Rams top Eagles for conference wrestling title

QUICKSBURG – As the wrestling mats were being rolled up following the conclusion of Saturday’s Conference 35 tournament at Stonewall Jackson High School, Strasburg head coach Mike Wood let out a sigh, the relief quite visible on his face.

“That’s one week out of the way,” the Rams’ second-year coach said.

Wood’s remark came shortly after Strasburg survived its latest run-in with Bull Run District rival Clarke County on Saturday afternoon, as the Rams claimed their second straight head-to-head win over the Eagles this season with a 39-30 victory to earn the Conference 35 championship.

Strasburg topped the five-team field in the dual tournament format, as the Rams went 4-0 en route to its second straight conference title. Clarke County finished second at 3-1, followed by Madison County (2-2), Stonewall Jackson (1-3) and George Mason (0-4).

As expected, the conference championship came down to the final-round matchup between Strasburg and Clarke County, which split their two head-to-head meetings during the regular season. Much like those first two matchups between the longtime rivals, Saturday’s showdown came down to the final match.

With the Rams holding a 36-30 lead entering the last bout of the afternoon, Strasburg sophomore 126-pounder Dylan Campbell simply needed to avoid being pinned to prevent the conference championship from being decided by tiebreaker criteria. Campbell delivered and not only avoided the pin but picked up his first win over Clarke County junior Jaxon Ottobre by way of a 1-0 decision.

“I wrestled the kid before and he’d beaten me all three times,” said Campbell, who scored the match’s only point with an escape midway through the second period. “I’ve been getting closer and closer, working hard each week. I knew what I had to do to beat him and I just went in there and wrestled smart and won the match.”

“He’s a tough wrestler,” Campbell added. “He’s really aggressive so I had to kind of shut him down, shut his offense down because he has a good offense. I knew that I could ride him out, so I just stayed on that wrist.”

Things started nicely for Strasburg against the Eagles, as pins by Nic Campbell (132 pounds), Hunter Dean (145) and Bradlee Hodson (152) and a forfeit victory for Randy Stokes gave Strasburg a 24-6 lead.

Clarke County responded with three straight victories – including a pin by freshman Bryan Wallace (182) – to cut the Rams’ lead to 24-18, but Strasburg was helped by the efforts of sophomore Ethan Duckworth (170) and senior Garrett Richards (195), who minimized the damage in a pair of 5-0 losses.

Duckworth fell into an early 5-0 hole against Eagles senior Matt Cleary but was able to ride out his opponent for two full periods, while Richards held tough against Logan Withers, a third-place state finisher at 182 pounds a year ago.

“Sometimes I tell these guys, your job may not be a win for the team but if you don’t get pinned you actually win in reality for us,” Wood said. “[Duckworth] did his job. He kept it a decision. I’m sure they were counting on getting six [points] there. I think they really were, and he kept it at three. Then of course Garrett wrestled tough. That’s another we held to three and I’m sure they thought they were going to get six there.”

Rams sophomore Josh Pritchett ended Clarke County’s run with a win over Mark Alexander in the 220-pound bout. Pritchett lost an 8-5 lead when Alexander got an escape point early in the third period and scored a takedown to tie it with 25 seconds remaining, but Pritchett regained the lead on a reversal off a restart with 12 seconds to go and held on for a 10-9 win.

“He beat me at the beginning of the year and we just have a rivalry now, going back and forth,” said Pritchett, who has beaten Alexander twice in three meetings this season. “I’ll probably see him down at states and hopefully I’ll beat him again. But he’s tough.”

Strasburg and Clarke County traded forfeits at heavyweight and 106 pounds to give the Rams a 33-24 lead with three matches left.

Sophomore Austin Cooper gave the Rams a 12-point lead with a 2-0 win over senior Cody Schneeman in the 113-pound bout. The two wrestlers battled to a scoreless tie through three periods before Cooper shot for a takedown early in the sudden-death overtime period and earned the winning two points with 20 seconds left.

“I was hoping to get the pin because I pinned him last week [in the Bull Run District tournament 113-pound championship],” Cooper said.

“I was hoping I could get a takedown in the first period. It was close but I didn’t get anything.”

Clarke County cut the Rams’ lead to six points following a pin by defending state champion Bayne Gordon before Dylan Campbell’s match-clinching win.

Kyle Sisk (106 pounds; three pins), Cooper (three pins), Dylan Campbell, Nic Campbell (three pins), Hunter Dean (three pins) and Stokes (two pins) all finished 4-0 for the Rams on Saturday and will be in line for top seeds at next weekend’s Region 2A East tournament at Strasburg. All wrestlers from Saturday’s conference tournament are eligible for the regional round.

The Rams also picked up wins over Stonewall Jackson (60-21), Madison County (56-24) and George Mason (72-12) in addition to Clarke County on Saturday.

Stonewall Jackson’s lone win came over George Mason (42-36), while the Generals lost to Madison County (70-18), Clarke County (63-18) and Strasburg.

Junior 152-pounder Kyle Cowart, whom Stonewall head coach Jerry Franklin said has been fighting an illness all week, was the lone General to go 4-0 on Saturday. He finished with three pins and an 11-9 decision over Strasburg’s Hodson.

Bryan Schutz (160 pounds), Jacob Richards (182; two pins) and Dakota Bush (one pin) each finished 2-2 for Stonewall Jackson.

“They did better today. We’re just still young,” Franklin said.

“[Cowart] did real well. He did better than I thought he would considering the lack of practice he’s had this week.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com