WV-Mat, Mat Lines ...

West Virginia Mat Lines

by Jenny Sullivan
Here's the line for January 19, 2006:

Home field advantage? More like the home field curse. For the fourth straight year the visitor went home the victor as Parkersburg South edged out Parkersburg High 38-36 in the annual inner-city dual at Parkersburg's Memorial Fieldhouse.

A wrestling fan who is familiar with the rivalry between the two schools might look at the final score and conclude that this match was indeed a barn burner as so many South/PHS duals have been over the past 39 years. However, this year's event didn't include the usual coaching strategies, the twists and turns of unexpected pins, the fire and intensity, or even a sellout crowd.

As I was driving to the match, my stomach was in knots I was so excited - sort of like the feeling I sometimes get right before the state wrestling tournament finals. But when I looked around the fieldhouse at the start of the junior varsity matches, I noticed that the crowd was a little sparse. Well, at least sparse compared to the crowd that usually attends each year. I was hoping that as time went on, more people might start pouring in.

Three junior varsity matches and about a half-hour of warm-ups went by before it was actually time to start the match. After a beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by Parkersburg's Mackenzie Florence, fans were eager to see what the next couple of hours would bring.

The lone strategic move of the night came in the very first match. The match started with the 160-pound weight class, where the Patriots' Nathan Hall was to face Big Red Brent Sams. But much to the delight of the South fans and the dismay of the Big Red fans, High School All-American Chad Porter took to the mat in place of Hall. His fans went nuts as soon as his took Sams to his back, and when he registered the first pin of the night in 43 seconds, the South fans began celebrating.

But everyone in attendance knew that celebration would be short-lived, as Parkersburg's heavyweights (including state champions Andy Thomas and Joey Lindamood) would be facing off with the less experienced heavyweights from South. The next four matches appeared to be a contest among the Big Reds to see who could record the fastest pin of a Patriot.

Sophomore Andy Thomas had been rumored to start at 160, but instead stayed at 171, where he's been all year. He met up with another sophomore, South's Ryan Stoops, who interestingly enough is the grandson of two-time (1959-60) Parkersburg High State Champion Roger Stoops. Thomas quickly put the Big Reds back in business by taking his opponent to the mat. Once Stoops was on his back, that old familiar sound of the bass drum began, and the Big Red student section resembled a throng of Atlanta Braves fans as they began their tomahawk chop motion.

The drumming and chopping didn't have to go on for very long in the next match, because the wrestlers were on the mat a little over 30 seconds, as Parkersburg's Matt Lindamood registered a 32-second pin over counterpart Gene Beatty.

Big brother Joey Lindamood followed suit with a 47-second pin of his own against South's Josh Cale. The freshman Cale countered the first shot from the senior defending state champion, but Lindamood made good on the second shot and finished the job to put the Big Reds on top 18-6.

Last weekend, South's Josh Spaur had a tough introduction to the world of high school wrestling as he faced some horses at the Virginia Duals. And the fourth match of his career didn't get any easier as he fell victim to Parkersburg's Zach Nolan in yet another quick Big Red pin that had fans looking at their watches to see how early they might get home.

It appeared as though the Big Reds were in the driver's seat with a commanding 24-6 lead heading into the lightweight matches, but the Patriots weren't about to give up. South freshman Tyler Buck was wrestling at 103, the spot normally occupied by state runner-up Corey Matheny. Buck's experience wrestling junior varsity all year paid off as he pinned fellow freshman Ronnie Miller, who had made his debut as a Big Red just last weekend.

After a forfeit win for South's Nic Busch at 112, the score was a little closer, with the Big Reds still sporting a 24-18 lead. That set the stage for the first of three key matches.

Defending state champion Brandon Wilson squared off with state runner-up Hueston Kellar from South. Wilson actually took Kellar to his back for a moment, but Kellar rolled out for a 5-point move that was good enough to take him through the first period. The first period must have taken a lot out of the wrestlers, because they slowed it down in the second and got hit with a double stall after Wilson had scored an escape and takedown. Kellar went ahead 7-3 in the third with a reversal. Wilson escaped and took a shot on a leg, which Kellar countered, taking Wilson to his back. The South crowd voiced their displeasure when Kellar had to settle for a nearfall instead of a pin. The match ended with Wilson scoring a reversal with about 30 seconds left and grabbing a penalty point for another stalling call against Kellar, making the final score 12-7 in favor of Kellar.

Promising South freshman Andy Church tied the match when he won 10-5 over state runner-up Tommy Little, whom I didn't even recognize I was still so nervous (sorry Tommy!). Church got the first takedown, but Little was trying hard to escape. He finally managed the escape when Church tried for some back points. Just as it appeared the first period would end 2-1, Church got a takedown right at the buzzer, much to the dismay of the Big Red cheering section. A quick second-period reversal by Church made it 6-1, and after Little got an escape, the two danced around the mat for the remaining half of the period. Church chose to let Little up to start the third, and then capitalized on a missed shot to make the score 8-3. He then began to try to build a more sizeable lead by cutting, taking down, and cutting again, but time ran out before he could build up enough points for the major decision.

