NAPPANEE — NorthWood needed a little help from a pair of forfeits, but the Panthers got a Northern Lakes Conference win over Plymouth just the same.
Wood trailed 36-28 at the conclusion of live wrestling, but Rockie forfeits at 106 and 113 put the Panthers over the top, 40-36, and the home team was able to celebrate senior night properly at The Den Thursday.
“We’ve got them, and they don’t right now. I’ve been on the other end of those too. That is a team effort, there’s no doubt about it, whether we get our hand raised without shaking hands or not,” said NorthWood coach Nate Andrews. “ To me that’s what a team is about, so I’m really proud of our guys for that. Senior night — we have some new seniors in the lineup, we have some old seniors that have been around the block and a really nice mix I suppose. I’m proud that we were able to pull one out on senior night for those guys that didn’t necessarily perform individually tonight.”
The key match came at 170 pounds, where Hunter Lechlitner faced off against Plymouth’s Matthew McCrum in a toss-up that had the potential to swing the dual either way. Lechlitner started fast, parlaying an early takedown into a pinfall of McCrum in only 32 seconds for a quick six team points.
“We weren’t quite sure who we were going to wrestle tonight at 170, and when they bumped (Graham) Calhoun, we inserted Hunter Lechlitner, and we were hoping and praying that we’d get a win there,” recalled Andrews. “We thought if we got a win there, we had a shot to win the whole thing. And when he got the fall we were feeling pretty good about things.”
The next match of the night was a marquee match-up between two of the state’s top wrestlers as Calhoun — rated second at 170 pounds by Indianamat.com — bumped up a class to square off opposite Jake Lone, himself rated sixth in the 182-pound class. Calhoun took control in the second period, pushing an initial 2-0 advantage out to 6-2 en route to an eventual 8-3 decision. The outcome was perhaps more lopsided than many might have expected, but after undergoing surgery in the offseason, Lone has seen limited practice time so far this year, explained Andrews. Still, Thursday’s 82-pound bout offered a glimpse at two of the best in the state.
“It was dominant. We’ve worked hard, and Graham has gotten to the point where he’s going to beat good people like that. And I take nothing away from Jake Lone because, I’ll tell you what, that kid is going to place high in the state tournament. So that was fun,” said Plymouth coach Bob Read.
“Jake is a dog. Jake is an animal and came out here and wrestled the number two kid in Indiana as tough as he did on a bum wheel with no gas in the tank yet because he’s only on limited practice right now. It was pretty impressive, and Jake is going to climb the ladder,” Andrews said. “No disrespect to Mr. Calhoun, he’s an unbelievable wrestler and he’s got a shot to win the whole thing, but so does Jake.”
Lone’s practice partner and fellow senior Jaden Miller gave his team its first lead of the night at 28-27 with a second period pinfall of Rockie junior Sam Driver at 195 pounds. Isaac Benjamin suffered a late first-period pinfall to Plymouth’s Diego Garcia at 220, and the Panthers lost once more via decision at heavyweight, although there were bright spots as an undersized Blake Herr battled Andrew Himes through three grueling periods, ultimately coming up short, 8-1, before the lineup rolled around to 106 and 113, where forfeit victories by Ryan Miller and Sam Schultz sealed the Wood win.
“He’s able to wrestle big guys, heavyweights a little bit better than others and battled, stayed in the match, gave himself a chance to win. Went for the gusto at the very end, trying not only to help himself but to help the team as well. He’s wrestling really, really well right now. Really proud of him,” said Andrews.
NorthWood trailed 24-0 before freshman Kaden Lone gave the team its first win — a second period pinfall of Tyler Richey at 145 pounds. Alex Walker earned a 9-1 major decision over Sal Rhoades at 152, and senior Tyler Becker cut the deficit to 24-15 with a second-period pinfall of Zach Truitt at 160 before the decisive 70-pound match and Lechlitner’s heroics.
NorthWood improves to 4-2 in the NLC with wins over Warsaw, Concord, Elkhart Memorial and Plymouth and losses to Northridge and Goshen. The only NLC test remaining for the Panthers is Wawasee, which the team will see in a dual on Jan. 11 following the Al Smith Invitational Dec. 27-28.
“We’ve got to keep getting a little bit better. We’re not very good down low right now, and we know that. We’ve got to find a way to stay off our backs there,” said Andrews.