GODFREY — The Southwestern Conference has been somewhat of a head scratcher this season when it comes to wrestling. On any given night most the teams in the SWC have every opportunity to win.
Thursday was O'Fallon's time to shine. The Panthers utilized bonus points in key matches to slip past the Alton Redbirds on their Senior Night by the score of 33-26.
With the triumph O'Fallon improved to 14-4 and 4-2 in the SWC. The Redbirds dropped to 16-3 and 3-3 with the loss, their second straight conference setback. Alton beat Quincy and Triad in a triangular at AHS on Wednesday.
“It's a big win and not a match we would expect to win based on previous scores,” OTHS head coach Glen Exton said. “I was just talking to (Alton coach) Eric (Roberson) and we lost to Edwardsville 56-3 and (Alton) gave them a good match and then they beat Belleville West and West beat Edwardsville, so how do you figure we could come away with a win here? I don't know, but dual meets are always based on how you match up and we're pretty solid all the way through our lineup.”
Roberson has been commending the Panthers throughout the season and he knew they couldn't be taken lightly. He never thought the lopsided loss to Edwardsville was a good example for the quality of their team.
“I don't think we looked past them,” Roberson said. “It's not that we took them lightly or anything. Our kids new about them and we were well prepared. They had enough fire power in their lineup and I knew coming in it would be a challenge. We just didn't have enough on the mat tonight to beat them and good job for them.”
The Birds started in a hole wrestling without Phyllip DeLoach. The 145 pound senior, ranked No. 4 in the state in Class 3A, was out for an undisclosed reason.
“He just wasn't in the lineup tonight,” Roberson said. “He'll be back.”
Exton knew that would be an advantage for the Panthers, who picked up a forfeit victory at 145.
“They were a little weakened tonight without Phyllip DeLoach of course,” Exton said. “He made a huge difference in the match, but of course that's part of the game.”
The night started at 126 where Alton entered a freshman in Courtney Wilson. O'Fallon's Jalen Jones picked up a 13-1 major decision to put OTHS up 4-0.
AHS responded with Tim McCarvey (132) and Alejandro Lopez (138) scoring decisions to put the Redbirds ahead 6-4. After the forfeit Nicholas DeLoach logged a technical fall at 152 and Qiant'e Wagner won 15-10 at 160 to give Alton a 15-10 advantage.
The Panthers picked up bonus points at 170 when Keajon Jennings pinned Cameron Cauley in 5:39 to make it 16-15 in their favor. AHS sophomore KeOntay Holmes produced the highlight of the night for the Redbirds at 182 pounds though.
Holmes continues to progress and impress on the season. He is an honorable mention in the state and on Thursday he redeemed himself from an earlier loss. Holmes had fallen to O'Fallon's Mason Hewitt 13-11 at the Mascoutah Invitational, but not on Thursday. Holmes secured a 5-2 win over Hewitt to catapult the Birds back in front 18-16.
“He has really been on a roll lately,” Roberson said of Holmes. “He's beating some really good kids. The Quincy kid (Logan Hagerbaumer) was undefeated (Wednesday). I was hoping (the win over Hewitt) was a spark to get us going. KeOntay's looking really good lately and he's definitely been a bright spot for us right now.”
Unfortunately, Holmes' win proved to be the last time Alton led in the dual.
Quin Preston grabbed a 14-0 major over Keondrick Russell of the Birds at 195 and Connor Drouin pinned Alton's Alecquan Russell in 4:35 at 220 to shoot the Panthers in front 26-18.
AHS and OTHS split the final four matches with Darian Pierson (285) and Connor Broyles (120) winning for Alton. Alec Ziegler (106) and Andrew Nunez (113) won for O'Fallon.
Overall each squad won seven matches. The difference was the bonus points for the Panthers. They had three majors, two pins and the forfeit victory. Alton got tech falls from Broyles and Nicholas DeLoach and a major from Wagner, which were its only bonus points.
“That 220 match turns out to be a really big match,” Exton said. “That match was actually at a point where it could go either way and we could have actually lost the match and we ended up getting a pin. That's a nine point swing and if you end up doing the math we end up losing the whole dual. That was a huge maneuver when he put him on his back. That really kind of clinched it for us.”
“When a match is going to be close bonus points make all the difference,” he said. “They got two pins and we didn't. The conference is kind of like that this year. I don't know how it's gong to go. There are still a couple of duals left.”