By Keith Knepp
NAPPANEE — High school wrestling meets aren’t divided into halves. The one staged in The Pit on Thursday night might as well have been though, as it truly was a tale of two parts.
The evening’s matches began at the 145-pound weight class with NorthWood senior Connor Ratcliff executing a first period pin of Wawasee sophomore Gavin Malone. It was followed with Hunter Lechlitner earning a 9-7 decision over Landen Dilley at 152 and Kaden Lone pinning Timothy Shortt at 160, which gave the Panthers a quick 15-0 advantage on the scoreboard.
Wawasee earned its first victory at 170 by way of Cameron Zimmerman’s pin of Alex Walker. The Panthers answered with three straight pins by Trey Tobias at 182, Joas Miller at 195 and Isaac Benjamin at 220, defeating Wyatt Slusher, Chance Flannery and Eleazar Vazquez respectively.
The early card finished with the evening’s longest match, which found NorthWood’s Blake Herr, who is rostered at 220 pounds, taking on Warrior heavyweight Hagaen Slusher at 285. After three periods, the match was tied at 3-3, sending it extra time. Herr managed a takedown of Slusher to take the match 5-3 and give the home side a commanding 36-6 lead as the roster flipped to the smaller weight classes.
At this point, the Warrior fortunes changed as they rattled off pins by Kaleb Salazar over Ryan Miller at 106, Hunter Miller over Lynkin Ratcliff at 113, Brenden Dilley over Keith Miller at 126 and Logan Stuckman over Payton Griffin at 132. Mixed in was a NorthWood forfeit at 120, which left the scoreboard even at 36-36 with just the 138 match remaining.
In the final match, Warrior senior Jace Alexander was paired with NorthWood freshman Wesley Yoder. Alexander had his opponent on the ropes for the entire first period, holding a commanding 9-2 lead at the first whistle. Not long after the second period began, Alexander earned a pin and the corresponding six points for his team, giving the visitors an improbably 42-36 team win, having taken the last 36 points of the evening.
“We knew coming in that that would be a good stretch of our lineup,” said Wawasee coach Frank Bumgardner. “We go into it with the goal of winning the next match by the biggest margin as possible.”
The Warriors next take to the mat on Saturday, hosting a four-way NLC dual that includes Mishawaka, Plymouth and Northridge.