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Emotion can carry a team a long way. On Saturday, it carried the Vandalia wrestling team to perhaps its biggest victory of the year.
Pumped up by a big home crowd and the presence of a highly regarded visiting team, the Vandals (17-2) finished off a quadrangular sweep in thrilling fashion, as Anthony Coney's pin in the 130-pound match clinched a 37-36 victory over state-ranked Murphysboro.
The victory set off a wild celebration on the Vandalia bench, the byproduct of a wave of intensity that began building at the start of an emotionally charged dual against one of the top teams in Southern Illinois.
"It was good to see the kids that much into the dual," Vandals coach Jason Clay said. "That's what makes it fun. It was good to see that super-competitive side of the guys."
Coney seemed to channel that intensity in his dual-clincher.
With victory - and the respect that comes along with beating a high-quality team - in sight, Coney needed just 1 minute, seven seconds to overwhelm Drew Landewee, who had given Coney a much better challenge earlier in the season.
The pin gave the Vandals an insurmountable 37-24 lead moments after they had found themselves trailing 20-13.
The key to VCHS's turnaround was simple.
"Big pins - that was really what it came down to," Clay said. "When you have those close duals, that's huge."
The first came courtesy of freshman Trever Pyle, who needed just 54 seconds to overwhelm Casey Braschear in the 103-pound match.
Justin Hill followed with the equivalent of a pin against state-ranked Cody Braschear, who had to default the match after suffering an unsightly knee injury, giving Vandalia a 25-20 lead. Braschear had beaten Hill earlier in the year.
Anthony Wernle then sent the Vandals' bench into hysterics with an unlikely pin in the 119-pound match.
Wernle jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, but suffered a serious shoulder injury that looked like it might force him to default the match. Instead, he battled back in a blink of an eye and suddenly pinned Demnel Flood at the 1:24 mark on the opening period.
"We knew that was one of the weights we needed to get," Clay said. "That was big and (Wernle) was really excited."
Murphysboro got four points back with a major decision in the 125-pound match, but Coney closed the deal in style.
Pyle, Hill, Wernle and Coney's victories gave Vandalia 24 points in a blink of an eye. And, it turns out, they needed every one of them, as state-ranked Murphysboro wrestlers Jake Miller and Deven Tyrone closed out the dual with pins that left the Red Devils just one point short of a tie.
The victory was even more impressive, considering Vandalia senior standout Jake Etcheson sat out with a knee injury.
"That was a big dual for us," Clay said. "We were wrestling a little wounded and didn't have Jake with us. I knew they were a good team, and I'm proud of the way they pulled it out."
Clay said intensity - which was missing last Thursday in a loss at Highland - was the difference for the Vandals on Saturday, as they also topped Monticello, 49-26, and Alton, 44-33.
"That just goes to show that if you can wrestle (with intensity) you can do some things," Clay said. "Thursday, we maybe didn't match up great with Highland, but we didn't wrestle with quite as much intensity."
Coney's clincher capped a big day for the senior, who also had a pin against Monticello and won by technical fall against Alton.
Hill also had a 3-0 day, recording a pair of pins prior to the Murphysboro dual, and Pyle was also 3-0 with two pins in the quadrangular.
Classmate Levi Ulmer continued to impress, going 3-0 with a pin, a win by technical fall and a win by decision.
John Vosholler added a pair of pins on the day, finishing 2-1. Alex Foster was enjoying a 2-0 day before defaulting the final match of the quadrangular due to an injury.
Devin Cook pulled out a key 2-0 overtime win over Kevin Gotlieb in the Murphysboro dual, and the senior also had a pin against Monticello.
Vandalia 54, Civic Memorial 28
The freshman trio of Matt Etcheson, Pyle and Ulmer recorded pins as the Vandals cruised to a victory at home.
Senior Devin Cook also had a pin, while junior Alex Foster bounced back from an injury suffered Saturday to win by fall.
The Vandals wrestled once again without Jake Etcheson, who may rest his injured knee until the postseason.
"I'm just not wanting to rush things," Clay said. "What really matters is regionals. It'd be nice to win the rest of our duals, but if we win our duals, but we don't win regional, it doesn't matter."
Last Thursday's Triangular
Vandalia 35, Litchfield 33
Highland 42, Vandalia 31
The Vandals suffered just their second loss of the season to the host team, but managed to finish the night 1-1 by edging South Central Conference rival Litchfield.
Pyle recorded two more pins in the 103-pound division, each of which came in under a minute.
Ulmer also had a pair of pins, needing a little more than two minutes to pick up victories in the 160- and 152-pound divisions.
Cook also went 2-0 on the night, recording a pin against Litchfield before rolling to a 14-2 win over his Highland opponent.
Also going 2-0 were Jake Harris and Foster.