I'd like to congratulate Oak Glen wrestlers Alex McClung and Jason Jones on reaching the 100-win milestone recently. Both wrestlers will be shooting for individual titles at this weekend's giant OVAC tournament, as they are both ranked in the top two in their weight class (McClung is the number one seed at 275 and Jones is the number two seed at 160). In fact, 11 Golden Bear wrestlers are ranked among the top eight in their respective classes in a tournament that features approximately 35 teams from West Virginia and Ohio.
Speaking of tournaments, I finally got to see my first bracket-style tournament of the year as I went to the Pizza Hut Tournament in Braxton County this past weekend. Plenty of good wrestling was witnessed by all on the final day of the two-day event, including some upsets and close calls.
There was plenty of excitement in the semifinal matches as some of the closer matches included Matt Mitchell of Roane County's 6-3 win over Braxton's James Harris, Bobby Hart of Braxton's 5-4 win over Roane County's Lonnie Nichols, Josh Moyer of Independence's 5-4 win over Roane County's Scott Collins, Scott Farr of Liberty-Raleigh's 5-3 win over Roane County's Robert Welch, and Joe Baxter of Winfield's 5-3 win over Nicholas County's Brett Kuhn. The big match of the semis was Andrew Richards of South Harrison vs. Wirt County's Danny Drennen. The two were tied 5-5 in the third period when Drennen turned Richards for the pin, marking Richards' first defeat of the year.
Ravenswood's Ash Gandee got the finals started off with a technical fall over Calhoun's Chris Morris at 103. At 112, Calhoun's Travis McCartney only had a 2-1 lead over Braxton's Dustin Culverhouse near the end of the first period, when he secured a takedown at the buzzer to go ahead by three and then get the pin in the second period. Wirt's Nathan Miller was leading Roane's Matt Mitchell by an identical 4-1 score when he got the pin with four seconds left to go in the second period.
After the 125-lb championship match, there should have been little doubt as to who would receive the outstanding wrestler award. Coming into the final match, Winfield's Nick Prather (19-3) found himself paired up against undefeated (22-0) Scott Bush of Ravenswood. After wrestling two scoreless periods, Prather went ahead early in the third with an escape, but Bush got a takedown with just 25 seconds left on the clock and it looked like he would keep his flawless record intact. But not one to give up, Prather turned the tables and got a reversal with just two seconds remaining to win the match 3-2.
After three successive pins by Wirt County's formidable trio of Mark Lowe (130), Josh Cross (135), and Mike Miller (140), Calhoun's undefeated Eric McCartney had his hands full with Nicholas County's Jamie Nash at 145. The two wrestled to a 0-0 standstill until McCartney got the go-ahead escape in the third and won the match 1-0, running his record to 26-0. McCartney and Nash didn't exactly have smooth sailing getting to the finals, as both won their semifinal matches over tough opponents. McCartney found himself behind 1-0 to Ravenswood's Jon Dauch going into the third period before coming back to win the match 7-3, and Nash had to go into overtime to defeat South Harrison's Drew Toth 8-7.
There weren't too many surprises at the next three weights as Braxton's Tony Hardway defeated Wirt's Danny Drennen 10-4 at 160, Liberty-Raleigh's Steve Kinley pinned Braxton's Bobby Hart at 171, and Liberty-Raleigh's Addam Lewis defeated Independence's Josh Moyer 13-2. Hardway and Kinley have just one loss on the year and Lewis has just two.
If I'm not mistaken, Liberty-Raleigh's Scott Farr stepped onto the mat for the first time this season at the Braxton County Tournament and went all the way to the championship finals, where he found himself in a close battle with Winfield's Joe Baxter. Aided by two locking-hands points, Baxter had come within one point of Farr (3-2) when Farr got called for a third stalling offense and Baxter chose to remain on bottom. Baxter got the escape with one second left on the clock to take the match into overtime, but it wasn't enough as Farr got the overtime takedown to win the match 5-3.
The night ended with Ravenswood's Luke Salmons running his record to 18-0 with a third period pin of Clay County's Jamie McDonough.
