The Pickerington High School Central wrestling team defeated two top seeds in Mount Vernon and Hilliard Davidson to advance to the state dual tournament Feb. 9 at Ohio State's St. John Arena.
For their troubles, the Tigers were seeded eighth and matched up in a Division I quarterfinal with Lakewood St. Edward, winner of 15 of the past 16 Division I state championships and 27 overall.
Senior 170-pounder Ason Sunkle got Central's only win, an 18-5 major decision against Ray Barr, as the team lost 66-4. But the Tigers didn't hang their heads after the defeat, which came two days after a 36-27 loss at Pickerington North created a tie between the Tigers and Panthers for the OCC-Ohio Division championship.
"We've competed well. You're wrestling the No. 1 team in the state and the No. 2 team in the nation (in St. Edward)," Central coach Jason Allen said. "The majority of our guys went out and battled and did the best we could. We battled with them."
Five pins, two major decisions and a technical fall staked St. Edward to a 37-0 lead, but Central acquitted itself better in the upper weights. Senior A.J. Bondurant (160) lost 3-1 to Robbie Rogers, junior Dylan McDowell (182) lost 10-2 to Gab Dzuro and heavyweight Aaron Morefield, a sophomore, lost 15-6 to Ralph Nichols.
"You don't wrestle the kids' name or their ranking or their school. You go out there and battle with them," Allen said. "Those guys, they're wrestlers -- 100 percent wrestlers, and they don't play other sports. That's an advantage they have over 90 percent of our guys. That's an advantage year-round. But we still gave them 100 percent and battled with them. I have really no complaints."
Central advanced by defeating host Davidson 40-31 in the Region 6 final Feb. 6. The Tigers, who were the second seed in Region 6-B and defeated top-seeded Mount Vernon 37-35 in a regional semifinal Jan. 30, used four wins by pin and two technical falls to power past Davidson, which was the top seed in Region 6-A.
"As the year has gone on, we've become closer and pushed each other in the (practice) room," Sunkle said. "We've made it tougher in there, and that's paid off in competitions. We're doing everything we can for our underclassmen. We're seeing a lot of improvement with them."
The Tigers will compete in a 10-team Division I sectional tournament Saturday, Feb. 16, at Watkins Memorial with Canal Winchester, Dublin Coffman, Hilliard Bradley, Olentangy, Olentangy Orange, Reynoldsburg, Thomas Worthington, Watkins Memorial and Zanesville.
The top four individuals in each weight class from each sectional tournament -- the others are at Marysville, Pickerington North and Westland -- advance to the district tournament Feb. 22 and 23 at Hilliard Darby.
"The importance of everybody contributing to the team (during the dual tournament) and its success was huge," Allen said. "We used this as a teaching tool that if it's a dual or a tournament, we still all have to contribute to come out on top."
Panthers celebrate league title
North shook off the disappointment of two close losses in as many nights two weeks ago with a strong start Feb. 7 against Central.
On Jan. 30, the Panthers lost to Mount Vernon 35-34 in a Region 6-B semifinal. They then suffered their first league loss the next night, 36-33 at Gahanna.
"But (last) week, I think the shoe was on the other foot," North coach Brad Harris said. "Pickerington Central had a tough match (against Davidson) and it might have been hard for them to get back up for this. Our kids came ready to go. We had a lot of big matchups and a lot of big wins."
Starting at 182 pounds, where North junior George Dial edged McDowell 5-3, the Panthers bolted to a 24-0 lead. North won eight matches, three by pin. Senior Payton Gutierrez (106) pinned Central freshman Devin Johnson (3 minutes, 11 seconds), senior Jake Snyder (132) pinned sophomore Jonathan Taranto (5:07) and junior heavyweight Geno Rollo pinned Morefield (5:15).
"We proved ourselves out here," Gutierrez said. "We beat them pound for pound. We were physical. We won the scrambles for the most part. I'm really proud of the guys. They all stepped up. Everything came together."
The Panthers and Tigers shared the league title at 6-1, followed by Gahanna (5-2), Lancaster (5-2), Grove City (3-4), Reynoldsburg (2-5), Groveport (1-6) and Newark (0-7).
North will play host to a 10-team Division I sectional Saturday, Feb. 16, with Darby, Groveport, Logan, Mount Vernon, Newark, Olentangy Liberty, Teays Valley, Westerville Central and Westerville South.
"We're peaking at the right time and have the momentum going," Harris said.