At 130, it appeared as though the Southsiders would continue their winning ways as Travis Townsend got the South crowd roaring when he picked up Brian Leggett and sat him down for a takedown. Townsend took Leggett to his back with an attempted cradle, but Leggett rolled out for a reversal and three-point nearfall to end the first ahead 5-2. After choosing bottom, Leggett promptly got a reversal and took Townsend to his back to secure the pin 36 seconds into the second period.

Senior 135-pounder Zac McCray racked up nine takedowns en route to his 18-8 major decision over the Big Reds' Kyle McPeek which was good enough to give South four points, making the score 30-28.

And then it was time to "Git-R-Dunn". I was sitting by the announcer and told him that quite possibly whatever team came away with the 140-pound match victory would probably win the whole dual. South senior Matt Dunn faced Big Red Scott Stilgenbauer in what appeared to be one of the most evenly matched pairings of the night. The two battled to a scoreless first period. The second period choice belonged to Parkersburg, and as any smart wrestler would do, Stilgenbauer did not defer, but elected rather to take the bottom position, hoping for an escape and the first match points should he need them later in an overtime situation. But Dunn had other plans, quickly turning his opponent on his back for a three-point nearfall, and then once again for three more. Stilgenbauer managed a reversal with 15 seconds left in the period to make the score 6-2. Dunn chose bottom in the third, got a reversal, took Stilgenbauer to his back, and gave his fans what they wanted when he got the slap of the Official Steve Stoffel's hand with less than one minute left in the match.

Dunn's pin took some pressure off teammate Aaron Kelley, but it still didn't keep Kelley from going about his business and recording a 9-1 major decision to secure the victory for his team. The win was Kelley's 100th of his career, and he now joins Chad Porter as the only two South wrestlers to ever reach the 100-win mark.

I've been fortunate enough to see both Kelley and Porter wrestle every match so far this year, and I've seen them wrestle quite a few other matches over the years. I've seen many triumphs and some heartbreaks, and I can honestly say that these two young men have always handled themselves with grace and dignity in both victory and defeat. Both seniors are having fantastic seasons, and I wish them the best of luck at this weekend's Final Four of High School Wrestling in Easton, Pennsylvania. Hopefully Porter can improve on his national ranking, and Kelley can get the national recognition he deserves.

The final match of the night belonged to the Big Reds as 152-pounder Ryan Ewing, fresh off an impressive runner-up finish at the Winners Choice Tournament, pinned South's Nathan Hall early in the second period. Hall actually surprised the fans when he scored the first takedown of the match, but he couldn't hold Ewing down. Ewing reversed and nearly registered the pin in the first, but Hall fought hard and finally got off his back with just 15 seconds left in the first. But Ewing chose up in the second, and quickly set up and locked in on a cradle to put Hall away just 20 seconds into the second.

Even though this wasn't the most exciting dual between the two arch rivals, it's always great to go to the match because it's a homecoming of sorts. A lot of times coaches, wrestlers, and fans from across the state can be spotted at the match. And there are always numerous former wrestlers from both schools in attendance. Several of the WVMat "club" members were there, and it's evident that the bitter rivalry between the two schools is forgotten when these folks are standing talking to each other, because although they may not support the same school, they love wrestling and they genuinely love to watch and support the kids.

And I was so excited that my sister Melissa Burton and her husband Frank were there with Frank's brother Joe, a former assistant coach at Wirt County. (Sorry, Missy, for chastising you about the color of the shirt you had on!) Frank and Missy had left their kids at home with our mom to watch the match on the local cable station. Missy called me later in the evening to tell me that after watching the entire match on TV, my 8-year-old nephew Lane might have finally caught the wrestling "bug". I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

As I reflected on the overall results of the match, I realized that with the graduation of Andy Thomas and Matt Lindamood in a couple of years, the city of Parkersburg will come to the end of an era. I remember seeing pictures all over the paper from the early 1990's of these little guys named Rader, Litton, Lindamood, Grogg, Kelley, Porter, and Norman (just to name a few) who traveled all over the country wrestling the best so they could be the best. These kids benefited from the dedication of people like Mike Litton and Dean Moore (and all of their loyal assistant coaches and parents) who spent a lot of time, money, and energy on these kids because they dearly love the sport of wrestling.

I know I speak for many fans not only from Wood County but from across the state when I say thanks to those coaches and parents who sacrificed so much so these kids could be such great wrestlers. They've been a pleasure to watch. And a special thank you to those of you who are carrying on the tradition with the junior clubs, the junior high schools, and the Wood County Recreation League. People like you have no idea how enjoyable you make it for many folks just like me who've never even had a child wrestle. The dedication to this sport is second to none, and it is appreciated by many.

And that, my friends, is what makes wrestling in Wood County so special.

Contact Jenny Sullivan at sullivj2@ohio.edu

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