It’s not often that a team loses just three matches during a wrestling dual and wants only to focus on one of those setbacks at the end of the night.
But that was the case Tuesday, when the Lions rocked Free State, 60-15, in the annual city dual at Lawrence High but spent more time at the end talking about sophomore Brad Wilson’s 26-19 loss to Ammon Austin in the heavyweight rumble than any other match.
“What Brad did was a statement for what LHS is about,” said LHS senior Dustin Walthall, who moved up a class to 189 pounds to rumble past Free State’s Spencer Chestnut, 9-7. “That was the match of the night.”
There wasn’t a soul in the seats that would have disagreed.
With Free State trailing LHS, 60-12, with one match to go, Austin, a senior, took the mat looking to send the Firebirds out on a positive note. His opponent, Wilson, was an undersized sophomore who had spent most of the season wrestling with the junior varsity squad at 215 pounds. But this was the heavyweight match and, because of that, Wilson had told his teammates all week that he expected to get crushed by his former Central Junior High teammate.
For a while he did. Austin roared out to a 19-5 lead and appeared to be seconds away from a pin. But then Wilson got tough. And the LHS faithful got loud.
Suddenly, the 19-5 lead was down to 20-14 and then 24-19. A couple of times, Wilson scored three points on near falls that had Austin on his back and in serious danger. Austin, who entered the night ranked No. 6 in Class 6A, held on for a 26-19 victory and scored three more team points for the Firebirds.
“That was a little closer than I would’ve liked,” said an exhausted Austin, who admitted that he didn’t expect to wrestle in this one. “I thought I was going to sit on my butt all night, but mental toughness pulled me through. I gotta thank my coaches for that. That’s what allowed me to stay in it when my body wanted to quit.”
The match had all the drama of a more meaningful bout one might see in Wichita in late February. Of course, they usually do when LHS and Free State get together.
“I’ve never seen a crowd stand up like that and get so loud in a match where the points didn’t really even matter,” said LHS senior Dom Reiske, who fought off excruciating groin pain to defeat Free State’s Mitch McCune, 8-4, at 152 pounds.
Tuesday’s dual was full of would-be matches of the night. After LHS’s Marshall Bonham pinned Free State’s Ben Soukup in the 119-pound battle, teammate Caleb Torneden rallied from a 5-0 deficit to pin Free State’s Tyler Hunsaker.
Free State’s Corban Schmidt scored a victory for the Firebirds at 135, pinning LHS senior Chris Lane in the second period, but LHS’s Levi Flohrschutz answered at 140 pounds by pinning Phillip Bradshaw in 1:03.
Flohrschutz’s victory gave the Lions a 30-12 lead heading into the match between Braxton Vardys and Free State’s Jake Brown at 145 pounds. Brown jumped out to an 8-1 lead through two periods but saw Vardys storm back to take a 9-8 lead with 1:22 remaining in the third period. The two traded leads the rest of the way until Vardys scored a reversal with 29 seconds left in the third that led to a pin with :03 showing on the clock.
“You could really feel the momentum change after that,” Free State coach Paul Lappin said.
Vardys admitted that the victory was special for him because it came on Senior Night and helped his team defeat its rival. But even he couldn’t help but talk about Wilson’s effort in the finale.
“I don’t really look at the scoreboard much,” Vardys said. “I usually worry about what’s happening on the mat, and that’s what I tried to do when I was down. But I thought everyone wrestled good tonight. Especially Brad in that last match.”
Cameron Magdaleno (160 pounds), Reece Wright-Conklin (171) and Ben Seybert (215) added to the Lions’ dominance with pins in their respective matches, and the Lions left the gym with more confidence than they had when they arrived.
“They haven’t been too close to us lately,” Reiske said. “So we came in thinking we’d lose maybe one match. There were a couple of surprises, but I thought both teams really fought hard. I would’ve liked to see the score read 66-12 but 60-15’s not bad.”