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Adam Bowling got a rematch he never expected in Saturday's in the Class A Individual State Tournament's 145-pound title match.
And, considering he had beaten Wilmington's Jake Murphy earlier this year at the St. Thomas More Challenge, all signs seemed to be pointing toward one of the Vandals' all-time winningest wrestlers bringing home the program's fourth individual state title.
But Murphy did not cooperate, holding off Bowling in the final seconds for a 7-5 win just a few hours after upsetting two-time state champion Jeff Bybee in the semifinals.
"It was disappointing, because he had beaten the kid before," Vandals coach Jason Clay said. "But that kid had beaten Adam before, too. ... It was a good match."
After a scoreless opening period, the wrestlers traded a pair of backpoints and an escape apiece in the second quarter for a 3-3 tie, setting up a tense final period.
The score remained tied until the 1:13 mark, when Murphy flipped Bowling for three back points that gave him the lead for good.
"He ended up getting me on my back, and it was kind of a stupid mistake on my part," said Bowling of a wild scramble sequence in which each wrestler could have been awarded points. "... I thought I was getting the points."
Bowling responded quickly with an escape and a back point that cut Murphy's lead to 7-5 with 39 seconds remaining.
The Vandal senior proceeded to nearly score a match-tying takedown two times in the final seconds, only to see Murphy wriggle his way out of trouble.
"I felt so close to getting a takedown and sending it into overtime, but he won the match," Bowling said. "Congratulations to him.
"It's my senior year, and I was hoping to finish strong and end up winning it. But I guess I'll settle for second."
Bowling came away with 9-6 win the last time the two wrestlers hooked up, but Clay credits Murphy for making the adjustments necessary to contain Bowling's considerable takedown ability.
"I thought he was a little better on his feet," Clay said. "The kid's worked pretty hard on his countering.
"Adam was in deep a couple times with some shots, and a lot of times kids give that up. But he battled and fought. I give the kid credit for wrestling tough. I don't think Adam wrestled bad."
Despite the disappointment of the defeat, Bowling was able to keep things in perspective.
Back when Bowling first took up wrestling at the urging of teammate Matt Shroyer during his fifth-grade year, he never could have envisioned being in the position he found himself on Saturday.
"At the beginning, I was horrible," said Bowling with a laugh. "I never won a match."
But Bowling's dad, Jerry, kept the faith in his son, taking him to countless matches, weekend after weekend. Their persistence eventually paid off.
"I just started getting better and better," Bowling said. "Then I started beating better and better kids, and, I guess, here I am."
Bowling established himself early on in his high school career, and has gone on to amass over 140 career wins, placing in the top five on VCHS's all-time list.
First and foremost, he credits his dad for his success.
"I lot of it is coach and practices, and a lot of it is my dad," Bowling said. "... I think that he helped me more than anything."
Bowling had competed at state two times before Saturday. But by virtue of his semifinal victory over Dakota's Robert Lizer, he experienced the spectacle that is The Grand March for the first time, and he soaked up the experience.
"It was exciting," Bowling said. "It's something I'd been dreaming of. It was really awesome seeing all the fans and stuff."
Semifinal and Quarterfinal
Bowling cruised into the finals with a 9-4 decision over Lizer.
After a scoreless opening quarter, Bowling established control with a takedown and a near fall that had him leading 6-1 heading into the third.
Bowling had a similarly easy time in an 11-3 major decision quarterfinal win over Aledo's Ethan Ball.
Bowling took charge again with a dominating second quarter, parlaying a takedown, a reversal and five back points into a commanding lead.