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Marquee matchups thrill as Vandals top Litchfield

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By Andrew Harner

VANDALIA – Though the team score had already been determined, the marquee matchups lived up to their billing in the final two bouts of last Thursday’s South Central Conference dual against Litchfield.

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Past state qualifers battled each other to tight finishes at 145 and 152 pounds, with Vandalia junior Dalton Blankenship beating Litchfield’s Seth Newkirk, 5-2, with a late near-fall, and Litchfield’s Cole Thompson beating Vandalia senior Tyler Dagen, 2-1 with a third-round escape in a 58-12 Vandals win.

“The marquee matches were the last two,” said coach Jason Clay. “We came out on top of a close match and lost a close one, so we have to go back to work and figure out what we have to do to win both of them next time.”

Blankenship wasted little time taking control of his bout, taking down Newkirk just nine seconds into the 145-pound bout, but the score was tied by the end of the first period after Newkirk reversed the hold 28 seconds later.

The score didn’t change in the second period, as Blankenship was unable to break free of Newkirk’s control, and it appeared the match between two-time state qualifers would go to overtime until Blankenship scored a three-point near-fall late in the third round.

“Dalton is super tough on top, and their kid is, too,” Clay said. “He rode Dalton the whole time (in the second period), so Dalton didn’t score his (escape) point on the bottom either.

“I’ll take Dalton in a scrap any day of the week,” he said. “He had a nice takedown in the first period to set the tone.”

Dagen and Thompson followed with an even tighter match at 152 pounds.

After a scoreless first period, Thompson – a two-time state qualifer who placed sixth last year – scored a key reversal in the second period that proved to be the difference in the 2-1 bout.

“You can’t give up a reversal,” Clay said. “That kid is super good on top, and hard to score points on.

“We have to get after it more, and get a takedown in the first period against that kid, and make him wrestle from behind,” he said. “He’s a good wrestler, but he wrestles a lot of close matches, so we have to get an early takedown (next time).”

The match – the first one between the teams since the Purple Panthers beat the Vandals 31-29 in the first round of last year’s team state tournament – started with four straight wins for Vandalia (15-4, 3-0 SCC).

Senior C.J. Runkel (160) pinned Christian Streitmatter in 1:22 and senior Seth Purcell followed with a 9-0 win against Cole Blankenship at 170.

Junior Jake Stewart came back from some early mistakes in the first period at 182 pounds to earn a win against one of Litchfield’s other top wrestlers.

He went to his back less than a minute into the bout against Bryce Thornton – who placed higher than Stewart at the Princeton Invitational Tournament earlier this month – but eventually escaped and scored a takedown with 16 seconds in the first period to cut Thornton’s lead to 4-3.

Stewart continued on with an escape in the second period and two more takedowns to win the bout, 8-4.

“We’ve got some good leadoff hitters there, with Seth and C.J.,” Clay said. “Most of the time, you can depend on those guys for wins, and they got us off to a good start.

“Jake made a bone-headed mistake by getting to his back early, but he fought back from it,” he said. “I thought it was a really big match that got things going the right way.”

Sophomore Bobby Bradley (195), sophomore Chaston Womack (106), sophomore Luke Tessman (126), junior Adam Palmer (132) and senior Rodney Tedrick (138) also had pins in the match.

For Tedrick, his 33-second win against Billy Trigg was his fastest of the season.

“There’s not going to be a flawless performance, but that is what we are wrestling for,” Clay said. “We’re trying to have that perfect night where everyone has a good performance.

“We had good wins out of some of our guys who maybe aren’t the ones everybody expects to win,” he said. “It was good to see some other guys come on and look tough.”

Clay said there aren’t any big issues that are holding the Vandals back from success, but he said there are small things each wrestler can still do better.

Most notably, he wants to see some of the athletes in the upper weights be more offensive in order to prevent close matches. He first noticed the issue during the Princeton Tournament.

“If you aren’t attacking and scoring points, then you’re giving yourself a chance to get beat by someone who isn’t as good as you,” Clay said. “If you’re going to win at the state tournament, you have to put points on the board.

“I always say, ‘If you try to win close, you give yourself a chance to lose close.’”

Prior to meeting Litchfield, the Vandals defeated Highland, 63-12, on the strength of eight pins.

Palmer (1:02), Bradley (0:29) and sophomore Kolten Etcheson (1:08) each had their fastest pin of the season.

Bradley’s was the fastest of his career, and Palmer and Etcheson were just seconds away from setting their career-best mark.

Others with pins were Dagen (1:03), Runkel (5:03), Purcell (1:54), Stewart (5:16) and Tessman (1:47).

Thursday, Jan. 16
Vandalia 58
Litchfield 12
•160 – Runkel (V) def. Streitmatter by fall at 1:22
•170 – Purcell (V) def. Blankenship, 9-0
•182 – Stewart (V) def. Thornton, 8-4
•195 – Bradley (V) def. Nathan Weaver by fall at 1:27
•220 – Cole Werner (L) def. Etcheson by fall at 3:35
•285 – Kendrick Woolsey (V) won by forfeit
•106 – Trevor Philpot (V) won by forfeit
•113 – Womack (V) def. Ty Durbin by fall at 1:32
•120 – Victor Kalaher (L) def. Ryne Lipsey, 7-5
•126 – Tessman (V) def. Riley Hewitt by fall at 1:25
•132 – Palmer (V) def. Ryan Hewitt by fall at 1:16
•138 – Tedrick (V) def. Trigg by fall at 0:33
•145 – Blankenship (V) def. Newkirk, 5-2
•152 – Thompson (L) def. Dagen, 2-1
Record: 15-4 (3-0 SCC)

Thursday, Jan. 16
Vandalia 63
Highland 12
•152 – Dagen (V) def. Trent Rakers by fall at 1:03
•160 – Runkel (V) def. Ben Zuccarelli by fall at 5:03
•170 – Purcell (V) def. Blake Perfetti by fall at 1:54
•182 – Stewart (V) def. Jake Wellen by fall at 5:16
•195 – Bradley (V) def. Luke Olson by fall at 0:29
•220 – Etcheson (V) def. Jon Meadows by fall at 1:08
•285 – Tanner Farmer (H) def. Woolsey by fall at 0:40
•106 – Philpot (V) won by forfeit
•113 – Jacob Mitchell (H) def. Womack, 7-4
•120 – Tessman (V) def. Justin Bugger by fall at 1:47
•126 – Lipsey (V) def. Michael McGill, 19-4
•132 – Palmer (V) def. Brennan Smith by fall at 1:02
•138 – Carsten Brauns (H) def. Tedrick, 5-4
•145 – Blankenship (V) def. Mason Lee, 14-0
Record: 14-4