The situation seemed to be right up Josh Eller’s alley.
The Vandalia senior found himself in the midst of a low-scoring, tightly contested bout against Byron’s Allen Fish in Saturday’s 112-pound championship match at the Class A Individual State Tournament.
It was the kind of match Eller regularly pulled out during the regular season.
And it was eerily similar to his state quarterfinal and semifinal victories before it – matches Eller won in thrilling fashion by 5-4 and 4-2 scores, respectively.
‘That is kind of Josh’s style,’ said VCHS coach Jason Clay of Eller’s knack for pulling out close, defensive-oriented bouts. ‘He is real tough to score on, which gives him a chance against anybody.’
But this time around, Byron’s Allen Fish gave Eller a taste of his own medicine, as a second-quarter escape proved to be the difference in a heartbreaking 1-0 loss.
The ever-cerebral Eller had a well thought-out gameplan against Fish in a rematch of last year’s 103-pound third-place match.
‘When we were wrestling on our feet, I didn’t think I’d be able to get a takedown, because he was just too strong,’ Eller said. ‘So I figured if I wrestled him on the mat, I’d be able to beat him.’
But even when Eller got Fish to the mat, the undefeated junior refused to give an inch, topping Eller at state for the second time in as many years.
‘When I got him to the bottom, he rode me out the whole period,’ Eller said. ‘At the very end, he was kind of on his butt, and I thought, ‘This is it. I’m going to get my reversal.’ But he got on top, and that was the match.’
Despite the disappointment of his championship bout, Eller felt fortunate to have the opportunity to wrestle for a state title.
‘It was awesome, because I’d never placed this high,’ Eller said. ‘To know I was going to at least place second, it was just a great accomplishment for me.’
Eller booked his ticket for the finals and the Grand March by rallying for a 4-2 victory over Morrison’s Tim Hood in the semifinals.
After falling behind 2-0 early, Eller managed a couple escapes to tie the match at 2-2 going into the final minute.
He then came up with a clutch takedown with 30 seconds remaining to go ahead for good.
Eller’s 5-4 quarterfinal victory over Stillman Valley’s Nick Harrison was as bizarre as it was exciting.
The bout appeared to be headed for overtime, as the scoreboard showed that the match was tied 4-4 after regulation.
But Clay insisted that penalty point for stalling should have been awarded to Eller.
‘There was some big confusion,’ Eller said. ‘… So we had to bring all the stats down, and they wanted to review film to figure out what happened.’
After a five-minute delay in which many onlookers had no idea what was going on, Eller was awarded a point that put him in the semifinals.
‘It was quite a wild ordeal getting the score corrected,’ Clay said. ‘Fortunately, they did.’
Had the officials not corrected the score, Eller’s final state tournament may have ended prematurely.
After Eller went up 2-0 in the final minute of the first period, Harrison, just a freshman, proved to be a very worth adversary against his veteran opponent.
Harrison cut Eller’s lead to 2-1 with an escape late in the first period before evening things up at 2-2 heading into the final period with another escape.
Both wrestlers scored two points apiece during a wild sequence with 33 seconds left, tying the match at 4-4. It was during that sequence that the official missed a point that should have been awarded to Eller.
Fortunately, was awarded the point, and he went on to win the second state medal of his career.