BLANCHARD — When it comes down to it, a ranking doesn’t mean a thing in high school wrestling, so says Carson City-Crystal (CC-C) head coach Kacy Datema.
His Eagles team, however, earned every bit of its reputation as the ninth-ranked team in District 4, winning the regional title with a tough 45-33 win over the St. Louis Sharks at Montabella High School on Wednesday night.
It took until the 12th match (a first period pin by Eagles sophomore Darren Decker) — and a comeback right from the beginning — before the Eagles could celebrate its regional title.
“I knew tonight would be tight,” Datema said. “We knew anything could happen. But we came into tonight ranked ninth in the state. It doesn’t mean anything until you prove it, and we proved it tonight.”
After surviving a scare by the Laingsburg Wolf Pack in the first round, winning 39-33, the Eagles quickly found themselves in another dog fight, as St. Louis’ Logan Wilson, in the 189-pound division, pinned CC-C’s Dallas O’Green 27 seconds into the first period of the first match.
St. Louis, 18-4 in dual matches and champions of the Tri-Valley West Conference this year, built momentum quickly, building a 15-0 lead with two pins and a decision. It wasn’t until Eagles freshman Taylor Barkley pinned Holden Lacross in the second period of the 103-pound division match, that momentum finally swung the Eagles’ way, sparking a comeback.
It wouldn’t be until the Eagles racked up another 27 points before the Sharks finally ended their scoring drought with Jed Abbott (140) earning a first-period pin against CC-C’s Luman Groce.
Datema pointed out two key matches that saved the Eagles from being upended by the Sharks — junior Brad Osterman’s (215) ability to hold off the Sharks’ Trevor Gruett from earning a pin, which would have put St. Louis up 18-0 at that point, and senior Kevin Rogers’ 5-3 decision over St. Louis’ Jackson Miller that gave the Eagles a 33-15 edge.
“Osterman saved us. I thought we were going to be down 18,” Datema said. “It was definitely better being down 15 than 18.”
It’s been 10 years since the Eagles last enjoyed a regional title. For senior Andre Collins, the feeling is indescribable.
“It’s the best feeling in the world, knowing you’re one of the top eight in the state going to Battle Creek,” said Collins, one of the five seniors on this year’s squad.
Collins said he and his teammates focused hard on St. Louis, having only seen them at some invitationals but never going head-to-head until now.
“We told ourselves we had to grind it out, practice hard and wrestle hard like always,” Collins said about the team’s preparation for regionals. “We knew it was going to be tough.”
The Eagles last clinched a regional title in 2003, losing to New Lothrop in the quarterfinals. This year’s state final at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek is Feb. 22-23.
CC-C earned five pins (Kenneth Dittenber, 112; Alex Baker, 119; Dakota O’Green, 125; Dillan Decker, 145; Darren Decker, 152), while St. Louis earned three.
The Sharks forfeited the 130-pound division match against the Eagles’ Garner Cusack, which put the Eagles up 30-15 at that point. CC-C was able to forfeit the last two matches (160 and 171) after Darren Decker’s match-clinching pin.
St. Louis advanced to the regional final with a 53-28 win over Byron in the first round.
Dan Kiesling’s last-second, third period pin over the Eagles’ Brad Osterman (285) in the fourth match of the opening round of the District 4 regionals put Datema and his team on edge quickly as they went down early by a score of 18-6.
While St. Louis cruised past Byron 53-28 to advance to the final, the Eagles were needing to claw and scratch their way out of the first round against the Wolf Pack, a program that started only three years ago and is fully funded by community volunteers.
“I knew Laingsburg was a very good team coming into this,” Datema said. “They are a very good squad and they’ve come a long way in a short time.”
Datema said the success of Detterber (won by forfeit), Baker (pin), O’Green (decision) and Cusak (pin) brought the Eagles back while Rogers and the Decker brothers clinched the win.
Rogers’ (140) decision knotted the score at 27.
“Rogers’ match was huge,” Datema said. “That was a guy he had lost to before and he won it tonight.”
Dillan (145) and Darren Decker each earned a first-period pin, back-to-back, to clinch the first-round win.
“This team exceeded my expectations by far,” said Wolf Pack head coach Nick Rowley of his team. “I knew coming in we were the underdog. They (the Eagles) did a good job of not getting pinned. My hat’s off to Kacy and his team.”