By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
There is no such thing as winning pretty in wrestling, but there is such a thing as winning ugly, which is exactly what the Montana State University-Northern wrestling team did Thursday night.
The Lights overcame a pair of early pins and two tough one-point losses to defeat the Northwest College Trappers, 22-18, in dual action at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.
"It was an ugly win, but we'll take it," said a relieved head coach David Ray. "I knew it would be a tough dual, but we didn't do much to make it easy on ourselves."
Indeed, Northern has yet to get consistent performances from its entire team on one night all season, and that trend continued against Northwest, the defending NJCAA national champion.
Things didn't start off particularly great as Northern freshman Zach Morgan was pinned by Northwest's Seth Wright at the 3:33 mark.
While Ray was disappointed to see Morgan give up six team points, he knew it was a tall order for his young wrestler.
"Wright finished second at nationals and he's very good," Ray said. "I knew it would be a challenge for Morgan, but you hate to give up pins no matter who you're wrestling."
Northern cut into the six-point deficit as Chris Smith scored an easy 17-3 major victory over Matt Torrez at 133 pounds. Despite having a bad shoulder, Smith exploded for 14 unanswered points in the match to cut the lead to 6-4.
But Northwest would add some serious cushion to its lead at 141 as Cody Moulton scored a pin on Northern's Dan Shaw.
Down 5-3 in the match and at disadvantage, Shaw was working for an escape point when Moulton caught him and scored the fall to push the Trapper lead to 12-4.
Northern answered immediately at 149 as Anthony Haukenberry scored a 10-5 decision over C.J. Rathjen. Haukenberry controlled the tempo and dominated much of the match, heading for a major victory. However, Rathjen scored a late escape and a takedown, allowing Northern to collect three team points instead of four.
"Haukenberry needs to know the match situations better," Ray said. "I really believed the dual could have come down to one point and that could've been it."
The next match would come down to the wire. Northern's Dale Seley grabbed a tough single leg takedown with 7.8 seconds remaining in the overtime period to score a 6-4 win over Chase Walker at 157 pounds.
Seley showed a steely resolve in the match. Twice, he fought off possible takedowns in overtime, before getting the win.
"Dale lost to him at the Cowboy Open earlier this year," Ray said. "He didn't have some of the best shots, but he has a big heart. He just doesn't give up. That guy had him twice and he scrambled out of possible takedowns. He just keeps going. It kind of reminds me of Emmett Willson during his freshman year in the way he gets himself in bad situations but scrambles out of them."
Seley's win still left Northern trailing 12-10 in the dual, but Ray wouldn't underestimate its importance.
"That match was the difference in the whole dual," he said. "If Dale doesn't find a way to get that win, we aren't even in position to win this dual."
Northern took the lead a match later as Aaron Jensen scored a solid 9-5 win over Kade Caturia at 165 pounds.
Jensen used a solid-leg attack to jump out to a 6-2 lead in the first quarter against the much bigger Caturia.
"Jensen looked good early," Ray said. "But I think he got tired at the end. He dominated in that first period, but he stopped doing those things late in the match. He might've been able to score a major against him."
Jensen's win gave Northern its first lead at 13-12. While Ray was happy to take the lead, he didn't like how difficult it was.
"We won four of the first six matches and only lead by one point?" he said. "That's what happens when you give up pins."
Northern's lead was shortlived as Northwest won the next two matches. Craig Maurello defeated Emory Willson 2-0 at 174 and Shawn Vincent beat David Waters 4-3 at 184 pounds
"Emory didn't get enough offense going," Ray said. "He needs to take more shots and be more aggressive. Waters didn't take any shots, especially on the legs. He had no leg attack."
The two losses left Northern trailing 18-13 with two matches remaining.
It wasn't exactly the scenario Ray was looking for, but his final two wrestlers rose to the challenge.
Freshman Brian Fritchman pulled off a huge win, scoring a pin over Trevor Collett at the 1:24 mark of the second period. Fritchman scored on a single leg takedown and was able to roll Collett over seconds later for the pin.
"I thought Fritchman would win, but I was surprised with the pin," Ray said. "I knew he was capable. He has a very unorthodox style because he so flexible. He's wiry strong and kind of gumby-like."
Said Fritchman: "I was just trying to score points and see what would happen Once I got him down, I went for the pin."
The win is even more impressive for Fritchman, who has wrestled above his weight most of the season, seeing time at 197 and heavyweight even though he is probably naturally a 184-pounder.
"I'll do whatever it takes to help the team," Fritchman said "Wherever the team needs me, that's where I will wrestle."
Said Ray: "Fritchman is another kid who has a lot of heart. He doesn't quit in matches."
Fritchman's pin gave Northern a 19-18 lead with one match remaining.
With the dual riding on the last match, Northern's Mazi Burke secured the win with a 5-3 decision over Spencer Bowles.
Although he was giving up close to 60 pounds to Bowles, Burke used his speed to score two nifty double leg takedowns.
"Mazi showed up to wrestle tonight," Ray said. "After he got that first takdown, he got more aggressive. The guy was big, but he couldn't handle Mazi's speed."
With the dual win, Northern improves to 6-1 on the season and heads into Christmas break on a positive note.
"We're going to practice for another week and they'll take two weeks off, unless they are going to Midlands," Ray said.
But Ray's idea of a break is different than most. He expects his wrestlers to still be working out on the mat and conditioning.
"I expect them to be doing stuff" he said. "When they come back, I will be able to tell who wants to be wrestling and who doesn't."
MSU-Northern 22, Northwest College 18
125 - Seth Wright, NWC pinned Zach Morgan, MSU-N 3:33; 133 - Chris Smith, MSU-N major dec. Matt Torrez, NWC 16-3; 141 - Cody Moulton, NWC pinned Dan Shaw, 5:51; 149 - Anthony Haukenberry, MSU-N dec. C.J. Rathjen, NWC 10-5; 157 - Dale Seley, MSU-N dec. Chase Walker, NWC 6-4 OT; 165 - Aaron Jensen, MSU-N dec. Kade Caturia, NWC 9-5; 174 - Craig Maurello, NWC dec. Emory Willson, MSU-N 2-0; 184 - Shawn Vincent, NWC dec. David Waters, MSU-N 4-3; 197 - Brian Fritchman, MSU-N pinned Trevor Collett, 3:37; HWT - Mazi Burke, MSU-N dec. Spencer Bowles, NWC 5-3.