By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
It's tough to argue with the scoreboard, but if anyone could win that argument it would be MSU-Northern wrestling coach David Ray.
Despite his team putting a solid 28-14 beating on the North Idaho Cardinals on Thursday night at a packed MSU-Northern gym, Ray was far from pleased with how his team performed.
It may seem strange considering the Lights racked up six victories, three pins and a major decision over the No. 1-ranked team in the NJCAA. But with duals against a pair of NCAA Division I schools - Boise State and Cal State Fullerton - on Sunday, Ray wasn't concerned whether his team would win, but how it would wrestle to get the win.
And the verdict?
"We looked sluggish and tired out there," Ray said. "Some of these guys just didn't seem to be excited about wrestling tonight. I don't understand why they wouldn't. This is our second to last dual and we had a great crowd tonight."
The start of the dual didn't make Ray happy from the start, but it did please the close to 1,000 fans that packed the gym.
Former Havre High standout Jeff Hedges made a triumphant return home, scoring a sound 16-8 major victory over Northern's Zach Morgan at 125 pounds.
"I was really excited and really happy to come back home and wrestle," Hedges said. "The trip here was terrible though. I didn't feel good at all when I first got out there."
It didn't show. The two-time state champ jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the first period on a pair of nifty single leg takedowns.
He continued the leg attack en route to the major victory, limiting Morgan to only escape points in the match.
"We knew Hedges was solid," Ray said. "But there were some opportunities for (Morgan) to score. He just didn't take them."
"I still felt a little flat," Hedges said. "But I haven't wrestled very well in my last few matches. I wasn't taking many shots. But I really tried to take some shots and be aggressive tonight."
NIC's 4-0 lead lasted all of about a minute as Northern's Brian Luna pinned Cody Nicholson at the 1:54 mark of the first period.
"What can you say about Luna?" Ray said. "He knew he should win and he went out and took care of business."
North Idaho retook the lead a match later as Justin Pearch edged Chris Smith 6-4 in overtime in a matchup of All-Americans in their respective divisions.
Smith led 3-2 in the third period, but surrendered a takedown late in the period. He rallied to tie the match, scoring an esape with les than 30 seconds remaining.
In the sudden-death overtime, Pearch scored a single-leg takedown to secure the match.
"I really believe that Chris over-respected him a little bit," Ray said. "Mentally he beat himself. He went 3-0 against tougher competition at the national duals. He wasn't nearly as aggressive as he normally is, it's a perfect example of giving someone too much respect."
The overtime matches continued at 149 pounds as senior Dustyn Azure outlasted Derek Klipperberg 15-9 in overtime.
Azure led for much of the match against Klipperberg, including an 8-3 lead in the second period. However, Klipperberg rallied with a reversal, a pair of escapes and a single-leg takdown to go up 9-8 with less than 20 seconds remaining.
Azure managed to fight out of Klipperberg's grasp to score a one-point escape with 4.3 seconds remaining to force overtime.
In the extra period, Azure executed a tough double-leg takedown into a three-point near fall to get the win.
"The guy was very strong and it caused Azure some problems," Ray said. "But (Azure) led for most of the match until the third period. He had to cut too much this week and he was gassed late in the match. I was glad to see him find a way to pull out the win."
Azure's win gave Northern back the lead at 9-7. Stryder Davis quickly extended it to 15-7 with a quick pin of Lee Morrison with 31 seconds remaining in the first period.
"Stryder was Stryder," Ray said. "He didn't mess around."
Northern's Aaron Jensen followed up Davis' win with a 14-4 major decision over Jack Carney at 165 pounds.
Jensen scored at will with a myriad of single-leg takedowns. Conroy's only points came from escapes, three of which Jensen cut him loose on.
"Jensen was solid," Ray said. "He is really wrestling with a lot of confidence right now. He could have got singles all day on that guy, but I would've liked to see him get a pin."
Jensen's four-point win gave the Lights a 19-7 lead.
NIC wouldn't go away, cutting into the deficit as All-American Kyle Frawley decisioned Ryan Mattingly 7-4. Mattingly worked hard to tie the match at 4-4 late in the third period. But he surrendered a takedown just seconds later, which proved to be the difference in the match.
"Mattingly just kind of lost his head once he got that escape," Ray said. "He needs to do a better job of keeping his composure late in matches."
At 184 pounds, Jesse Juarez' return to the mat was successful as he defeated Josh Edmondson 10-8. Juarez led 7-2 in the second period, but twice he was forced to call timeout because of a nagging back injury. He still managed to get the win, despite the pain issues.
Despite trailing 22-10, NIC had an outside chance of tying the dual with pins at 197 and heavyweight, but that didn't happen.
North Idaho's Evan Mattingly did score a major decision over Brian Fritchman, but it wasn't enough.
"Fritchman is in a slump, he's lost his last six matches, but he has to get that out of his mind before he steps on the mat," Ray said. "Nobody is going to get him out of it but himself. He has to go out and compete."
Even if Mattingly had gotten the pin, it wouldn't have mattered much because Northern heavyweight Chase Gormley pinned Garret Johnson just over minute and a half into the match.
"Chase said he was going to care of business and he did," Ray said.
Still, even with some solid performance, Ray knows that it simply won't cut it on Sunday when Northern faces Fullerton at 1 p.m and Boise State at 2:30 p.m. in Boise.
"If things don't change, it could be a long weekend for some people including the coaching staff," he said. "This is the toughest week of the season in terms of duals and in that situation, you want to see your team raise its level."
Fullerton has two wrestlers ranked in the top 20 in their respective weight classes. Jesse Miramontes is ranked 18th at 125 pounds and Landon Seefeldt is ranked ninth at 197.
Boise is led by four wrestlers ranked in the NCAA top 20 in their respective weight classes. Freshman Andrew Hochstrasser is ranked sixth at 125 pounds and is 15-2 on the season. Junior Scott Jorgenson is ranked 18th at 133 pounds with an 18-6 record. At 149 pounds, junior Ben Cherrington has a 21-6 record and is ranked eighth. The other wrestler ranked is sophomore Eric Smith at heavyweight. He has a 15-6 record on the season and is ranked 16th.
"If you ranked in the top 20 in Division I, you're pretty good," Ray said. "There going to be some tough matches for our guys."
Tough or not, Ray doesn't believe his wrestlers' mindset should change.
"A lot of people would think we should go in there with attitude of nothing to lose," Ray said. "My belief if that every time you step on the mat, you expect to win, I don't care who you're wrestling."
MSU-Northern 28, North Idaho 14
125 - Jeff Hedges, NIC major dec. Zach Morgan, MSU-N 16-8
133 - Brian Luna, MSU-N pinned Cody Nicholson, NIC 1:07
141 - Justin Pearch, NIC dec. Chris Smith, MSU-N 6-4 OT
149 - Dustyn Azure, MSU-N dec. Derek Klipperburg, NIC 15-9 OT
157 - Stryder Davis, MSU-N pinned Lee Morrison, NIC 2:30
165 - Aaron Jensen, MSU-N major dec. Jack Carney, NIC 14-4
174 - Kyle Frawley, NIC dec. Ryan Mattingly, MSU-N 7-4
184 - Jesse Juarez, MSU-N dec. Josh Edmondson, NIC 10-8
197 - Evan Mattingly, NIC major dec. Brian Fritchman, MSU-N 16-6
HWT - Chase Gormley, MSU-N pinned Garret Johnson, NIC 1:15