Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
February 11, 2016
In the sport of wrestling, there’s no such thing as putting the baton in the hand of a relay anchor for the final race when a championship is on the line.
For the Kenston matmen, a team title was in the hands of 182-pound senior grappler Josh Miller, who was losing his championship bout, 9-2, in the second period against Eastlake North junior Alex Valletto during the Western Reserve Conference tournament on Saturday in Madison.
In his high school career, Miller had never won a tournament of any kind, but, with no Bombers advancing to the finals in the last three weight classes, he was Kenston’s only hope.
“He knew,” Kenston head coach Brian Malloy said. “We told him going into it, ‘No pressure, but, if you don’t win, we don’t win. So it’s all on you.’”
Malloy paused for a laugh.
“So he goes, ‘Gee, thanks, coach,’” Malloy said. “But he went out there, and he didn’t quit. He didn’t give up when he was down and always knew he had a shot.”
Kenston, Mayfield, Willoughby South and Madison were all within banner-hanging contention entering the first- and third-place matches with the Wildcats gripping onto a two-point lead over Kenston.
“Well, he was actually pretty blunt about it,” Miller said about his coach’s pre-match speech. “He pretty much said I need this pin to win us the tournament. I mean, all I could say was, ‘Yeah, I’m going to go out there and do it.’ And I already pinned this kid one time with three seconds left. So I knew it was going to be a tough match.”
During the Kenston Invitational Tournament back in December, Miller trailed Valletto by four points when he turned him for that pin with the clock winding down. But that was in a seventh-place bout.
Saturday’s rematch was for a conference crown, and Valletto surely wasn’t going to make the same mistakes twice – or so it seemed.
“Well, I knew that I probably wasn’t going to be able to catch up on points, so I knew I had to make a big move,” Miller said. “So I tried to stay down and knock him off his base and keep him squirming around for an off-balanced match, because that’s kind of when I prosper. And I was able to maneuver my body around him and turn his move into my move, more or less.”
At the midpoint of the second period, the Bomber grappler rolled over and pinned Valletto, clinching his first tournament win, an individual WRC crown and Kenston’s team banner – thanks to a pair of bonus points.
Scoring 177 points, Kenston defeated runner-up Mayfield, 174, third-place South, 173, fourth-place Madison, 170 1/2 points, and the rest of the eight-team field – Chardon, 138 1/2; Riverside, 93; North, 64 1/2; and Brush, 38.
“I kept my word,” Miller said. “It was a great feeling. It was the whole crowd going crazy from our team, and just going out and seeing everybody cheering me on was just the greatest feeling. That was actually the first tournament I ever won. I’ve come in second, I’ve come in third, but I never won a tournament before that.”
Overall, Kenston had six grapplers in championship bouts, but only 145-pound junior Brad Verbic joined Miller with a conference crown.
After watching three of his teammates fail to conquer the same feat ahead him, Verbic had to get his head on straight before taking on Madison junior Dylan Bailey, coach Malloy said.
“That 145 weight class always is super tough,” the coach said. “And it was also tough, because the momentum was against us at that time, because we lost at 113, we lost at 126, we lost at 138. So he just watched three of his teammates lose in the finals match. Wrestling is a huge mental sport. Winning and losing is contagious. But he went out there and turned things around a little bit for us.”
While Verbic had championship experience under his belt, including a KIT crown at his home tournament in December, he said he was a bit nervous heading into his finals match on Saturday.
Not only did he watch three of his fellow Bombers go down, but he previously lost to Madison’s Bailey earlier in the season.
“It’s tough to see, but you still have to go out and do what’s best for yourself too, despite what your team’s doing,” Verbic said. “You still have to do the best you can do and put as many points up for your team and try to get the team trophy, which we did. I mean, we struggled in the finals, but we had so many guys in the finals that we held onto first place for a WRC championship.”
With 38 seconds remaining in the second period in a one-point match, Verbic pinned Bailey for his individual crown.
“I was going to finish a double-leg takedown. And, as I came up with it, he left himself vulnerable for a half nelson,” Verbic said. “I hit the move, and he was on his back, and that was the end of it. But there was no better feeling than helping the team out. We did what we had to do to win.”
In perhaps the most high-profile match of the night, meanwhile, Kenston 113-pound senior Noah Georgian lost a 5-0 decision in the finals to Willoughby South senior Spencer Dusi – both returning state qualifiers.
The duo split their previous two meetings of the season with Georgian taking a 5-4 decision during the Division I regional dual team tournament Jan. 27.
“Dusi got an early takedown in the first period and then held him down, just hammering on top and keeping him from getting out,” coach Malloy said. “So it was a tough match for Noah. We always say try to get the first takedown, because it changes the momentum of the match, and Dusi got that this time around.”
Also taking runner-up, Kenston 126-pound senior Joby Herbruck lost a 12-9 decision against Madison sophomore Joey Hersh.
“Joby always is a high scorer,” Malloy said. “He doesn’t leave anything to doubt when he walks off the mats. He gives it his all the whole time. So his matches tend to be high scoring, just because of that. That’s just his style of wrestling. He’s not happy with 2-0. He goes for all the points, especially when you’re trying to work back from giving up some back points.”
In the 138-pound final, Kenston senior Aaron Begy finished runner-up in a 5-2 decision to Madison senior Tyler McGroder.
“Before the tournament, he wasn’t even expected to wrestle,” Malloy said of Begy. “And in an unfortunate circumstance, one of our other wrestlers was out. So Aaron Begy said he would wrestle, even though he started the season at 126. And he went in there and took second place, which was awesome. His points mattered.”
And in the 152-pound bracket, Kenston freshman Joe Koplow finished runner-up in a 10-5 decision to Chardon junior Sam Rocazella.
“He wrestled some good matches in the beginning to get to the finals, and he’s wrestled that Chardon kid like four or five times now,” Malloy said. “And I think Joe being a freshman, he’s just got some things to learn before being successful against some of these guys who are state bound.
“He’s getting there, and he’s improved, obviously, getting to the finals and taking a second place. He’s just got to keep improving, because he’s got big goals, and we want him to achieve them, for sure.”
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