FRANKLIN, Tenn. – There are six teams from the Chattanooga area competing at the State Duals wrestling tournament here at the spacious Williamson County Agricultural Exposition Center and the news was positive for half and not so positive for the other half.
Perhaps the biggest and brightest news of the day involved the Signal Mountain Eagles, who won two matches in their first appearance ever at the Duals and will battle for a state title Saturday night.
Cleveland, the AAA runner-up from last year, advanced to the semifinals with two good wins on Friday while Baylor did the same in Division II.
McCallie won its first match against Brentwood Academy before dropping a tough 37-30 verdict to second-ranked Christian Brothers. Baylor advanced with a 56-12 win over Memphis University School before sending defending D-II champ Father Ryan to the loser’s bracket in a resounding 63-9 romp.
Cleveland put a 65-3 whipping on Centennial in its first match of the day before getting past Wilson Central by a 37-29 in the quarterfinal. The Blue Raiders face Arlington in Saturday’s AAA semifinal at 1.
The news wasn’t so good for Soddy Daisy and Hixson as both lost their opening matches, the Trojans getting beat 36-30 by Brentwood and Hixson getting knocked off by Gibbs, 40-27.
It’s been quite a ride for coach Joe Jellison and his group of Signal Mountain Eagles, who advanced to this tournament with a resounding win at Red Bank last Friday night.
Now 16-4 for the season and a win away from its first state duals title, Jellison was happier than a little kid on Christmas morning after his kids. But he knew that this was going to be a special day for his kids after they led from the beginning and knocked off Greeneville, the Class A-AA defending duals runner-up, in the first match of the day.
“I’m obviously excited, but it’s all about the kids and a testament to how hard they’ve worked to get to this point,” Jellison said shortly after the final match ended.
“I told our kids we had to win big and lose small, meaning we had to win with pins and bonus points while giving up the bare minimum in matches we lost. Bonus points were critical, but I think the turning point came at 220 when Mason Hilke came back and got a pin after trailing 7-1. That was huge.
“We won big where we needed to, but this freshman class is something special. They all got valuable experience last year, but they’ve really bought into what we’re teaching. We’re just trying to peak at the right time, but I’m really proud of the effort they put out tonight. They have a killer instinct that’s really special,” Jellison added.
Cleveland’s Blue Raiders were second to Bradley a year ago, but are hoping to get back to championship form after winning three in a row from 2013-15.
The opening match against Centennial was barely more than a good warmup before facing Wilson Central. Both teams won seven matches in that second one, but the Blue Raiders got five pins to just three for the Wildcats to advance.
Bryce Pond (120), Austin Sweeney (152), Zach Brezna (160), Dylan Jones (170) and Jack Hicks (195) all had pins to help Cleveland to improve to 32-1 for the season.
First-year coach Joey Knox might have been tense in the second match, but he didn’t look it. He did have a relieved look on his face when Trae McDaniel’s 7-1 decision at 106 locked up the win for the Blue Raiders in the next-to-last match.
“I thought our guys did a good job as we battled today,” Knox began.
“We still have some big matches tomorrow, but we knew this one would be much tougher than the first one. It came down to our freshman at 106, but he’s one of those guys we can count on.
“We got beat by Bradley in the finals last year and we don’t want to have that same taste in our mouths this year. We have to come back just as strong tomorrow,” Knox added.
The Baylor team won their biggest match last Friday when they knocked off second-ranked McCallie. That loss put the Blue Tornado in the same side of the bracket as Christian Brothers.
While McCallie was losing a tough one to the Purple Wave after beating them in the Cleveland Duals, Baylor was cakewalking past MUS and defending champ Father Ryan to the finals, where they will face Christian Brothers for the second time after losing to them at the Cleveland Duals.
“That wasn’t too bad,” Baylor coach Ben Nelson smiled after his team put a 63-9 whipping on the Purple Irish in the semifinal match.
“Father Ryan ended our dual season the last two years and our guys were looking for a little revenge tonight. That felt good, but we’ve had a great week of practice and we were ready to go when the whistle blew. We’ve been training all year for this and we’re where we want to be right now.
“Christian Brothers beat us soundly at the Cleveland Duals, but we were missing a few of our better wrestlers and we’re hoping the results may be different tomorrow,” Nelson added.
McCallie’s Mike Newman never has been one to dodge talking about tough losses and he didn’t on Friday.
“We beat them earlier, but it didn’t turn out quite like we had wanted,” he said shortly after the match with Christian Brothers ended.
“It just wasn’t in the cards. There were a couple of toss-up matches and they won both of them, but they did a good job and deserve all the credit. We could have been smarter in places as the effort was good. Tomorrow is still a big day and we just hope to build from what we did today,” Newman nodded.
The Soddy Daisy Trojans fell to 10-3 with the loss to Brentwood, now 18-2 after that first win. Soddy Daisy coach Jim Higgins felt like his kids simply weren’t ready to compete and they got what they deserved.
“The right team won and they deserved it,” Higgins said matter of factly after the loss to the Bruins.
“I’m not sure where our focus was, but it wasn’t on that match as we made way too many errors and lost too many close decisions. We’re much better than that as we just didn’t get a team effort in that one.
“I guess we’ll see what we’re made of tomorrow and we’ll find out just how much we want to battle back. But we just got out-wrestled by Brentwood tonight,” he concluded.
Jacob Kilgore’s 4-2 decision at 126 gave the Trojans their only lead at 6-3. Trailing 12-6 after a pin and overtime decision, perhaps the nail that sealed the coffin for Soddy Daisy came when Tony Wilson got pinned in the first minute after building a 5-0 lead and being in total control of the match.
That gave Brentwood an 18-6 lead and it never got much closer. The lead was a dozen points before the Bruins forfeited the final match.
While Signal Mountain was the talk in A-AA, Hixson had a short night after losing to Gibbs.
The Wildcats had a 15-0 lead after getting pins from Trevor Lewis and Rylie Hart sandwiched around a 3-2 decision by Charles Burton at 120. Bruce Wilson’s 6-4 decision at 152 gave the Wildcats a 21-10 lead, but the Eagles came storming back to win six matches in a row before forfeiting the last match at 106.
Hixson coach Garrick Hall didn’t seem too bothered by it.
“We wrestled well, but Gibbs has a really good team. It is what it is,” the veteran Wildcat leader expressed.
“We graduated nine seniors last year, so we’re really young, but I thought we fought a lot harder than we did a year ago after coming here and losing our first two matches.
“We tried to shave points, but it didn’t work very well. I thought it might be a little closer, but we’ll just have to suck it up and keep working. Last year we came back to win the region and then finished second in the traditional state tournament, so anything is possible in this sport,” Hall smiled.
While Baylor and Signal Mountain are set for the championship matches in their divisions at 5:30 CST, Cleveland will try to join them and will get that chance with a semifinal match against Arlington.
Hixson begins its day with a match against Alcoa at 9 while Soddy Daisy squares off against Houston at the same time. McCallie tangles with the MBA-MUS winner in the D-II consolation semis at 1.
Bradley, Pigeon Forge and Father Ryan are the defending champs, but none will repeat as Bradley and Pigeon Forge didn’t even qualify this time.
(email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)