Wesleyan wins first state title by single point

MACON - On Dec. 30, Wesleyan came up one point short against Lafayette, falling to the Ramblers 31-30. On Saturday night, that one precious point swung in favor of the Wolves.

Wesleyan staged a remarkable comeback in finals of the Class AA state duals tournament and knocked off LaFayette 27-26 at the Macon Centreplex to capture the school's first state championship in dual competition.

Midway through the finals, LaFayette looked to be in control by winning five of the first eight matches to take an 18-9 lead, but it took a little bump to the chin to get the ball rolling for the Wolves.

Wrestling at 171 pounds, Chris Alexander of Wesleyan squared off against Isaac Smith and took a 2-1 lead on points in the first period. After the whistle blew, the two were squared up just outside the circle and Smith stood up, squarely butting his head into Alexander's chin.

Alexander was down for several minutes but was able to return. Not only did he recover from the blow but he went on to win by decision 4-1 to cut the score to 18-12.

"Without a doubt, that was the turning point," Wesleyan head coach Jeff Bedard said. "That was a phenomenal turnaround, and he got things started. I was glad he kept his composure because his jaw was jacked up pretty good."

After Alexander's win, Derek Thompson put LaFayette back up 21-12 with an 8-3 decision over Michael Douglas. From that point on, however, it was all Wesleyan.

Kelby Smith, wrestling at 215 pounds, scored the first of two pins for the Wolves when he locked up Chat Jennings at the 4:28 mark. That brought the score to 21-18 with three matches left. Up next for Wesleyan was Edward Van Winkle against Caleb Hartshorn at 285. Van Winkle led 5-0 after the first four minutes and went on to win a 9-2 by decision to tie the score at 21-21.

Two matches to go and Wesleyan had its best wrestler in T.J. Mitchell up next. Wrestling at 103 pounds, Mitchell had yet to lose a match this year.

Even though he is only a freshman, Mitchell showed no signs of pressure as the pinned Ky Hart in just 1:55.

"I had a lot of pressure on me to go in there and pin him," Mitchell said. "I just went in there with a winning attitude and did my best."

Mitchell's pin, his second of the season over Hart, put Wesleyan up at 27-21. LaFayette was also called for a flagrant foul for profanity at the end of the match, resulting in a point deduction. With a 27-20 lead, Bedard forfeited the last match and locked up his team's 27-26 win.

"I couldn't have asked for a better ending," Bedard said. "He's the best kid in the state, bar none, regardless of classification. As a coach, you always hope you've got your number one kid to finish up a tight dual meet."

LaFayette also lost another point in the sixth match when Colin Genthert of Wesleyan fell by decision 15-8 to Will Weldon. A dispute over the final score arose after the match when the scoreboard read 16-8.

If that score had stood, Weldon would have won by major decison and his team would have scored four points. However, referees conferred with the official scorekeeper and ruled that Weldon won by decision at 15-8.

Since coming to the Norcross private school three years ago, Bedard had been able to take wrestling at Wesleyan from just another winter sport to one of the state's elite programs. In his first two years, Bedard's team had placed fourth and fifth in state duals.

"In my first year here, we qualified for duals for the first time ever and snuck in here and won fourth," Bedard said, who is in his third year at Wesleyan. "I was real happy with that. I knew if I kept the kids on course that we would be really tough here in a couple years. I've got a great group of young kids behind these seven seniors and we're really starting to build something here. This is definitely going to help build some unity."

Also adding wins by decison for Wesleyan were Sam Ball at 119, Joshua Jeng at 125 and Brendan Patterson at 140.