A hard-fought dual in the Minnesota River Conference opener went Central’s way last Thursday, Dec. 20 when the Raiders defeated visiting LeSueur-Henderson 42-23.
The match stayed close for most of the night until the final four weights, when Central’s big guns picked up three straight wins and a forfeit to pull away on the scoreboard.
“It’s nice to start off the conference season 1-0 and get off to a good start that way,” said Raiders head coach Darrin Fox. “We looked good in some places, we looked bad in some places. But given the whole environment of the night and some of the inexperience that some of our kids showed, I think we did some good things.”
Zeke Dodge opened the match with a 6-0 decision at 106 pounds, and Dylan Just put up a strong fight in the 113-pound bout against the Giants’ Austin Anderly, the No. 1 rated wrestler in the state at 106 pounds who moved up a weight for the night. While Anderly managed to pin Just with five seconds remaining in the match, the next match up might have been the turning point in the night.
Ben Barth, who was 10 pounds lighter than his opponent in the 120-pound class, was losing 5-3 with the final seconds ticking off the clock. He managed a reversal with two seconds remaining to tie the score and send the match to overtime, and the large home crowd into such a frenzy that the final buzzer was almost inaudible.
A tense first overtime ended with the score still tied, and with such roaring from the crowd that the referee had trouble stopping the match at the buzzer again.
Finally, 7:45 into the bout and with just 15 seconds remaining on the clock, Barth dropped his opponent to the mat and pinned him to put Central back in the lead at 9-6.
“I personally thought that probably turned the match. We went from losing the match with 10 seconds left in the third period to tying it up with two seconds left, then not only winning it but getting a pin in the second overtime round,” said Raiders head coach Darrin Fox. “One thing I’ll say with Ben is that he has trained hard. He runs cross country, and that pays off for what he does in the winter. He’s a mentally tough kid. That’s good to see out of a freshman.”
In addition to Barth’s big win, Fox said he was pleased with the way Central’s other individuals set the tone for the rest of the match.
“I was really happy with the way our lower weights wrestled from Zeke Dodge up to Ben Barth. Those kids wrestled hard. They were physical, they were tough. They got after it, which we need to have them do because they’re kind of our table-setters who start your lineup and your matches. I was happy with that,” he said.
The Raiders hit a lull in the middle weights, with the Giants eventually pulling ahead to take a 23-18 lead after the 170-pound match. One bright spot was Jared Wickenhauser’s 7-5 win at 145 pounds.
From 182 pounds on, however, it was all Raiders. Matt Ditsch had a first-round pin at that weight, Jordan Kohls had a second-round pin at 195, Steeven Smith accepted a forfeit and 220 pounds and Jordan Stevens quickly pinned his heavyweight opponent in the first round.
“Our final four kind of slammed the door for us,” said Fox. “It kind of went in waves. My hope is that by the time we get to the middle of January that we’re able to have consistency through there. A lot of that is inexperience, and also different lineups because we still didn’t have our full lineup that night. I think we’ll have all our guys back after Christmas.”
While Raider fans enjoyed the win, Fox said it was clear that the Raiders still have plenty of room for improvement as the season progresses.
“It was fun. It was a nice environment and the fans were great,” he said. “The kids wrestled hard, but we’ve got a lot of work to do. That’s a good thing at this point in the season. It helps us come to practice and keep getting after things. Some kids know they have a lot of work to do if they want to place in the section or win three or four conference matches.
“We wanted to build momentum going into the break. We’re 3-2, so we have a winning record going into the break. We’re wrestling scrappy, wrestling hard, and picking up some big wins. We have a young team trying to build belief that they can do these things. That takes awhile, but hopefully it will come pretty soon. I told them last night, they’re more than capable.”