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Lessons learned: Warriors’ Ashton shows ability in home quad

By Brian Eller – beller@nvdaily.com

STEPHENS CITY — George Aston doesn’t have the luxury of taking time to hone his skills and mature physically before hitting the mat. With such a young squad this season at Sherando, it doesn’t matter that Aston is only a freshman. He’s been thrown into the fray from the beginning. Whether he’s ready isn’t for him or coach Pepper Martin to decide. It’s just what has to be done.

“George is a fighter,” Martin said. “What he lacks in experience and wrestling knowledge, he makes up for with a lot of grit and heart. Looking at his face, you’d think he was just in a street alley, but that’s the way he carries himself. He has to step in and wrestle from Day 1 because we just don’t have guys to fill the roster with.”

And for Aston, the start of the season meant taking his share of licks. But while his record entering Wednesday’s quad meet with Skyline, Millbrook and Jefferson (W.Va.) certainly showed room for improvement (2-13), it’s the 15 matches as a whole Aston has learned from, rather than just two wins to his name. Wednesday night, however, Aston could add one more to his record.

Locked in a close team match with the Hawks, Aston faced off against another freshman, Skyline’s Cody Tharpe, at 171 pounds. Through the first two minutes, Tharpe had taken it to Aston, picking up a huge lead and nearly pinning Aston several times. But despite the early struggles, Aston escaped the period, allowing him to start from the neutral position once again.

This time, what little of the period there was belonged to Aston. With 1:41 left in the second period, Aston used his momentum to gain leverage on Tharpe, rolling him over on the mat. It took only a few seconds for the referee’s hand to slap the mat, signaling the pin for Aston.

That win helped Sherando squeak past the Hawks, part of a 2-1 night for the Warriors. Sherando defeated Skyline 45-36 and Jefferson 69-11, but fell to Millbrook 47-28. The Pioneers went 2-0 on the night, overtaking Skyline 58-24, while the Hawks picked up a victory against the winless Cougars, 68-12.

For Sherando, a win against Skyline helped mask what was thought to be a winnable showdown with district rival Millbrook. Despite struggles in the upper weight classes, the Warriors led 28-12 midway through the match. But wins from the Pioneers’ Jacob Crawford, John Sharp, Carter Barnett and Joe Jessen helped Millbrook reclaim the advantage en route to the win over the Warriors.

“It was a win, so we’ll take it,” Millbrook coach John Borst said. “But we had some guys who were in position for major wins and couldn’t hold on, and we had two guys who didn’t make weight, so it was not our best night tonight. A win is a win, though.”

It may not have been the best night as team for Millbrook, but Crawford made a statement to the rest of the Northwestern District, registering three wins, including one over Skyline’s Joe Bass. Bass entered Wednesday as one of the Hawks’ top wrestlers and a 22-5 record. But midway through the second period, Crawford decided that record didn’t matter. With 52 seconds left in the period Crawford finally secured Bass on the mat, helping the Pioneers erase an early deficit against Skyline for their first of two team victories.

So while the Pioneers finished with two wins on the night, moving to 38-6 on the year, the Hawks were looking for just their sixth team victory of the season and found it against Jefferson. A 68-12 win over the Cougars revealed a showdown with Sherando in the final match, where Skyline was in position for the win, especially after Dustin Santmyers’ 135-pound match. Just after the opening whistle, Santmyers took a strong blow to the head from his opponent. Tempers flared slightly, forcing Skyline coach Matt Keel to holler at his wrestler, reminding him to keep his composure.

Not only did Santmyers regroup, but with just 15 seconds remaining in the final period, Santmyers pinned his opponent, breaking a then-tie score and giving the Hawks the lead for the moment. It was a cushion that would be short-lived, however, as 140-pound junior Joe Bass dropped a close match to Sherando’s Aaron Laboy shortly before Aston stole the momentum with his win over Tharpe.

“Everybody I expected to win, won tonight,” Keel said. “Cody’s match was the difference for us. I thought he had him there — he was in position — but I thought if we could get that pin we had a shot at it. But the night went as I thought it would for us.”