South Western High's wrestlers could have faced a layoff longer than their preseason when the Mustangs failed to reach the District 3 Class AAA Team Tournament by a mere two-hundredths of a point.
Therefore, Thursday's match against Hempfield served a purpose for a Mustang squad anxious to face competition other than themselves in the wrestling room.
"We're trying to keep the kids' heads and spirits up," South Western head coach Brad Zeigler said after his team's 44-18 win over the Black Knights. "Everyone's a little bummed out about not even getting a chance to make it to team districts, so we're trying to get their focus off it, but I think a couple of kids need to get their heads right because we have sectionals coming up."
Four grapplers did not get the chance to focus against new rivals on Thursday because Hempfield forfeited four weight classes. However, in the remaining classes, the Mustangs (10-3) held a 20-18 edge, revealing a match closer than the final score.
"We knew they were tough up top. They had a couple of good kids up top, so they displayed that," Zeigler said. "I can't hang my head on those kids. They were some good matches. There were swing matches I hoped would go our way. We got one out of the three."
The forfeits left Hempfield head coach Jude Bervinchak wondering what might have been.
"Where we're stronger, we battled them," Bervinchak said. "Even some of our guys that aren't as talented, we battled them and they hung in in the match. It'd be nice to go against them with a full lineup."
However, South Western never trailed after a major decision by Nick Klecker at the starting weight, 138 pounds, and a third-period pin by cradle by teammate Gage Thomas at 145.
The Mustangs won the first five matches before Hempfield showed its upperweight strength with three decisions in four weight classes, though a forfeit allowed South Western to lead 29-9.
Then, according to Zeigler, Derek Wilson won a key bout at 113 pounds. His 8-2 decision over Aiden Miller, capped by two third-period takedowns, put the Mustangs ahead 38-9.
"We knew that was going to be a tough match," Zeigler said. "We knew the kid was decent. He (Wilson) needed to stay on his feet and stay low, which he did execute it. So I thought he wrestled really well."
Hempfield produced its hightlight at 120, where sophomore David Good broke a scoreless tie by reversing the Mustangs' Cole Sterrett into a cradle with four seconds left. Good got the pin with less than a second remaining.
"He kept pressing for that cradle that whole third period and I was hoping he didn't overdo it and give up an escape for a one-point (for Sterrett)," Bervinchak said.
The Mustangs gained a major decision by Gunner Holtz at 160 pounds and a decision by Brady Shultz at 170. Combined with the forfeits, those wins achieved the goal.
"All in all, we got the win, and that's what we wanted," Zeigler said. "We just have to keep getting ready for sectionals."
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