MOUNT VERNON – Two Ohio Cardinal Conference heavyweights squared off in Mount Vernon on Wednesday night.
The 90-minute dual meet was as thrilling as advertised.
Ashland used a pin by state-ranked heavyweight Jake Bever to outpace Mount Vernon, 36-33. While Mount Vernon won eight matches to Ashland’s six, the Arrows were able to secure three more pins, which was just enough to hold off the feisty Yellow Jackets at Pleasant Street Elementary.
“They got the bonus points, and that was the difference in the match,” Mount Vernon coach Nate Cornell said. “They took care of business.”
But it was no easy task for the Arrows, who have won four straight OCC championships. Mount Vernon went toe-to-toe with the visitors, clawing its way back from a 24-15 deficit to take a three-point lead late.
Triston Bowens (152) defeated Chase Dillow in a 13-6 decision, then Ryan Tiell (160) won by forfeit. Wyatt Gregory (170) claimed a hard-fought 2-1 decision over Ashland’s Lane Porter to give the Yellow Jackets a 27-24 advantage.
Ashland’s Jakob Beverly (182) responded by pinning Mount Vernon’s Zach Thomas 55 seconds into the match, but the Yellow Jackets fired back, as Steven Schisler (195) outlasted Dakota Pitz in a dramatic 9-8 decision. With the score tied at 30 and two weight classes to go, Mount Vernon’s Gabe Harmon (220) notched a 1-0 decision over Chase Blessing.
But Ashland saved one of its best for last in Bever (285). The junior heavyweight qualified for state last year and is primed to return again this spring. He quickly overpowered Mount Vernon sophomore Nate Stradley, forcing him down near the edge of the circle. Bever clinched the win for Ashland with a pin 75 seconds into the match.
Despite coming away with a conference win in a hostile environment, Ashland coach Sean Seder said he was disappointed in his team’s effort Wednesday.
“We didn’t wrestle very well tonight. It’s disappointing. We came out and got the win – we rallied when we needed to, some of our hammers came up. We knew we’d have four or five 50/50 matches, and we were up in about three of them and we found a way to lose, so any time that happens, it’s disappointing,” said Seder, who is also the son of Mount Vernon Superintendent Bill Seder.
“Mount Vernon’s a good team… It was a fun environment, great atmosphere. I definitely didn’t feel like we brought our A-game tonight, which is disappointing because I thought our kids were ready.”
Cornell seemed to have a much different outlook on the evening. After falling to Ashland 49-26 last year, the Yellow Jackets appeared to gain ground on Wednesday.
“I’m extremely proud of those guys,” Cornell said. “You know, I told them before the match, ‘Let’s get those guys on the ropes.’ Because when I got the job last year, all I heard about was how tough Ashland is, and almost like they’re our big brother and we’re the little brother, and it’s expected for them to come in and mentally and physically beat us.
“And I talked to them about last year – we closed the gap a little bit last year, it was a two-point match and then they kind of took control to end the match. And then this year, we closed the gap even more.”
Ashland dominated the OCC meet last year, claiming seven weight classes and winning the team trophy by 92 points. The Arrows graduated six key wrestlers from that team, including state champion heavyweight Josh Bever (Jake’s older brother), but this year’s squad seems to have picked up where it left off, having won the prestigious J.C. Gorman Invitational last weekend.
Ashland will host perennial power Carrollton in a dual meet Friday night, and Seder said it might have impacted his team’s focus on Wednesday.
“I think some of us might have been looking ahead, which makes me a little upset,” Seder said. “We found a way to rally, but Mount Vernon’s a good team. They had a lot of energy here tonight and they wrestled well.”
Mount Vernon, meanwhile, placed third in the OCC last season. The Yellow Jackets graduated three key seniors from that team, including state qualifier Max VanFossen, but have reloaded this year. They recently won their second straight Bad Apple Brawl, finished third in Highland’s Kilted Classic, placed 14th in the Cincinnati Coaches Classic (a seven-spot improvement from last year), and finished sixth in the ultra-competitive Kevin Cleveland Memorial.
The Yellow Jackets posted another strong showing on Wednesday, despite being short-handed.
Senior Jake Burrell (126) couldn’t wrestle due to a failed skin check. Bowens, who qualified for state last year, wrestled up while recovering from a knee injury he suffered last weekend at Dublin Scioto. While he wanted to face Ashland stud Jayden Jones in his usual 145-pound tilt, Cornell moved Bowens to 152 so that he could lessen the risk of reinjury.
“He wasn’t even supposed to wrestle this week, and [Bowens] kept on kind of creeping in on me, creeping in on me,” Cornell said with a smile. The second-year head coach confided with longtime Mount Vernon wrestling guru John Frye, who told him to let the senior compete.
“He wanted to wrestle Jayden,” Cornell said of Bowens. “He was like, ‘I want him, I want him, I want him,’ and I was like, ‘Nope, we’ll see him at OCCs. Not tonight, sorry buddy.’”
