GODFREY — Piecing together a wrestling lineup to win a dual can be compared to a chess match. That's exactly what happened Thursday at Alton High.
Granite City Warriors' head coach George Kirgan's decision to bump senior Gabe Wood up a weight class proved to be the checkmate against the rival Alton Redbirds. Wood won a grueling 3-2 decision over Alton's Connor Broyles in four overtimes, ultimately sealing a 32-28 win over the Birds.
GCHS also topped Civic Memorial 70-12 in the triangular. Alton bested the Eagles 67-12.
“We had some unfortunate occurrences happen and lost two of our top wrestlers temporarily,” Granite City head coach George Kirgan said. “I told the guys that everybody has to dig deep and fight for those bonus points and we're going to have to win the matches that are toss ups and that was a chance we had to take. We had to put Jordan (Stermer) in at 120 and Jordan wrestled a lot in the summer, put a lot of time in and we were confident in him and he got a big win for us. Then we go to Gabe, he's a senior, working real hard and he's one of our captains and we knew he could get a win for us. We knew he could be our guy at 126 even though he was giving up some weight and Connor is a very talented wrestler.”
Alton coach Eric Roberson, whose Redbirds are now 7-1 overall and 1-1 in the Southwestern Conference, thought Kirgan would even do more jostling of the lineup than he did.
“We pretty much expected that,” Roberson said of the Wood move. “I thought they would slide a JV 106 pounder in and bump everybody up. We ran a straight up and down lineup against them. I had no intention of shifting anybody. It was just the close matches that were killers.”
And it didn't get closer than the Broyles vs. Wood match. Wood owned a 1-0 advantage approaching the end of the third period when Broyles knotted it at 1-1 with an escape. After the two ended in a stalemate through the first one minute extra frame, Broyles got an escape to go up 2-1 in the next 30 seconds. Wood responded in the following 30 second period to tie it at 2-2 and then put it away with another escape in the next sudden death round.
“When he got away from me I tried to keep my composure,” Wood said. “I just tried to stay on my feet and went to double overtime to get my one and tried to keep moving, keep wrestling. You can't stop when you're on bottom.”
Alton started strong vs. Granite City on Wednesday. Nicholas DeLoach (152) and Q'iante Wagner (160) got the Birds going with pins, putting AHS ahead 12-0. Cameron Cauley (170) then picked up an 11-2 major decision and Keontay Holmes (182) won 11-4 to catapult the Birds in front 19-0.
But the Warriors didn't go away quietly. Dmitri Espinoza (195) logged an 8-2 win and Ryan Earny (220) picked up a big pin for GCHS to slice it to 19-9. Darian Pierson (285) then closed out the first half of the dual with a 4-0 win for Alton to go ahead 22-9.
The Redbirds only won one more match against the Warriors.
“I know that wasn't their starting kid and that was an opportunity where we thought we could take advantage of it and we didn't,” Roberson said. “We did the exact opposite, we got pinned there, but we lose as a team and we win as a team.”
As GCHS and AHS came back on the mat for the second half of the dual, the Warriors showcased their talent in the lower weight classes.
Kameron Moss (106) won by technical fall, John Moylan (113) squeaked out a 3-2 win, Stermer (120) prevailed 6-0 and Wood won the 3-2 barnburner to watch Granite City leap frog ahead 23-22.
Josh Rozell (132) followed with a pin and Devin Simpson (138) earned a tough 5-3 decision to lock down the win. Alton's Phyllip DeLoach closed out the dual with a pin, but it was too late.
GCHS is now 2-0 in the SWC with Edwardsville waiting in the wings next week. The Tigers lost 36-19 to Belleville West on the road Thursday.
“It feels good winning another conference dual,” Wood said. “It's a good feeling to win and when we play Edwardsville I hope we do the same thing.”
As for CM, playing short due to injuries really plagued the Eagles on Wednesday. Having to forfeit at three weight classes didn't help their cause.
“It's good and bad, it's a wake up call for most of these guys,” CM head coach Chad Young said. “We had our tournament last weekend and we did fairly well, but the level of competition tonight is much better. We faced two quality teams. Alton's got a good team and Granite City has a great team.
“We knew we were going to get beat up a little bit today, but it's basically lick your wounds and learn from it and hopefully get better.”
All four of the Eagles' wins on the night came via the pin. Against Granite City, Trent Brown (126) and Drake Boverie (132) earned pins, while it was Jordan Stagner (195) and Boverie again with pins vs. the Redbirds.
Boverie continued his torrid start. He was co-MVP of the CM Tournament and won a title at 132 pounds on Saturday and then picked up two pins against quality opponents on Wednesday.
“He's taking off where he left off last year and we really hope to see him on the podium this year,” Young said. “He's got all the ability in the world, he works hard, he's good.”
Roberson added of Boverie, “He's solid. I mean 132 was a tough weight class tonight with Rozelle and my kid (Christian Everage) and Boverie, those kids are all solid.”
The Eagles will get a shot in the arm with the addition of Brayton Williams, back from a broken thumb soon.
“We get Brayton Williams back in another week,” Young said. “He was a state qualifier for us a year ago. We had a bunch of guys out tonight either hurt or sick and we filled 10 solid weight classes. We just don't have the depth of an Alton or Granite.”
In the end, Kirgan was just happy to escape with a pair of road wins. He thinks the Warriors are trending in the right direction.
“Up and down the lineup we competed and little things make the dual meet,” Kirgan said. “That's why dual meets are so special, you have to make them like a chess match and I'm really proud of our guys.”