GODFREY — The Alton Redbirds handled their business and created a logjam atop the Southwestern Conference on Thursday at AHS.
The Redbirds defeated SWC-leading Belleville West 35-24 on the mat Thursday, improving their record to 12-1 overall and 3-1 in league action. West dropped to 10-3 and 3-1 with the loss.
Thursday's results left four teams tied atop the SWC with Alton, the Maroons, Granite City and Edwardsville. With a match lingering between the Redbirds and Tigers at Alton on Dec. 15, the Birds are still in the hunt for their first ever SWC title.
“That was pretty huge,” AHS head coach Eric Roberson said of the win over West. “Coming in I was a little concerned. You never know what's going to happen and we were kind of short handed tonight, but the kids — those 13 we put on the mat — they battled and we're still in the hunt conference wise. We just need to take them one at a time. We've still got Edwardsville and they're put together right now. They've got their lineup just like they want it. They're real solid.”
For Phyllip DeLoach and the rest of his senior mates, still having an opportunity to win a SWC crown is a venture not be taken lightly.
“That's important to the leaders on this team,” DeLoach said. “All the seniors, we push everybody on this team to get focused and get on our level and make history, that's what we try and do.”
The match started at 106 pounds and the Maroons looked to take charge early, with Garrett Bass winning at 106 and Vic Beloach prevailing at 113 with majors to put them ahead 8-0.
Alton responded. Connor Broyles logged an 11-3 major for the Birds at 120 and Tim McCarvey got a much-needed pin in 1:56 at 126 to put the Birds in front 10-8. That pin came right before AHS had to forfeit at 132 pounds, giving the Redbirds the momentum they needed.
“That pin got us rolling and that was huge,” Roberson said. “The way the match was going it appeared like it might be a close match, but then we picked up the pin and sometimes that's a spark.”
West took a 14-10 lead after the forfeit win, but then dropped the next six matches in a row to fall behind 35-14. Head coach of the Maroons Al Sears was not happy with the Maroons' performance.
“That would have been a great win, but Alton came to wrestle and Belleville West didn't,” Sears said. “When you have kids that are bringing it and are fired up and they have a goal and they practice hard you see some good matches, where it looked like they wanted it and we didn't and that's what you get.”
The six-match streak started for the Redbirds with Alejandro Lopez winning 14-1 at 138 to tie the team score at 14-14.
Next was a tough matchup for Phyllip DeLoach, the No. 3 ranked player at 145 in the state, facing West's Nick Foster, the No. 6 rated wrestler at 145 in the state. A hard fought bout saw DeLoach secure a tight 3-2 decision.
“I kept control and I knew I was going to have to wrestle a smart match,” DeLoach said, who improved to 23-0 on the season with the win. “I think I gave him a little too much respect. I didn't open up enough, but I'll still have to wrestle him two more times. I'm not too worried about it, but I know what I'm going to have to do next time.”
Phyllip's twin brother Nicholas DeLoach followed suit, picking up a 17-2 technical fall at 152 to improve to 23-0 on the season, too. Alton's Qiant'e Wagner then won 15-5 at 160 to improve to 22-1, Cameron Cauley won 10-5 at 170 and KeOntay Holmes earned a pin in 1:31 at 182.
“Cameron Cauley, once he gets more consistent, he is going to be a great wrestler,” Roberson said. “We got him going and then Holmes with the big pin. I think that put it away right there.”
The Maroons won the final three matches, but it was too late to mount a comeback. While remaining atop the SWC would have been nice, Sears admitted it's not an ultimate goal for his program, that distinction falls on steady improvement. That took a step backward on Thursday.
“The SWC is nice, but it's small potatoes when it comes to the state tournament and having your guys ready for bringing home medals that get you to college and pay for college,” Sears said. “The SWC is a great thing, but that's not our goal. I'm not angry because I lost the SWC or this match tonight, I'm angry because my guys wrestled crummy.”
Alton is back in action today and Saturday at the Geneva Invite and then plays host to Edwardsville and Belleville Althoff at 6 p.m. on Dec. 15 in a triangular.