By BEN JOHNSON
Tahlequah’s once-sizable lead was evaporating in a hurry. Miami was merely two falls away from stealing a dual victory on the road.
All Tahlequah needed was for Rusty Ballard to come up with a big win at 220 pounds. Nevermind that Ballard had been out of wrestling for a while prior to this season.
“I was kind of scared when I went out there,” Ballard said, “because I was really nervous. It was my first time wrestling in a dual in three or four years.”
All Ballard did was pin Miami’s Dakota Burrows at 1:47 to assure the Tigers would triumph in their season opener against the Wardogs at the suddenly fired up Tahlequah Multipurpose Activity Center.
“Rusty Ballard pulled off a big win for us,” said Tahlequah coach James Rappe, whose team wound up winning 45-36. “That was pivotal. Without him winning that, we would have been in a bind.”
Crisis averted, though.
Had Ballard lost, Miami would have been in position to steal the dual with Brycen Thorp coming up. But such was not the case for Miami coach Mark Malcom and his Wardogs.
“Probably had a chance to get the fall,” Malcom said of Burrows’ loss, “instead of getting pinned.”
Another shot in the arm for Tahlequah was Zech VanFleet’s win over Zane Laxton at 120. With the clock winding down in the third period, VanFleet — who was down 7-2 at one point before eventually taking a 9-7 advantage — pinned Laxton and got the win by fall at 5:58.
“He definitely fought to the very end,” VanFleet said of Laxton. “It just came down to who wanted it more.”
For Miami, a loss by decision could have meant three extra points down the stretch, perhaps altering the outcomes at 220 and 285, which was won by Thorp at 1:33.
“Giving up at 120, that was a big mistake,” said Malcom, whose team dropped to 0-1. “There’s a lot difference between six and three (points). It came down to it, and you see it in the score.”
Tahlequah (1-0) and Miami traded wins early on during the dual. At 106 pounds, Tahlequah’s Tate Medlin beat Levi Brigstock by fall at 2:33, and Miami’s Dalton Whitlock (113 pounds) followed with a fall over Brandon Ryder at 1:16.
And after VanFleet’s fall, Miami’s Eli Hale — who recently signed with Oklahoma State — breezed to a win over Wrighter Weavel at 1:04.
Then, Tahlequah took over.
The Tigers won five of the next six bouts, with Mitch Sellers (138) and Reese Davis (160) both winning by forfeit. Dakota James (170) won by fall at 1:31 and Hestin Lamons (152) claimed a 6-3 win over Michael Cox. Paul Sargent (132) got Tahlequah’s scoring run started with a fall at 1:15.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the kids, the way they wrestled,” said Rappe, who was making his varsity coaching debut for the Tigers. “...The kids went out and did what they needed to do.”
Tahlequah 46, Miami 36
106 pounds: Tate Medlin (Tahlequah) fall Levi Brigstock (Miami), 2:33.
113 pounds: Dalton Whitlock (Miami) fall Brandon Ryder (Tahlequah), 1:16.
120 pounds: Zech VanFleet (Tahlequah) fall Zane Laxton (Miami), 5:58.
126 pounds: Eli Hale (Miami) fall Wright Weavel (Tahlequah), 1:04.
132 pounds: Paul Sargent (Tahlequah) fall Matt Anderson (Miami), 1:15.
138 pounds: Mitch Sellers (Tahlequah) win by forfeit.
145 pounds: Stephen Boyd (Miami) fall Trent Patrick (Tahlequah), 1:57.
152 pounds: Hestin Lamons (Tahlequah) dec. Michael Cox (Miami), 6-3.
160 pounds: Reese Davis (Tahlequah) win by forfeit.
170 pounds: Dakota James (Tahlequah) fall Blake Ragsdale (Miami), 1:31.
182 pounds: Garrett Chase (Miami) fall Logan Hulse (Tahlequah), 4:48.
195 pounds: Jason He (Miami) fall Justin Gibbons (Tahlequah), 1:23.
220 pounds: Rusty Ballard (Tahlequah) fall Dakota Burrows (Miami), 1:47.
285 pounds: Brycen Thorp (Miami) fall Wes Rivas (Tahlequah), 1:33.