CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- The Cleveland Blue Raiders are the top-ranked public school wrestling team in the state of Tennessee and they are also the defending state champions for the Duals and Traditional tournaments, but they really didn't look like it here at Bradley's Jim Smiddy Arena Thursday night.
Maybe the host Bears had a little something to do with that.
Whatever the case, Cleveland got three pins and a forfeit and added four regular decisions and a major decision to hold off the Bears by a 40-22 final in a match where Cleveland never trailed.
A forfeit to Ethan West at 195, an 8-3 decision by Koran Kennedy at 220 and a third-period pin by John Gaither at 285 allowed Cleveland to take a 15-0 lead before Bradley won the next three with major decisions by Ryan McElhaney and Knox Fuller sandwiched around a regular decision by Toribio Navarro as the Bears got to within 15-11.
The Blue Raiders then won four more in a row, highlighted by a second-period pin by Chris Debien, as the difference stretched to 31-11, but it wasn't until Aaron Oliver posted an 8-2 decision at 160 that Cleveland sealed the win with two matches remaining.
Josh Hamilton got Cleveland's third pin in 3:39 at 170 to make it 40-17 before Brett Brown's second-period technical fall trimmed the final deficit to 18 points.
Cleveland coach Jake Yost didn't seem the least bit concerned about what several observers called a ho-hum performance.
"We stepped up big in a couple of key situations, like John Gaither at 285. And I was really happy with the way Tristan Blansit fought at 113. He lost the match, but the last time they wrestled, he got pinned," Yost said with an optimistic tone.
"We still have some areas where we need to improve. I know that we're not firing on all cylinders right now, but we gave these kids some time off during the holidays and it's still early January. This is just a gauge of where we are and we had a good chance to see what Bradley has to offer.
"This is still a big rivarly match and can be a tough atmosphere to compete, but I thought we wrestled tough for the most part. I'm sure we'll be better by the end of the season," Yost nodded.
This is the second match of the week where Bradley went toe-to-toe with a tough opponent only to come up short. Just two days ago, the Bears had an early lead against top-ranked Baylor before losing at the end.
Bradley coach Ben Smith will never get used to losing. Thursday's loss was the third straight year where Cleveland has won this match. The Bears went through a down period during that time, but Bradley appears to be on the way back.
Thursday's loss was Bradley's third in 19 matches.
"We felt like this was a winnable match for us, but right now Cleveland is the better team," Smith said matter of factly.
"We lost four close ones and two swing matches that could have gone either way. We didn't get the bonus points that Cleveland got, but I'm proud of our effort. They beat us 63-9 last year and tonight they didn't hang one on us like they thought they might.
"It's amazing just how quickly people forget that we dominated this rivalry for 19 years where we didn't lose a dual meet or a tournament to them during that time. But we have five freshmen and two sophomores in our lineup and we're getting better all the time," Smith concluded.
Cleveland's other winners included Ezra Taylor, who scored a takedown with three seconds remaining to post an 11-2 major decision at 138. Austin Stevison and William Haas had regular decisions at 132 and 145, respectively.
Bradley's other win came from Colter McConnell at 152 with the Bears only pin of the match.
Cleveland, now 20-3 overall, will be in Middle Tennessee this weekend for the G.P. West Invitational at Brentwood High School while Bradley will be heading to East Tennessee for the annual Fandetti Brawl.
CLEVELAND 40, BRADLEY 22
(Match started at 195 Pounds)
106 -- Ryan McElhaney (Brad) major dec. Colton Landers, 8-0;
113 -- Toribio Navarro (Brad) dec. Tristan Blansit, 3-1;
120 -- Knox Fuller (Brad) major dec. Taylor Bishop, 13-2;
126 -- Chris Debien (Clev) pinned Hunter Parker, 2:48;
132 -- Austin Stevison (Clev) dec. Taylor Kazy, 6-3;
138 -- Ezra Taylor (Clev) major dec. Stephen Scott, 11-2;
145 -- William Haas (Clev) dec. Caleb Adkins, 7-6;
152 -- Colter McConnell (Brad) pinned Jonathan Martin, 3:17;
160 -- Aaron Oliver (Clev) dec. Greg Wilson, 8-2;
170 -- Josh Hamilton (Clev) pinned Nathan Adams, 3:39;
182 -- Brett Brown (Brad) won by technical fall over Seth Garcia, 2:20;
195 -- Ethan West (Clev) won by forfeit;
220 -- Koran Kennedy (Clev) dec. Zach McFarland, 8-3;
285 -- John Gaither (Clev) pinned J.J. Johnson, 4:37.
(email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)