FREMONT — The depth of the Clay wrestling team enabled the Eagles to build up enough points to hold off a serious challenge from Central Catholic at the Three Rivers Athletic Conference tournament on Saturday.
Clay won the school's sixth straight league championship as 13 of its 14 wrestlers finished among the top three at Fremont Ross High School.
Central Catholic had 11 wrestlers that finished among the top three. Clay finished with four champions and 230 points, while the Irish had six champs and tallied 214.5 points.
Each team had 10 wrestlers in the championship finals as the schools met head-to-head in seven weight classes.
Central went 6-4 in the finals, including 4-3 against Clay wrestlers. The Eagles went 4-6 in the finals but they had built a 212-188.5 lead through the consolation finals.
“We won it with our depth,” Clay coach Ralph Cubberly said. “Central is a good team. We knew it would be a battle in the finals. We fought and scratched for every pin and technical fall all the way to the finals because we knew it would be tough.”
Clay's champions were senior Gavin Nelson (138-pound weight class), senior Nick Stencel (160), sophomore Matt Stencel (195), and senior Antonio Zapata (285).
Central got titles from sophomore Josh Venia (106), sophomore Rosendo Beltran (120), junior Nate Hagan (132), senior Alex Mossing (152), junior Colin Kaucher (170), and junior Chris Green (220).
Clay's Stencel brothers each repeated as TRAC champs along with Nelson. Matt Stencel (29-4) sewed up the team title for the Eagles when he pinned Whitmer's Jacob LaPoint with 7.4 seconds left in the first period.
“Coach told me before, 'If you pin it, you win it for us.' That got me excited and made me just want to scream,” he said. “It felt really good knowing that it was over and we had won it.”
Fremont Ross senior Trey Grine was named the meet's most valuable wrestler after running his record to 29-1 at 145. The host Little Giants had three individual champs and finished third as a team.
Grine successfully defended his TRAC title with a 15-4 major decision over Richard Jackson of Central.
“It felt good to go out with a bang at home,” Grine said. “This is the last time I'll wrestle here. Everybody was cheering for me.”
The other TRAC champions were Fremont Ross sophomore Trayvian Scott (113), Fremont Ross senior Bailey Mezinger (126), and St. Francis de Sales senior Zach Uram (182).
The Eagles have won the first three TRAC titles after capturing the final three City League titles.
Central, which also finished runner up last season, got off to a hot start under the spotlight in a darkened gym during the championship finals. The Irish won their first three matches and all came against Clay.
At 106, Venia (26-4) decisioned Clay freshman Nick Henneman 7-4. Beltran (24-6) defeated Clay senior Aaron Henneman 7-4 in the finals at 120.
At 132, the Irish recorded a third straight win when Hagan (30-8) defeated Clay junior Richie Screptock. Hagan scored a takedown in the first before Screptock escaped in the second to make it 2-1. Screptock could not turn Hagan in the third as he held on for a 3-1 win.
The victory pulled the Irish within 11.5 points in the team standings.
“We wanted to come in here and show our name,” Hagan said. “We are pushing each other.”
Meanwhile, Clay lost its four matches in the championship round.
“I didn't fully know [the team standings],” Central coach Tony Guerra said. “I just told the guys to go out there and wrestle and take care of their match and the team score will work itself out. All I can ask for is for the guys to continue to improve each week. Their performance tonight will give them confidence to get better.”
Nelson (29-6) stemmed the tide for the Eagles with a win over Central's Josh Mossing at 138. The wrestlers had split in two previous matches.
“I changed the pace and flipped the momentum,” Nelson said. “It's my senior year and I didn't want to see us lose it to Central.”
Central received a fall from defending state champ Alex Mossing (22-3) to pull within 10. Clay's Nick Stencel countered with a 4-0 win over Central's Lucas Beauch in the 160 final.
That head-to-head win gave the Eagles a 220-206.5 lead over the Irish. Cubberly said he knew the score after every weight class.
“We knew we had to win at least four matches to salt it away,” Cubberly said. “We were the lower seed in those lower weight classes. We knew we had to stop the bleeding. We told our seniors to get us going and that is what they did.”
Kaucher (7-0) got Central's fifth win in the finals with a 3-1 decision over Findlay's Ian Silette at 170. The Irish pulled back within 9.5 points of Clay in the team standings.
After Matt Stencel clinched the team title, the schools split the final two weight classes. Green (22-7) beat Tyler Koester 6-1 at 220. Zapata decisioned Jquan Fisher 2-1 at 285.
Fremont Ross’ Scott (28-7) pinned Clay's Evan True at 113. Teammate Mezinger (33-4) defeated Findlay's Justin Jolliff 2-0 at 126.
Uram (30-6) got the lone St. Francis title with a 7-6 decision over Clay's Kevin Witt.
Both Clay and Central will wrestle at the state dual meet next weekend.
“This is special when you win your conference tournament,” Cubberly said. “This is good preparation for the first round of the state duals. We'll go after it.”