CLEVELAND, Tenn. — He was 18 minutes late getting it started, but the wait was worth it for Ben Smith, Bradley Central's second-year wrestling coach.
The Bears opened their 2012-13 season Thursday with a 63-18 victory over East Ridge, and nothing could have pleased Smith more than the performance from heavyweight J.J. Johnson, who pinned Will Garner in 4:48 in the next-to-last match of the night.
"He buys into Bradley wrestling more than any kid," Smith said. "He has great conditioning and great fight. And the kid is one of those feel-good stories."
Smith weighed 345 pounds as an eighth-grader and lost 60-plus pounds to try to get into the starting lineup. And while he may take his lumps at times this year, he helped answer some of his coach's concerns about the Bears' strength in the upper weights.
"We had so many questions from 170 pounds up," Smith said.
The result was three winning pins in the five weights, including from 162-pound Corey Bandy at 182 pounds, Alex Forgey at 195 and Johnson. It was Forgey's first varsity match.
The Bears got on a roll after the night's first two matches and reeled off seven straight wins, breaking from a 6-6 deadlock to a 39-6 advantage. They got a forfeit win at 113, but then the Pioneers' Brandon Whitley upset Dakota Bromley, pinning the Bradley ace in 3:16.
"He wrestled his brains out," Pioneers coach Brad Laxton said of Whitley's match. "He went out there, got after it and stayed after it."
Bradley got pins from Dakota Ream (126), Taylor Kazy (132), Caven Rogers (138), Colter McConnell (145), Jacob Staton (152), Robbie Clark (160), Bandy, Forgey, Johnson and Toribio Navarro (106).
"I really thought if we won, we would win by six to 12 points," Smith said. "I've been nervous about this match all week, and I told our guys this was going to be a good test for us."
They passed with flying colors.
"I told the kids if we lost a match that was fine, as long as we didn't lose a fight," Smith added. "I felt like 12 or 13 of my guys fought. And I saw a lot of brotherhood on the bench and a lot of passion from the fans."
Laxton had hoped for more.
"We had guys walk out there that had never been in a wrestling match, and I think a lot of them learned about the intensity that comes with a varsity wrestling match," he said. "We have some good kids. They do what you ask and I wouldn't trade them for the world. We did some good things at times, but we have a long way to go."