By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County wrestling coach Matt Wadas admitted his team was a little concerned prior to Wednesday's Evergreen District dual with Liberty.
With some of their wrestlers fighting the flu bug and others suffering from injury, the Wildcats were without three regular competitors for the match against the Eagles.
But Warren County hardly missed a beat, recording six pins and beating Liberty 57-21 to improve to 2-1 in district duals this season.
"We were a little nervous -- being without three starters, that's 18 points up for grabs," Wildcats coach Matt Wadas said. "But our backup kids filled right in and our more experienced kids got a lot of pins for us, which helped us win this one."
At the core of Warren County's success on Wednesday was the effort of the four seniors who participated for the Wildcats. The upperclassmen were 4-0 on the day, with Zach Poehler, Josh Laravie and Wayne Starks each pinning their opponents. Jeff Budwash, the fourth senior, picked up a win by technical fall.
"They lead by example," Wadas said of his group of seniors, which also includes Jacob Hill and Dillon Kidd, who did not wrestle on Wednesday. "They get out there and they work for the extra bonus points for the team. Really you can't ask for anything better."
The match started on a strong note for the Wildcats in the 152-pound match as Wildcats freshman Jacob Schneider dominated Liberty's Cameron Yates for three periods. Schneider controlled Yates on the ground for most of the match, picking up a 13-1 win to give the Wildcats a 4-0 lead.
Liberty took advantage of Warren County's inexperience in the next few matches, as the 160-, 170- and 182-pound bouts each featured a backup wrestler for the Wildcats. The Eagles' Romeo Clanagan pinned junior Justin Raupp in the 160-pound match, and Liberty sophomore T.J. Hogan picked up a pin against freshman Brady Bryant in the 182-pound contest.
But the 170-pound match brought with it a nice surprise for the Wildcats, as junior Cody Banzhof -- filling in for Kidd, who has bronchitis -- pinned Liberty junior Justin Abate. Banzhof began the match with a quick takedown 10 seconds in, and eventually built a 15-3 lead in the third period. He picked up the pin with 17.8 seconds left in the match.
Budwash said it is the effort of wrestlers such as Banzhof that makes the Wildcats so successful.
"We're a good group of seniors, but we can't rely just on the seniors. There are a lot of upcoming stars on this team," Budwash said. "When somebody's down, we'll always have somebody to take their spot. They might not always be as good, but they're always there for an effort and they get the job done."
Hogan's win gave Liberty a 12-10 lead after four matches, but the Wildcats took control after that, winning five straight matches to build a 39-12 lead.
Budwash started the run with his 21-3 win over Liberty's John Clanagan in the 195-pound match. Budwash, who finished seventh in the Group AA meet last season, built a 7-1 lead and nearly pinned Clanagan as time expired in the first period, and the senior had several chances for a pin throughout the final two periods. A takedown and a near-pin midway through the final period earned Budwash five points and the tech fall.
"I just couldn't pin him to be honest," Budwash said. "I just tried to do what I could do to beat him."
Poehler immediately followed Budwash with his team-leading 14th pin of the season in the 220-pound bout against Martin Hey. After a blood timeout was needed just 19 seconds into the match, Poehler was able to score a takedown with 1:15 left in the first period before finally pinning Hey with 50.5 seconds left.
Poehler is now 16-0 this season.
"I really couldn't do anything because he kept throwing a head drag," Poehler said. "I just stayed patient and rolled through with it and eventually got the pin."
Laravie then pinned Todd Parker with 1:35 left in the third period of the heavyweight bout to give Warren County a 27-12 lead, and junior Tyler Barisciano pinned Anthony Ramirez in the first period of the 106-pound match to widen the margin.
Brandon Ketola (138) and Starks (145) each picked up pins for Warren County in the final two matches of the night. Liberty forfeited both the 113 and 126-pound matches.
Warren County has its final district dual of the season next Thursday at Kettle Run, and the Wildcats must beat the Cougars if they hope to claim at least a share of the regular season title.
"We'll have the weekend off, so I hope any of these injuries and the flu, we can take care of it -- get a full roster back and go out and wrestle our best against Kettle Run," Wadas said. "This is one of the most experienced crew I've had. We still have more growing to do ... but I think this group is a great group."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org