Ashland held an experience advantage in several key matchups Wednesday night. Four of the Arrows’ five pins came against underclassmen from Mount Vernon, still cutting their teeth on the varsity stage.
Freshman Rylan Firebaugh (120) tangled with Ashland junior Case George, a state qualifier from last season who’d won the Gorman Invitational four days earlier (George pinned Firebaugh 27 seconds into the second round). Freshman Nick Mitchell filled in for Bowens at 145 and competed against Jones (he was pinned 41 seconds into the match).
Thomas (182), a sophomore, faced Ashland’s Beverly, who won an individual OCC title last year (Beverly pinned Thomas 55 seconds into the match). And Stradley, also a sophomore, went head-to-head with Bever (the Ashland junior recorded a pin 75 seconds into the match).
Cornell hopes matches like this will serve as a learning experience for his younger wrestlers.
“I told those guys, ‘Keep your head held high. Thank you for going out there and doing that because that’s tough.’ Going out there against those kids, they’re physically gonna get after you, and they did…” Cornell said. “Some kids won’t even go out there and do that. They went out there and did it, they didn’t complain. I asked them to do it and I heard nothing about it. They went out there and did it.
“They did a really good job tonight, and I told them, ‘That’s gonna be you someday.’ You’ve gotta take some of those lumps, that’s wrestling. It’s a tough sport, mentally and physically. You’ve gotta take lumps like that. If you keep working, that will be you someday.”
Mount Vernon jumped out to a 9-0 lead following victories from freshman Dash Lepley (106) and sophomore Colton Spurgeon (113). Lepley defeated Ashland’s Roman Parobeck in a 5-4 decision, while Spurgeon pinned Milan Parobeck 40 seconds into the third round.
But Ashland came storming back, as George pinned Firebaugh and Griffin Adkins (126) won by forfeit. Mount Vernon’s Gabe Shannon (132) pinned Ashland’s Jesse Keener with 36 seconds left in the first round, making it 15-12 Yellow Jackets. The Arrows responded with quick pins from Adam Cook (138) and Jones, which allowed them to take a nine-point lead midway through the meet.
Ashland and Mount Vernon will square off again at the OCC Championships on Feb. 15. Seder said his team has plenty of work to do if it wants to capture its fifth straight conference trophy.
“At the end of the day we tell them, win or lose, as long as you’re getting better every week, we’re going in the right direction,” he said. “We try to peak in February and March, so we’ve got a lot of time to work still.”
Like Cornell, Seder hopes to use Wednesday’s dual meet as a learning experience.
“If anything, having a really close dual hopefully should fire our guys up, let them know we can’t be complacent,” he said. “Any given night, if you don’t come ready to wrestle and the other team does, bad things will happen. Hopefully that’s kind of their takeaway.”
For Mount Vernon, the meet was an opportunity to slay Goliath. It also served as a program-wide measuring stick.
“That’s an extremely impressive program – their coaching staff, their kids, their whole team got to the district tournament last year. They had guys in state – they had a state champion last year…” Cornell said of Ashland.
“That’s what we’re going for and we were right there. We had them on the ropes and I’m extremely proud of that. Those guys did not back down. We weren’t the little brother tonight, we went right at them.”
Mount Vernon will wrestle next at the Porter Memorial at Hilliard Bradley High School on Saturday. Ashland will host Carrollton in a dual meet Friday night.
106: Dash Lepley (Mount Vernon) def. Roman Parobeck (Ashland) – 5-4 decision
113: Colton Spurgeon (Mount Vernon) def. Milan Parobeck (Ashland) – PIN (1:20, third round)
120: Case George (Ashland) def. Rylan Firebaugh (Mount Vernon) – PIN (1:33, second round)
126: Griffin Adkins (Ashland) wins by forfeit
132: Gabe Shannon (Mount Vernon) def. Jesse Keener (Ashland) – PIN (0:36, first round)
138: Adam Cook (Ashland) def. Connor Lang (Mount Vernon) – PIN (0:14, first round)
145: Jayden Jones (Ashland) def. Nick Mitchell (Mount Vernon) – PIN (1:19, first round)
152: Triston Bowens (Mount Vernon) def. Chase Dillow (Ashland) – 13-6 decision
160: Ryan Tiell (Mount Vernon) wins by forfeit
170: Wyatt Gregory (Mount Vernon) def. Lane Porter (Ashland) – 2-1 decision
182: Jakob Beverly (Ashland) def. Zach Thomas (Mount Vernon) – PIN (1:05, first round)
195: Steven Schisler (Mount Vernon) def. Dakota Pitz (Ashland) – 9-8 decision
220: Gabe Harmon (Mount Vernon) def. Chase Blessing (Ashland) – 1-0 decision
285: Jake Bever (Ashland) def. Nate Stradley (Mount Vernon) – PIN (0:45, first round)