UTICA — The Loudonville High School wrestling squad continued its hold on the Mid-Buckeye Conference crown on Saturday, but it took everything the Redbirds had. While extending their string of team victories in the MBC Tournament to five straight, the Redbirds (246 team points) fended off serious challenges from Johnstown (236.5) and host Utica (177).
Brandon Allison (103 pounds), Scott Spreng (112 pounds) and Randy Duncan (119 pounds) gave the Redbirds a great jump start in the lower weight classes, each gaining a first-place finish.
Allison took down Utica’s Dylan Ware in the final by a score of 17-0 to go undefeated on the day. Spreng had three pins in his first three matches before defeating Centerburg’s Thomas Thatcher in their final, 20-3. Duncan, who also had three pins, bested Utica’s Pete Hughes, 11-2, in the final.
Spreng, who was All-Ohio at 103 last year, knew that the Redbirds had to set the tempo at the beginning of each round if they were going to have a chance against the competition, which seems to get better every year.
“In order to win the team title, I knew it was going to have to be pins,” said Spreng. “I tried to fire up the team and set an example. I knew what my job was and I just went out and did it.”
Spreng looks completely comfortable in his new weight class as he racked up wins.
“I feel like I am pretty well adjusted to it,” said Spreng. “There is still room to improve, but I feel that I am in pretty good position for the sectional, district and state (meets).”
Loudonville won two more classes for a total of five on the day. Alex Tuttle (160) planted Utica’s Derek Posey in 53 seconds in the final for his fourth pin of the day for the Redbirds. Teammate Justin Hinkle (171), also with four pins, edged Utica’s Creston Gray in the final, 6-4.
The Johnstown Johnnies won six weight classes and were dominant among the middle weights, including the 140-pound class, which provided the best final matchup of the day.
In a showdown that could only be described as extremely intense, 2008 All-Ohio Chris Block of Johnstown held off a furious effort by Utica senior Kenny Poland. Block had to roll out of a possible pin situation in the third period to escape with a nail-biting, 9-8 victory in the final. East Knox’s Mark McNichols, who surprised Poland with a 9-6 decision in an earlier round, was awarded second-place in the 140-pound category, while Poland was third.
“It was crazy,” explained Block. “I was up, 7-2, and I took a sloppy shot and (Poland) just caught me. I got lucky. I thought I was pinned, but I just rolled through it. I can’t take sloppy shot because the tables can turn just like that.”
Block, who paced back-and-forth like a tiger in a cage before facing Poland in the final, said, “I was just trying to get focused on the match, stay ready and stay warm.”
Fortunately, the rivalry ends after they walk off the mat.
“Kenny and I are really good friends,” said Block. “He’s coming to practice on Tuesday to get ready for sectionals.”
Johnnies coach Brad Todd said, “They’re familiar with each other and they’re very focused. They both wanted to win badly. It’s a pride thing in your league.”
Scotty Robinson re-established his dominance among 145-pounders in the MBC. His four pins and 15-6 defeat of Loudonville’s Dylan Bender left little doubt.
“It was a good match. (Bender) is a really good wrestler,” said Robinson. “I was better, today, but I will most likely end up seeing him again at districts. I’m just glad that I won.”
Ross Sandridge gave the Johnnies a win at 130, defeating Fredericktown’s Rodil Rodriguez, 6-3, in their final. In the 135 class, Johnstown’s Keith Tanner made East Knox’s Trent Simmons his third pin of the day in 1:41 to win the weight class. Tanner earned his 100th-career win in the tournament, and finished the day with 103 victories.
Johnstown’s Cody Bracken, pinned three opponents before facing Loudonville’s Adam Reidenbach in the 152-pound finals. Bracken pulled out a 2-1 win and first place.
“It was a real nail-biter,” said Bracken. “Adam is a really good kid. It was just my day. I came out and the crowd got me going with a loud roar. We are always pushing each other as a team and, when one wins, it puts pressure on the others to win.”
Bracken, who was sixth in the district last year, hopes that this is a good sign.
“I’ll be working even harder,” said Bracken. “I want to make the state this year.”
Austin Montgomery took the 189-pound class for the Johnnies, defeating Centerburg’s Alex Hudson with a major fall.
“We came on really strong there at the end,” said Todd. “We had six champions today. We got that momentum going in the final and everyone was hungry and we knew we had to win to even have a chance top take home the team title.”
Loudonville’s Luke Weber managed second place at 189, but it was in their less dominant weight classes that the Redbirds carried the day. Aside from managing four second-place finishes, they optimized every opportunity and gained every edge they could — right down to their last man.
“Five in a row. These kids did a great job today,” Loudonville coach Steve Furlong said. “I don’t know how we did it with three kids out of the lineup. They wrestled to hard. I don’t think that there are too many schools that can say they won their conference five times in a row. When you are placing guys as high as we did, it was going to take that because I knew Johnstown had a nice team this year. I knew they would get five or six champs and, if we could get five or six champs, it would come down to whoever placed higher in the off weight classes.
“We picked up a lot of pins today, which I explained to my kids that we needed those bonus points. Pins and technical falls all add up and we won by 9 1/2 points. We wouldn’t have done it if each person didn’t do their job. I even gave my heavyweight (first-year wrestler Brice Bradley) the job of not getting pinned by the Johnstown kid (Tim Hanshaw, who beat Bradley, 6-3) and he did it. He stayed in the match. So, everyone did their part.”
Aside from Poland’s valiant efforts, the Utica Redskins managed a pair of first-place finishes. Dylan Wheeler, Utica’s 125-pounder, gained a great boost to his confidence as he knocked off East Knox’ Josh Beltz in the final, 16-5.
“I was nervous before that match,” said Wheeler. “(Beltz) is really good. I stayed calm but, when he head-butted me, I got kind of angry, I tensed it up and I won.”
It’s back to business for Wheeler as he knows what is coming up.
“I’m going to have to bust it this week,” said Wheeler. “We have sectionals coming up. I have got to pump up the training.”
Meanwhile, teammate B.J. Douglas, who pinned three wrestlers on the day, barely took the 215 crown with a 19-18 cliffhanger over Loudonville’s Jake Arnholt, who had also pinned three opponents.
“I just went in there trying to wrestle smart,” said Douglas. “It was a battle. I have to give it to (Arnholt.) He made me earn it. Whenever he got on top, I kept saying, ‘I’ve got to get up. I’ve got to get up. I can’t lose.’ We had a good team effort. Our guys wrestled hard all day.”
East Knox (137) got a first-place finish from heavyweight Andy VanWinkle, who pinned Johnstown’s Hanshaw in 26 seconds in the final.