GETTING PUMPED – The Wilmington coaches all cheer after James Cox pulled off a last-second pin during the Wildcats’ match against Lena-Winslow. The entire match was back-and-forth, but the opposotion eventually secured the win, 40-36. Photo by Brent Sumner.
by Brent Sumner Staff writer
For the first time in five years the Wilmington wrestling program advanced as a team to the IHSA 1A Dual Team State Tournament this past weekend.
The Wildcats didn't skip a beat on Saturday, earning a second place finish out of the eight-team pool.
"I am very proud of my team," said Wilmington coach Rob Murphy. "Everybody from 106 to heavyweight, they fought hard, and came up with big wins here and there that nobody was expecting. They did an outstanding job. Even in the finals, I was very proud. They fought hard."
Wilmington kicked the day off against Auburn in the quarterfinal round, with the winner advancing to the semis, and the loser going home.
The Wildcats were on a mission, jumping to a 27-0 lead before Auburn even registered their first points.
Matt Nutt (132), Bobby Shields (145), Nick Pretto (152) and Mason Van Duyne all picked up pins, while Landon Flynn (138) added a decision to give Wilmington the initial lead.
The Wildcats gave up only 10 points to Auburn as Caleb Gougis (170) and Jesse Cox (195) lost by a major decision and pin, respectively.
James Cox (182), Sam Jones (220) and Josh Jones (285) also picked up pins in the match, as Wilmington took a 45-10 lead heading into the lower weights.
Already sealing the victory, Wilmington forfeited at 106, 113, 120 and 126. They gave Auburn 24 points, to win the initial match, 45-34.
With the quarterfinal win, Wilmington had a 3.5 hour break before the semifinals, where they would match up with Olympia.
The team took the break time to enjoy being at the state series, while not dwelling on the upcoming match.
"Honestly, it is just having fun with your team and not thinking about it until the moment comes," said Bobby Shields. "You think about it too much, you get a lot of scenarios in your head, and that is the last thing you want. We just play games with each other and try to have fun."
The strategy paid off as the Wildcats came out swinging in the semifinals, jumping to an early lead against Olympia.
The Spartans had defeated the Wildcats earlier in the season at the Abe Rumble (42-31), but this time Wilmington was looking for revenge.
The match started at 138, with Flynn winning 15-10.
That led to Bobby Shields earning a major, Pretto picking up a pin, Van Duyne securing a decision, and Gougis and Jesse Cox both earning pins.
They were ahead 28-0 by 195 match.
However, all teams at the state tournament are good, and Olympia battled their way back through the upper weights, picking up one pin, two decisions, and a major decision at 106 to close the gap, 28-16.
Ryan Shields (113) picked up a pivotal win in his match, swinging the momentum back into Wilmington's favor. He secured a decision (13-6) over his opponent, giving Wilmington a 31-16 lead.
At 120 and 126, Corbin Hunt and Clayton Van Duyne wound up getting pinned, and with only one match to go the score was closer than ever, 31-28.
It all came down to Nutt, as he needed a win to clinch a path to the championship, or at the very least, not give up a pin.
He did what he had to do, edging his opponent 3-2, to give the 'Cats a 34-28 victory and a shot at first place against second ranked Lena-Winslow Stockton.
"Honestly, it felt great," said Nutt about his clinching win. "I went out there and did what I had to do and helped us advance as a team. I got the last win, but it wasn't just me. It is all of us out there, all the work in the mat room every morning and night. That is why we got as far as we could. We are out here as a team."
The win advanced the Wildcats to the most anticipated match of the day, where Wilmington faced Lena for the state championship.
The hype was well worth it too, as both teams battled back and forth throughout the weight classes, with Lena eventually coming out on top, 40-36.
"Coming in, we thought our best shot of winning was going right after them," said Murphy. "We took chances on matchups, trying to get wins. It came down to the last two matches. Everyone had it a blowing coming in, and it was back and forth all the way through. These guys fought hard, rose above themselves, and we knew they could win. I am really happy for them, excited and proud."
Wilmington's strategy was on display right from the start, as Bobby Shields and Pretto both out-scored their opponents to give the Wildcats a 6-0 lead.
Lena battled back by picking up pins over Van Duyne and Gougis, but it would end up tied after 182, as James Cox got a huge pin.
Cox was down in points, but would record a reversal in the draining seconds of the second period, and would get his opponent on his back.
"I got the reverse with about 20 seconds left, and he was straight on his back," said Cox. "He was kind of squirming, but not really moving. With only about six seconds left he gave a big arch, and I just popped it again. Got the fall with one second left, it was impressive. I was just pumped."
Not only was Cox pumped, but the entire team was too, including Murphy.
"James' pin was huge," Murphy added. "That is where we went after them, in the upper weights. I am just proud of them. There are so many good things that I would have to sit down and go through the books, and I would still probably miss something."
The rest of the match would go back and forth as Lena picked up a major decision, followed by Wilmington's Sam Jones earning a pin.
Lena rounded out the heavyweights with a pin over Josh Jones, taking a 22-18 lead heading into the lower weight classes.
At 106, Tyler Rock seemed to give some momentum to the Wilmington, earning a pin in 16 seconds, making everyone on the team rise to their feet.
"I don't think I have ever been hugged so much in my life," Rock said about returning to his bench after the win. "I beat her before, and I was expecting to beat her again, but I wanted to pump up the crowd and team. It feels pretty good."
The match went back in Wilmington's favor, 24-22. Both teams would receive pins at 113 and 120, with Corbin Hunt picking up a win for the Wildcats. Wilmington held on to a 30-28 lead heading into the final three weight classes.
Lena recorded pins in the following two matches, securing their state title, taking a 40-30 lead with only one weight to go. Lena forfeited the last match, as Wilmington wound up in second, 40-36.
Overall, Saturday serves as a notch in Wilmington's belt, as well as proof that they deserved to be on the big stage.
With everyone saying early that Wilmington wouldn't make it out of the Regional, the Wildcats feel good that they proved those naysayers wrong.
"A lot of teams didn't even think we would be in the finals," said James Cox. "They put Olympia ahead of us, were upset about Coal City, but we gave Lena a good run. It came down to one match."
While the Wildcats had several doubters, Wilmington finishes the season tying the school record with 32 wins, and are the fifth team from Wilmington to wrestle in the state championship dual match.
While Murphy always tells his wrestlers to not listen to what other people have to say, he did admit that the negativity gave his wrestlers some motivation heading to Bloomington.
"The only person they have to worry about doing good or bad for is me, I am their coach," Murphy said. "If they focus on what we say, they will have a lot of success. We use what people say as motivation. I am always telling my kids to not paint a target on their backs. We let them motivate us, and we just be nice to people."
Saturday was bittersweet. Even though the Wildcats earned another trophy, they will also be saying good-bye to 10 seniors.
"I am just proud of the seniors," Murphy said after the tournament. "I will miss them, and I hope they have a lot of success in the future. It was a great ride with them, and I will miss them. We have a big group of freshmen coming in, and hopefully we will have a good four years with them."
For those going out, they end their high school career on a high note, and have a memory that will stick with them for a lifetime.
"For the seniors, they have been my family for nine years now," said Rock. "To the new ones, you guys are just gods, and have helped us out so much. Go get it again next year!"