By Jeff Nations
WOODSTOCK -- Stonewall Jackson senior Ryan Pugh acted like he had a bus to catch during Tuesday night's Shenandoah County Wrestling Championship.
Point of fact, Pugh did -- but really, it would have waited for him. Instead, Pugh blazed through three matches to score a trio of first-period pins in the 170-pound weight class. That performance was enough to earn Pugh the tournament's Outstanding Wrestler honor.
"My coach [Jerry Franklin] has been telling me all year, 'You need to pick it up. You need to pick it up, Pugh,' so since this season is close to coming to an end and the postseason is coming, I've just really been trying to step up my game and be more aggressive, really finish my shots and try to get as many pins as I can," Pugh said. "I just try to go out there and dominate."
Host Central scored the team championship with a 3-0 night against county rivals, with the thriller coming at the end against Strasburg. Both squads entered the ring with 2-0 records, with the winner assured of taking home the championship trophy.
The Falcons turned the match around in the middle weights. Trailing 17-9 heading into the 152-pound match, Central's Thomas Peacemaker squared off against once-beaten Todd Dean of Strasburg. Dean, normally a 145-pounder who was wrestling up a class to work on technique, seemed to have the match in hand as he took a 4-0 lead in the first period. But in the second, Peacemaker scored a stunning reverse, then turned it into a pin at the 2:38 mark.
"He's a good wrestler," Strasburg coach Trey Kirkland said of the Central junior. "Peacemaker gave Tyler [Drummond] a pretty tough match the last time we wrestled them. So we knew he was tough, but it was a tough one to lose."
Drummond, also wrestling up a class, came through with a hard-fought 15-11 decision against Justin Ruckman at 160, but the Rams really needed a pin.
Central got one instead, at 170, when John Plunkett wore down Caleb Haines and finally pinned him at 5:36 to give the Falcons a 21-20 lead.
Strasburg's Willy Rutz got the lead back with a second-period pin over Jake Freiwald, but the chronically short-handed Rams had to forfeit the next two weight classes and fell behind, 33-26.
With the match potentially on the line, Central heavyweight Michael Critz and Strasburg's Thayer Norris engaged in a spirited tussle. Critz got the better of it, though, scoring the pin in 1:03 to lock up the team championship. Strasburg's Hunter Dean (106) and Lance Ford (113) closed it out with a pin and a technical fall victory, but it was too late as the Falcons secured the 39-37 win.
Central coach Roger Barbee acknowledged Peacemaker's clutch performance, but said that was just part of the difference.
"He did, but a lot of kids did," Barbee said. "John Paul Plunkett getting his pin, Justin Ruckman had a great match, Michael Crites getting that pin at heavyweight -- all those kids went out there and did what they had to do, and we got a win out of it."
Central opened the night with a 72-6 win over outmanned Massanutten Military Academy, then scored a 53-24 victory over Stonewall Jackson before facing the Rams for the title.
Strasburg opened with a 47-21 win over the Generals, then rolled to a 60-12 win over MMA. Having beaten Central in dual competition earlier this year, the Rams might have been looking forward to raising that trophy.
"We didn't show up," Kirkland said. "Last time we wrestled Central, we wrestled really well. We beat them by 17. Today we got Willy [Rutz] back, so you think if we wrestle the same we'd still come out ahead. But we had a lot of people, up and down the lineup -- no one really wrestled hard, people giving up pins with short time on the clock, not fighting off the bottom.
"I don't know if the guys [underrated] them or what, but you've got to come to wrestle and we just didn't come to wrestle that match."
Rutz, eligible for the first time this year, was a major boost to the Rams' lineup as he went 3-0 with three pins to earn medalist honors at 182. Other Strasburg wrestlers who won their weight classes included Hunter Dean (106), Lance Ford (113), Nic Campbell (120), Kent Cadle (132) and Tyler Drummond (160).
Stonewall's weight-class winners were Andrew Good (126) and Pugh (170).
For Central, individual champions were Jason Ruckman (138), Skylar Wolf (145), Thomas Peacemaker (152), Jacob Ingham (195), Brandon Phillips (220) and Michael Critz (285).
"It was a very good night," Barbee said. "These kids, they work. This is our second year together, and they work very hard."
Sports editor Jeff Nations can be reached at 540-465-5137 or at firstname.lastname@example.org