Braxton County wasn't the only tournament I was planning to hit this weekend. My original plans called for attending the Winner's Choice Tournament on Friday and then going to Braxton County on Saturday. However, ice and snow left me stranded in Athens, Ohio until Friday afternoon. As it turns out, though, the Winner's Choice was wrestled in one day after canceling Friday's action. One of the major downsides to a necessary change such as this is that the tournament resulted in several double forfeits in the consolation finals, since several of the wrestlers had met their five-match limit by the time they wrestled through the consolation rounds. That wasn't the only disappointment, however. The Eastern Panhandle teams (Hedgesville, Jefferson, and Martinsburg) were unable to make the trip, which denied fans the opportunity to see some great matchups.
As expected, North Marion wound up with the Winner's Choice team title again, but this year they found themselves battling for top honors not with cross-county rival Fairmont Senior, but with Ripley. Paced by individual champions Nathan Logan (171) and Adam King (215), the Vikings improved on last year's 6th place finish to come within 12.5 points of the first place Huskies. Some other teams that improved upon last year's finishes were Buckhannon-Upshur (up from 6th to 3rd), Williamstown (up from 15th to 6th), and University (up from 18th to 8th).
Perhaps Ripley will now get the respect that is long overdue them. They have a solid overall team with some individuals who are capable of winning it all come February. Buckhannon-Upshur has already proven that they intend to make some noise this year, as they defeated North Marion in a dual recently. University is definitely a program on the rise. Several of their wrestlers competed in the off-season and it's paying off for them. Williamstown has consistently been one of the top AA teams in the state for years, and it appears as if they might be right in the thick of things again. The youth and junior high programs in Williamstown have been thriving over the last few years, and those kids are now reaching high school. Watch out for the Yellowjackets for the next several years!
Wednesday night was a big night for the Fairmont Senior team and for heavyweight wrestler Dave Hearst. After the Polar Bears finished fifth in the Winner's Choice Tournament, the average fan might think that North Marion would have an easy win over their Marion County rival. That was certainly not the case, though, as Hearst assured a win for Fairmont with his pin of Jim Gaines, putting his team over the top, 32-25. Hearst wasn't the only Polar Bear wrestler who had a big night. Nicholas Hedrick (145) tied Andy Wilfong's school record for career victories and moved a little bit closer to Adam Gorby's county record for career victories. Downplaying his own accomplishments, the humble Hedrick said that he is honored simply to be included in the company of wrestlers who have been his role models.
Good rivalries tend to bring out the best in a team. Interestingly enough, three of the state's top AAA rivalries have all come down to the heavyweight match before the match was decided. In December, Parkersburg South's Pat Sleeth won his bout by pin to give South a 42-39 decision over crosstown rival Parkersburg, and just last week Cabell Midland's Byron Wellman won a 3-2 decision to give the Knights a 32-30 win over nemesis Huntington High.
You probably won't see Matt Packard's name in a lot of wrestling headlines, but what this young Parkersburg South wrestler lacks in experience, he certainly made up for with heart last night. In a dual match pitting South against Warren (Ohio), Packard was wrestling in one of two junior varsity matches. His teammate Chris Moles had just stepped off the mat after registering a quick pin, but when Matt's match started, it looked like his story was going to end a different way. Taken to his back within the first ten seconds, Packard spent the remainder of the two-minute period with his shoulders all but flattened. He didn't give up, though, and managed to make it to the end of the first period and later came back to get a pin of his own.
Another good example of a wrestler not giving up was Grafton's Jimmy Riffle, who was behind 14-1 to Roane County's Kevin Whited (in a 135-lb consolation match at the Braxton tournament) when he turned Whited in the third period for the pin. It just goes to show that anything can happen in wrestling.
Well, I made a grave error in my AA weight class report when I forgot to mention Frankfort's Jeremiah Kuykendall at 189. Kuykendall is at least 12-1 on the year, with his only loss coming to Cameron's Brandon Kupfer. Again, I want to apologize to Jeremiah and the Frankfort team and fans for the oversight. A couple of other AA wrestlers who caught my attention at the Braxton County Tournament were Liberty-Raleigh's Joey Dillon at 135 and Grafton's Buddy Barcus at 152. Both wrestlers finished 2nd in their respective weight classes.
The majority of the state's teams will be competing in tournaments this weekend as the Northern Panhandle teams compete in the OVAC tournament, and a large number of high school and junior high teams travel to Huntington for the massive WSAZ Tournament. Calhoun County will be hosting an invitational tournament Saturday at their brand new high school. It looks like the weather is going to be a little more cooperative this weekend, so let's hope the tournaments and matches around the state have record turnouts! Good luck this weekend to all participants.
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Updated January 22, 1999