published Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Pope edges Cleveland for McCallie title

Pope High School, from Marietta, Ga., and Cleveland fought it out at the top of the standings Saturday in the McCallie Invitational wrestling tournament, and they fought it out on the mat in the match that swung the lead Pope's way for good.

Joey Tabachino stretched his unbeaten record to 22 victories with a pin in 2:25 over Cleveland's Jesse Jones in the 182-pound final. That gave the Greyhounds a one-point lead over the Blue Raiders and they went on to edge second-place Cleveland 246.5-241.5.

Local teams Soddy-Daisy (227.5), McCallie (198.5), Heritage (187.5) and Baylor (135) rounded out the top six in the 19-team field.

After the match at 182, Pope had two more wrestlers in the remaining three finals, won both and had a sixth-place finish at 285. That finish helped, but coach Jim Haskin noted another pivotal stretch that came before that.

"We got a ton of bonus points in the first two rounds," Haskin said. "That was humongous. Bonus points are key in a tournament like this. And we won some big matches."

Pope also won the tournament in 2009. The most outstanding wrestler selected that year was Brooks Climmons, who not only won his weight class again but twice tied the tournament record for fastest fall with seven-second pins in the round of 16 and again in a quarterfinal.

The Greyhounds' other champions were Cameron Munsey (113), Jake Henson (160), Billy Meek (170) and Trevor Stevens (220).

"I love the culture of wrestling in Chattanooga," Haskin said. "I from Chicago, Illinois. This is as close to the wrestling culture where I come from. The people, the coaches, they get it. That's why we like coming here."

Chris DeBien (106) was the Blue Raiders' only champion, but they registered four second-place finishes, two thirds, two fourths, a fifth and a sixth.

"I'm really, really pumped," Cleveland coach Eric Phillips said. "I don't care about winning these tournaments. I'm looking for progress and being ready for the state tournaments. We made huge progress today. We won most of the matches we could've won, and against good, quality competition. Our guys are fighting together, jelling together, loving together and working together.

"As long as these guys give that kind of effort, I'm excited."

This year's most outstanding wrestler, voted on by the coaches, was Baylor 126-pound champion Zach Watson, who pinned in 3:37 in the final. The senior has three career losses and will be looking to earn his fifth state championship at the end of this season, but he's trying not to think about that yet.

"You can never settle or be satisfied," Watson said. "Just because you win a tournament like this, you don't stop training. It's a confidence boost, but now it's on to the next one."

Officials chose the 138-pound bout as the most outstanding match. Soddy-Daisy three-time state champion Campbell Lewis led 5-0 heading into the third period, which turned out to be action-filled. Campbell was leading McCallie's Alex Ward 8-7 until Ward made a takedown for the final lead change with 20 seconds remaining.

Soddy-Daisy's Alex Seeley won the 285 final in 1:16, giving him a tournament-high four pins.

The other individual winners were McCallie's Adam Connell (120), Oxford's Jordan Simpson (132), Soddy-Daisy's Turbo Smith (145) and Baylor's Matthew Cate (152).

about Kelley Smiddie...

Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or ksmiddie@timesfreepress.com.

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