By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline had some extra motivation on Thursday, and it ran deeper than simply the desire to take home the first-place trophy in the inaugural Conference 28 wrestling tournament held in the Hawks' home gymnasium.
The Hawks were battling for more than just a trophy -- they wanted to continue the string of success that they've had this season over cross-town rival Warren County, who figured to be Skyline's stiffest competition in the six-team tournament.
"It always makes us want to perform the best that we can every time we face them," said Hawks junior Josiah Huston of Warren County. "It's a matter of pride for this town. We want to come out here and show them who's boss, who rules it out here."
Skyline certainly made its point again in the conference tournament.
Warren County was the only team that had a realistic shot at pushing Skyline for the conference title late in the tournament, but the Hawks' depth across the board shone brightly once again on Thursday.
Skyline took home the team title with a winning score of 232.5 points -- ahead of runner-up Warren County's 209.5 -- and qualified a wrestler in each weight class for the 3A East regional tournament, which is scheduled to be held on Feb. 14-15 at John Champe High School.
The top four finishers in each weight class earned places in the regional tournament.
"This is the first time that we've ever advanced 14 to regionals," Hawks coach Matt Keel said. "That's a big deal. That's team. You see guys take a hard loss and wrestle back and get third, beat kids that beat them last time, pin them. There's a lot stories in there of our guys falling early and wrestling back. We won by 20 points, and those 20 points came from wrestle-backs ... as well as bonus in finals."
Skyline led Warren County by 22.5 points entering the championship round on Thursday, and both teams each sent a tournament-high seven wrestlers into the title matches. Four of the championship bouts featured matchups between the cross-town rivals -- including the opening match for the 106-pound title.
In that match, Warren County sophomore Zach Beckner kept his undefeated season alive by putting together a dominating performance against Skyline junior Justin Cornwell. Beckner won the match by a 16-2 major decision and began a string of three straight victories for Warren County to open the championship round.
Wildcats senior Tyler Barisciano followed with an impressive performance of his own against William Monroe's Patrick Gehman, whom Barisciano pinned last Saturday for the 113-pound Bull Run District title. Barisciano consistently put Gehman on his back and tallied four near-falls in an eventual 16-1 tech fall victory on Thursday.
"It was a pretty good match. He fought pretty hard," Barisciano said. "It feels good because this is what I've been working for from the beginning of the offseason. It's like a stepping stone -- step one, conference, then region, then state title."
Senior Terrace Thompson continued Warren County's early success with a 10-0 major decision over Loudoun Valley's Derek Rashid in the 120-pound championship.
The trio of Beckner, Barisciano and Thompson has combined for just two losses this season.
"As a coach at this point in the season I'm just trying to relish this because you may never get three kids like that in a row ever again," Wildcats coach Matt Wadas said. "It's exciting, and they're a symbol because they were here all offseason. They were putting the work in. They've showed that how hard you work can pay off."
Warren County also got an individual championship in the 170-pound bout, as sophomore Jacob Schneider beat Skyline sophomore Joey Norman, 8-2.
The Wildcats got runner-up finishes by Levi Lambert (126 pounds), Tristan Ward (152) and Jacob Grimsley (220), and qualified 10 wrestlers for the regional meet.
"It was unbelievable tonight. To put seven in the finals -- we never thought we would get that many. And 10 to region is just exciting," Wadas said. "We were optimistic that we could probably get eight or nine, but when we got ten it's just exciting. When you have goals and you exceed them it's great for the kids."
Skyline's first individual title came in the 132-pound championship, as junior Noah Goss grinded out a 6-0 win over Loudoun Valley's Kyle Dillon.
Huston followed suit several matches later against Ward at 152, as he scored five total takedowns -- including three in the first period -- to claim a 10-2 major decision victory.
"I just wrestled as hard as I could," Huston said. "Tristan Ward is a good guy. I always love facing him. He's a good opponent."
Hawks senior Dustin Santmyers followed with a 14-4 major decision victory over John Champe's Brandon Rafferty at 160 pounds, and sophomore Keith Sanker gave Skyline its fourth champion of the evening with his second-round pin of Grimsley at 220.
Grimsley led 2-1 after the first period and chose the top position to start the second period. Sanker immediately earned an escape point at the sound of the whistle and threw Grimsley to the ground shortly after. Sanker recorded the pin at the 2:22 mark.
"I was expecting to go out there and pin him right away, and I did it. It was pretty awesome," Sanker said. "I got down on bottom ... got out and used his own move against him and pinned him."
In addition to Cornwell and Norman, Skyline also got a runner-up finish from Garrett Maddox (145 pounds).
Central senior Thomas Peacemaker turned in one of the most thrilling victories of the evening, as he squeezed out an overtime victory over Loudoun Valley's Joseph LaFonte for the 138-pound title.
The pair battled to a 2-2 tie late in the third period before LaFonte earned a point to take the lead with 21 seconds remaining. LaFonte appeared to be in position for the victory, but he was penalized for stalling with five seconds remaining, which awarded Peacemaker a point and sent the match into overtime.
Both wrestlers went scoreless for nearly the entirety of the one-minute overtime period, but Peacemaker executed a takedown in the closing seconds and recorded a near-fall to claim a 7-3 win.
"We both resorted to throws and he slipped a little bit, so I came out on top. It was great," Peacemaker said.
"We're both pretty much throwers. We both like to throw each other around, so we kind of lost our game there, so it was really tough to get takedowns. He's a really tough kid. That's the best match I've had in a while."
Central nearly had a second individual champion in the 182-pound bout, but senior Jacob Ingham suffered a tough loss at the hands of William Monroe's Mark Sizemore. Ingham fell into an 8-0 hole after two periods, but he made a late push for a pin after scoring a reversal with 40 seconds left in the third period. Ingham appeared to have Sizemore pinned twice over the final 20 seconds but never earned a whistle from the referee and lost the match 8-5.
The Falcons, who finished last in the tournament with 73 total points, will send four wrestlers to the regional meet, with sophomore Colton Lecraw (fourth place, 113 pounds) and senior Ryan Freiwald (fourth place, 152) joining Peacemaker and Ingham.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD