seconds left in the first period. Emrick is wrestling at 152 for the third year in a row, finishing fourth in 1997 and third in 1998, so he should be one of the favorites to claim the 152-lb title in 1999.
South senior 160-pounder Josh Dearth had spent the day thinking about his match with Jason Ward, feeling confident that he would wrestle well against Ward. That confidence paid off as Dearth pulled off what may be the biggest upset of Ward's high school career. For those of you who are new to West Virginia wrestling, Jason Ward has become a household name over the past four years in the Mountain State. Ward was a state champion as a freshman and junior, and a runner-up as a sophomore (losing to another South wrestler, eventual three-time state champion Jason Johnson). He came into the match as the state's premier wrestler, having already signed a contract to wrestle for West Virginia University and bringing a career record of 112-7 along with him.
The match started with Ward going ahead 2-0 with the first takedown, but then Dearth got the South crowd totally fired up when he went ahead 3-2 with an escape and takedown. Ward answered with a reversal, but then was penalized for locking hands, which tied the score at 4-4. Ward, who didn't appear to be in top condition, was warned twice for stalling in the scoreless second period. Dearth started the third period on the bottom, and then with just over a minute to go in the match, got an escape and turned Ward on his back, getting the pin at the 1:02 mark. Judging by the celebration on South's side of the fieldhouse, one would have thought Dearth had just won a state title himself.
Before I go any further, I just want to clarify that by saying Bosley's and Dearth's wins were upsets, I by no means am trying to take anything away from them. Both guys wrestled fine matches and their wins were well-deserved. They did in fact defeat higher-ranked wrestlers, which as everyone knows, is the definition of an upset, so that's why I'm referring to the wins as such.
After Dearth's victory at 160, it would seem that the momentum would have carried over into the 171-lb match, but that wasn't the case. In a match that didn't live up to my expectations, Todd Daggett merely defeated David Dille by a 4-0 decision. Daggett, a third-place finisher as a sophomore and state qualifier as a junior, got warned for stalling and then turned it on just a little too late, going for the pin late in the third period, only to run out of time.
At 189, Midland's Glen Bowen fought off some pin attempts by Wes Pickens before Pickens finally got the mat-slap with 19.5 seconds left in the first period. Pickens finished sixth for the Patriots last year at 189.
Midland junior Josh Coffey is looking to improve on last year's fifth-place finish in the 215-lb class, as he opened the season at the same weight with a second period pin of junior Chris Moles. Moles had tied the score before falling victim to the pin.
As was the case last year, the meet came down to the final match, although at this point South could only tie with Cabell Midland at best. Onto the mat stepped Midland football player and sophomore Byron Wellman. Wellman is weighing in at the upper end of the heavyweight class and had both a height and weight advantage on fellow sophomore Justin Sleeth. That was pretty much all Wellman needed, as he turned Sleeth on his back for the pin at 1:16.
As is usually the case at the beginning of the year, both Coach Sparks of Cabell Midland and Coach McCartney of South found room for improvement. Both teams are anticipating changes in the lineup that will be a big help come February. Both teams also are loaded with talented underclassmen, so the future looks bright for the Patriots and the Knights.
When I saw the lineup, I knew that whichever team won the majority of the matches between 119 and 140 would win the match. Midland won four of those five matches, with two of them coming by pin.
I didn't get to take a good look around, but I did notice that the match attracted wrestlers, fans, coaches, and parents from other schools, including Parkersburg, Huntington, Nitro, and Williamstown. Even Mexicano was there to cheer his brother on. I was disappointed that there weren't more Midland fans there. A team of their caliber deserves more support.
Cabell Midland and Parkersburg South will not face each other again until the state tournament. South is pulling out of the MSAC after this year and has scheduled a match at home that weekend with Christiansburg, Virginia and Marietta, Ohio. Rumor has it that the MSAC will be wrestled in a traditional tournament-style format this year. It would have been interesting to see these two teams battle it out in a tournament setting. Oh well, I guess we'll have to wait until February.
After watching this match, I am eagerly anticipating seeing what the rest of the state has to offer, both in the AAA and AA/A divisions. Best of luck to the teams who begin their seasons this weekend. Be sure to report those results!
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Updated December 4, 1998