Sometimes a little extra effort makes all the difference in the world, at least it did for the Southern Oregon University wrestling team Friday night at Bob Riehm Arena.
In a matchup featuring two of the top teams at the NAIA level, the top-ranked Raiders got some pivotal late points by sophomore Brock Gutches and a determined winning effort by senior Tyler Thomas to deny an upset bid by eighth-ranked Great Falls, 23-17.
"My hat's off to Great Falls, they wrestled a great match, too," said SOU head coach Mike Ritchey. "To come out here with a victory was great. Being in Bob Riehm Arena maybe paid off tonight."
The Argonauts held a slim 13-12 lead when Gutches stepped on the mat at 174 pounds but the returning national champion turned that around with a powerful 16-1 technical fall victory, scoring an extra team point with a three-point near fall to go with his riding time in the final seconds of the match.
In the ensuing match at 184, Thomas trailed 2-1 with one minute to go but was awarded a stalling point to even the match and then kept the pressure on to ultimately secure a takedown with 26 seconds remaining for a pivotal 4-2 triumph.
With his team now up 20-13 with the eight-point swing, junior Ethan Hinton solidified SOU's sixth straight dual match victory with another determined effort that turned into a match-clinching, 7-4 decision at 197.
While each match was important, each coach agreed that the battle between Thomas and Great Falls sophomore Adam Wolfe provided the turning point.
"If we win that, you don't know where that dual's going to go," said Great Falls head coach Caleb Schaeffer. "I think it was a 50-50 match and it went their way. They kind of snuck that one out on us."
The 10th-ranked Thomas and Wolfe battled to a stalemate in the three-minute opening period and then Thomas finally broke loose for an escape to start the second period for a 1-0 advantage. Wolfe was granted a two-point takedown with both wrestlers scrambling on the edge of the mat with 42 seconds on the clock and took a 2-1 lead into the third period.
In the final period, however, it was all Thomas as he continually pushed forward to try and get something going against Wolfe, who was tagged with a stalling point after one minute of retreating without much of an attack. Visibly gassed by exerting so much energy, Thomas still found enough in the tank to slide off Wolfe and drop in behind for a two-point takedown. Wolfe tried to flee the mat when it appeared he was in trouble but Thomas held tight and dragged his toes as the action spilled away from the circle's outer edge.
With 26 seconds remaining, Thomas held strong in the top position to ride out the victory.
"That was a huge match," said Ritchey. "Tyler stepped up. He's not the greatest wrestler we have on our feet but he's awful hard to score on. For him to redeem himself after getting that takedown (against him early), that was nice."
"You've got to just keep pounding on the guy and waiting for an opening and finally something opened up and he got to his hips and kept driving and going forward," the coach added of Thomas. "I think the reason we walked away tonight with the win is we did go forward and that's something we preach and work on every day. These (Great Falls) guys are tough to wrestle so you've got to open them up and we took the opportunities that we had and scored when we needed to, and getting bonus points when we could was huge."
Thomas' effort was especially nice because it followed Gutches' late-match surge that turned a major decision victory, that would've scored four points, into a technical fall victory that led to five points. Given the respect Ritchey has for the Argonauts, that one extra point was weighing heavily on Ritchey's mind as Thomas was battling against Wolfe.
"I thought that point might be the difference right there," Ritchey said of Gutches' match. "Then if we lose at 184, who knows? It just makes a difference when you get all the points you can get."
125 — Mitchell Lofstedt, SOU, pin Danny Luttrell, 4:23; 133 — Miguel Baltazar, SOU, dec. Luke Zeiger, 9-4; 141 — Myles Mazurkiewicz, GF, pin Justin Eldred, 4:40.
149 — Mike Vassar, GF, major dec. Craig Trask, 11-3; 157 — Jimmy Eggemeyer, SOU, dec. Ryan Leonard, 4-2; 165 — Shawn Lau, GF, dec. Dalton Urrutia, 7-1.
174 — Brock Gutches, SOU, tech. fall Brock Picard, 7:00; 184 — Tyler Thomas, SOU, dec. Adam Wolfe, 4-2; 197 — Ethan Hinton, SOU, dec. Dylan Lemery, 7-4; 285 — Sears Tiernan, GF, major dec. Tanner Marval, 13-3.
* starting weight