Battle Creek, Kellogg Arena March 6 and 7 On Friday, March 6, the top-ranked Rockford Rams placed their hopes and a 23-2 record on the line in a single elimination tournament for the team wrestling state championship. In round one, the Rams faced the 31-7 Roseville Panthers. As the Rams have done most of the season, they dominated their opponent, winning 10 of 14 matches with four of them by pin. The Rams earned a 46-21 victory and a birth in the semi-finals Saturday with Lake Orion. The Dragons advanced by upsetting fourth-ranked Detroit Catholic Central 42-27.
In a dual meet that saw the Rams and upset-minded Dragons exchange leads several times, it was the role-players who would shine. Though Tyler Johnson (145), CJ Sholl (152), Zach Banzak (189) all lost their matches, they saved valuable team points by only giving up decisions and nine team points, helping to keep the Rams in the hunt.
Trailing 24-21, with two matches remaining, heavy-weight Jesse Somsel won a 10-0 major decision over Lake Orions Tyler Benson, giving Rockford a narrow 25-24 lead. The hopes of advancing to the final round landed on the smallest Ram in the lineup, Tyler VanRooyen (103). Although small in stature, VanRooyen carried the weight of his team to the mat in a winner-take-all battle. At the 4:30 mark of the match VanRooyen became the biggest Ram, recording a 16-0 technical fall over John Atwater.
VanRooyens five team points brought the score to 30-24, placing the Rams in the championship finals against defending state champion, Holt.
Rams found themselves in similar circumstances in 1997 when they lost to defending champion Holt 30-25 because of disqualification due to a bloody nose. In that match the Ram heavyweight Ben Miller was ahead in the match but unable to stop a bloody nose, causing his disqualification and a Holt victory.
Like twelve years ago, Rockford is ranked number one in the state and Holt is ranked number two. Holt was also the defending state champion and Rockford was hungry for the win. Unlike 1997, bloodtime would not be a factor. With the starting weight drawn at 112 pounds, B-team wrestler Alex Padilla of Rockford entered the lineup for the injured Charlie Hall. Padilla fell to Ben Matthieson in 1:29, giving Holt the early 6-0 lead.
Three-time individual state champion Kyle Waldo scored early and often in his 119-pound match, walking away with a 24-9 technical fall over Holt’s Drew Dyer.
With Rockford trailing 6-5, Jake Byers (125) snuck a narrow 3-1 decision from Kyle Hanton, putting Rockford on top for the first time in the meet, 8-6.
In two of the four swing matches, Holt jumped out to a 12-8 lead with a 5-1 decision at 130 pounds by Mike Jones over Rockford’s Austin Scogg followed by Tyler Jackson’s 7-6 decision over Robbie Gorton at 135 pounds.
Evening the team score to 12-12, Zach Johnson took a 17-4 major decision over Holt’s Jeff Baker (140).
In the third swing match, CJ Scholl of Rockford came up big. Trailing Holt’s Seth Hanton 3-1 late in the third period Scholl reversed Hanton, pinning him tothe mat with nine seconds left on the clock, giving Rockford an 18-12 lead.
Refusing to give in, Holt again won consecutive matches, receiving decisions at 152 and 160 pounds, tying the team score at 18-18.
Rockford Jake Dorulla scored an early two points on a take-down in his 171-pound match with Mike Andering. This take-down proved to be the only score in the match as Dorulla held on for a 2-0 win, putting Rockford back on top 21-18.
At 189 pounds, Rockford’s Banazak met Corbin Boone of Holt. Boone, the third-ranked wrestler in his weight class, racked up a 21-6 technical fall over Banazak, giving Holt a 23-21 lead with three matches remaining.
The 215-pound match proved to be brutal on both the wrestlers and the fans. Joe Stefanski saw a familiar foe in James Merriles. Stefanski, the number-two ranked 215-pound wrestler in the state, jumped out for a 2-0 lead by taking Merriles to the mat in the first period. Stefanski increased his lead by one point for a stalling call in the second. Stefanski withstood numerous assaults from Merriles in the second and built his lead to 4-0 after an escape.
In the third, Merriles escaped from Stefanski, scoring his first point, only to be taken down with a double-leg. Unable to improve his position, Stefanski gave up a stalling point and release Merriles for an escape. Merriles would score one more stalling point before time expired, giving Stefanski a 6-4 decision in the pairs rubber match. At this point the Rockford led 24-23 with two matches remaining.
Somsel, the biggest Ram in the lineup, proved that he was able to carry the hopes and dreams of his team mates on his broad shoulders. Somsel took his opponent to the mat with a single-leg snatch for two points and then turn ???????? to the mat for a fall in 1:55, giving Rockford the state championship going into the 103-pound match.
VanRooyen fell to Freddie Rodriguez of Holt with a pin in 1:21, bringing the final team score to Rockford 30, Holt 29.
Coach Rinehart spoke on the similarities with the 1997 game, he said, “There was a lot of deja vu. I told the boys that magic things can happen when you get here. It’s kind of like Disney World. It almost feels like it’s come full circle.”
Next up is the individual state championships on March 12, 13 and 14 at The Palace of Aubern Hills. A gathering to celebrate the coaching career of Coach Rinehart is Friday, March 20 at the Corner Bar in downtown Rockford at 9 p.m. Wrestling fans and families are welcome.