Behind in the scoring, Kelly Walsh junior Jerrod Warden knew he needed to do something drastic to earn a win. It was his second match in the opening day of the Trojan Border War on Friday and he was coming off a pinfall loss. He made it his goal to not repeat that result.
There was still plenty of time remaining on the clock but Warden went for it. He got his opponent turned and onto the mat.
“I had to post the arm so he didn’t run me over and get the pin,” Warden said. “It was pretty back and forth.”
Warden maintained position until the relief of the whistle and accompanying hand slap to the mat. He got to his feet, unfastened his headgear and screamed toward the Trojan faithful inside Kelly Walsh High School. His teammates were quick to greet him at the bench.
Warden’s pin at 48 seconds gave the Trojans six points in that match to help them sneak by North Platte, Nebraska, 38-33. Kelly Walsh also defeated Hardin, Montana, 44-35 in the opening dual.
It was the first time Warden and Kelly Walsh had competed in front of a home crowd this season. The Trojans have yet to open the dual portion of their schedule and neither Casper school has hosted a wrestling tournament outside of regionals for nearly a decade.
That home crowd fueled senior standout Caleb Nathan, who wasn’t able to gain a pinfall in either of his first two wins on Friday so he was forced to settle for technical falls in both.
“It felt so good to compete in front of our home crowd and to wrestle at home,” Nathan said.
Star Valley thrills
Star Valley head coach Eddie Clark was waiting for Matt Hunting as the 182-pounder came off the mat. The coach wanted to give pointers, corrections on what the senior could have done better in his match.
All Hunting wanted to do was find his Gatorade and his inhaler.
Following a dramatic 5-2 decision victory over Natrona County standout senior Wyatt Atkinson, Hunting nearly collapsed. He found a cooler to sit on, leaned his head against his inner left bicep and clung to his inhaler with his right hand. He had little left to give.
“I have a little bit of asthma so I was pretty tired,” Hunting said. “He’s a tough guy and I had to score that late takedown and just stayed on top.”
Hunting took the early lead on Atkinson, only to have Class 4A’s No. 5 wrestler at 182 pounds score and overtake the lead with a lot of play near the boundary. Atkinson stayed aggressive in his shoots when he gained the lead but the No. 1-ranked 182-pound wrestler in Class 3A rallied. He regained the lead with a minute remaining and rode out the match.
It was one of the more dramatic parts of the day for Star Valley.
The reigning Class 3A state champions defeated Natrona County 48-16 to start the day before beating Hardin, Montana, 58-18 and then North Platte, Nebraska, 60-20.
“We’re a pretty solid team, top to bottom,” Clark said. “We have a lot of experience here this year, we have nine state placers on the team so we’re pretty solid and kids are wrestling hard.”
Mustang silver linings
Friday was an uncharacteristic day for Natrona County. The Mustangs were shut down by Star Valley before going up against another Class 3A program, Douglas.
Senior standout Brett Brenton was one of the constants for the Mustangs, winning both of his first two matches with pinfalls in the first period. His victory in the Star Valley dual was one of just four for the Mustangs.
Possibly the biggest upset of the day came from Natrona County’s 120-pound wrestler Cyrus Meeks. The freshman, ranked No. 4 in Class 4A, scored an emphatic victory over Star Valley’s Tristan Hicks, the top-ranked wrestler in Class 3A at that weight.
Meeks, who later scored a pinfall in the Douglas match in under a minute, took control early against Hicks and did little to lose ground. He scored multiple takedowns to put him in front and held on for the 11-2 major decision.
It’s a tough division in Class 4A but at 120 pounds, Meeks earned a signature victory.
As soon as the towel boy started trailing the referee, Douglas sophomore Cody Pinkerton knew it was his last chance. The top-ranked Class 3A wrestler at 195 pounds following last year’s state championship, Pinkerton found himself trailing Natrona County’s Daniel Slack in the final seconds.
Pinkerton had just lost to Slack in the Shane Shatto Memorial Invitational last weekend. He wouldn’t let Friday be a repeat performance. With the final seconds peeling off the clock, he made his move.
“I just knew I had to go for it,” Pinkerton said. “I just had to go for it. Didn’t want to lose to him twice.”
The Douglas sophomore scored the winning takedown with nine seconds left in the match and held on for the 2-1 victory.
It was a sweet win, proving to all of his doubters that he could beat even the No. 3 wrestler at 195 pounds in Class 4A. It took everything he had but that made the victory even sweeter.
“I threw my leg and clinched onto his head,” Pinkerton said. “That’s all I had left.”