CLEVELAND, Tenn. – The Al Miller Cleveland Duals has become one of the most competitive wrestling duals tournament in the Southeast in recent years and that tradition continued on Saturday at Cleveland High School’s Raider Arena.
So it’s probably really appropriate that the two best high school teams in the state of Tennessee squared off in the championship finals.
The host Cleveland Blue Raiders were ranked first in this week’s state poll and they lived up to that ranking by rolling through their pool and advancing to the finals with another impressive win over Father Ryan, this time by a 51-12 difference after winning by a wider margin on Friday night.
The Baylor Red Raiders were ranked second, but had looked impressive at a tournament in Tullahoma last weekend before putting a pretty good whipping on the Bradley Bears this past Thursday.
The Red Raiders breezed through their pool like Cleveland and had very little problem beating arch-rival McCallie, Baylor recording eight pins in 10 wins en route to a 54-23 victory over the Blue Tornado.
The championship match between Baylor and Cleveland was a dandy, well worth the price of admission and probably more.
Baylor remained unbeaten with the 33-32 victory in a match where the outcome wasn’t determined until the last weight class, ending Cleveland’s run of two straight championships in this event.
Freshman Garrison Dendy posted a 3-1 decision over Garrett Stevenson and that was the difference as Baylor overcame a 33-18 deficit to win the last four matches and the first-place award for the tournament.
Perhaps the best individual battle took place at 113 pounds where Baylor’s Jackson Bond posted a tense 11-10 win over Cleveland’s Jackson Bradford.
It was a classic where the verdict might have gone either way, but Bond used a reversal and a three-point near-fall in the final period to provide the margin of victory. Unfortunately, both wrestlers were charged with unsportsmanlike conduct at the end and a team point was deducted from both teams.
Trae Bates had a first-period pin at 120 to get Baylor within 32-26 whihle Noah Hurst posted a 10-1 major decision at 126 to make it even closer and setting the stage for one of the biggest wins in Dendy’s young career.
“I had to clinch the win for us, but the key was staying in good position and not over-wrestling,” the 15-year-old freshman explained later.
That match was scoreless after the opening two minutes while Dendy got the upper hand when Stevenson was penalized for stalling in the second period. Dendy was in the down position to start the third and made it 3-0 with a reversal midway through before Stevenson escaped at the end for his only point.
Baylor coach Ben Nelson is normally a really laidback individual who rarely shows emotion after a big match. That wasn’t the case on Saturday as he was giving high fives and hugs to anyone within reach. It was obvious just how happy he was with the final result.
“That was a great match between two really good teams and we’re really fortunate to come out on top,” he said after his team had improved to 10-0 for the young season.
“These guys have been really motivated to work hard so far and they want to be successful as a team. They’re really coachable and are buying into what we’re trying to teach. They seem to get better every day.
“Cleveland has an outstanding team and I’m so proud we could beat them tonight,” Nelson nodded.
Cleveland coach Joey Knox is another one who is basically ho-hum when it comes to showing emotion after a match. He had no complaints about the effort of his team after losing for the first time after eight straight wins.
“We just have to be ready to wrestle every time we step on the mat. I feel like we were tonight. We lost those last two matches to really good kids, but we fought hard the entire way. There are times when calls just don’t go your way, but that’s just the sport of wrestling.
“I thought Baylor had a good strategy of how to shave some points and they did a better job of that than me, but I was counting points the whole time. I thought we showed a lot of heart and wrestled great for the most part, but we weren’t able to come out ahead tonight,” he nodded.
Logan Whiteside and Cael Laxton had pins in two of the first three matches while Austin Sweeney had a decision in the fourth for a 15-3 Cleveland lead.
Baylor regained the lead with back-to-back pins from Mason Reiniche and Connor Duffy before David Harper’s 10-4 decision at 195 put the Red Raiders ahead, 18-15.
Cleveland responded with pins from Wilson Benefield and Titus Swafford and a forfeit to Trae McDaniel for the Blue Raiders’ biggest lead, setting the stage for Baylor’s final rally.
Andrew Pace was Baylor’s other winner as he pulled out an 8-4 decision at 145 for his team’s first win.
Baylor’s Reiniche was voted the Outstanding Wrestler by the officials after winning all five of his matches by pin on Saturday. He’s 10-0 for the season with all pins and he’s also a defending state champ.
He was state runner-up as an eighth grader and again as a sophomore while winning as a freshman and again last year as a junior. He’s already committed to wrestle at Cornell next fall.
Both teams return to action next Friday with Baylor being one of the favorites in the Bradley Invitational and Cleveland being one of the teams to beat at the McCallie Invitational.
While Baylor beat Cleveland for first place, Father Ryan bounced back to beat McCallie by a 42-26 final in the match for third place.
The Purple Irish, the defending D-II state champs, are now 11-2 with both losses to Cleveland this weekend.
Cleveland beat teams from Gilmer Co., Mountain View and Bartlett to win its pool while Baylor topped Arlington, Heritage and Cass to win its pool. Father Ryan defeated teams from Pope, Vestavia Hills and Carrolton while McCallie had pool wins over Summit, Bradley and North Gwinnett.
BAYLOR 33, CLEVELAND 32
(Match began at 138 Pounds)
106 – Trae McDaniel (Clev) won by forfeit;
113 – Jackson Bond (Bay) dec. Jackson Bradford, 11-10;
120 – Trae Bates (Bay) pinned Blake Randall, 1:07;
126 – Noah Hurst (Bay) major dec. Burns Meagher, 10-1;
132 – Garrison Dendy (Bay) dec. Garrett Stevenson, 3-1;
138 – Logan Whiteside (Clev) pinned Clayton Pettway, 1:50;
145 – Andrew Pace (Bay) dec. Grant Lundy, 8-4;
152 – Cael Laxton (Clev) pinned William Collins, 1:33;
160 – Austin Sweeney (Clev) dec. Barrett Chambers, 9-2;
170 – Mason Reiniche (Bay) pinned Zach Brezna, 1:30;
182 – Connor Duffy (Bay) pinned Dylan Jones, 2:57;
195 – David Harper (Bay) dec. Isaiah Perez, 10-4;
220 – Wilson Benefield (Clev) pinned Alex Robinson, 5:36;
285 – Titus Swafford (Clev) pinned Matthew Smith, :53.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)