CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Cleveland and Soddy-Daisy taking Region 3 wrestling semifinal wins Thursday may have been little more than the stage-setter.
Both advanced to the Tennessee state duals championships next week, and most wrestling observers in southeastern Tennessee believe the two are destined to meet for the state championship a week from Saturday.
"I don't know that I'd say I expect it, because although we've traveled some, there are several teams from the midstate area that we haven't seen," Soddy-Daisy coach Steve Henry said. "I'd like for it to be Soddy-Daisy and Cleveland. When we're not wrestling Cleveland, I'm pulling for them. Same with Bradley, and I think it's the same on their end. It's that Cleveland-Chattanooga thing of keeping the trophies close to home."
The two teams advanced with Soddy-Daisy crushing Walker Valley 69-3 and Cleveland beating Bradley Central 34-33 after forfeiting the final three weights Thursday. By previous agreement, the two semifinal winners did not wrestle. The two teams wrestled early this season with Soddy-Daisy winning 43-15.
The state duals are Feb. 3-4 at the Williamson County Agricultural Expo in Franklin, and the two Region 3-AAA powers will be joined by local A/AA hopefuls Central and Hixson, who between them have captured the last three of their classification championships.
Soddy-Daisy lost just one match, that coming at 152 pounds, in overwhelming Walker Valley, which entered the event with a No. 11 state ranking.
"They started off the season strong and they haven't lost a step," Mustangs coach Alan Morris said of the Trojans. "They're a special team and they're going to be hard to beat. I'm not saying it won't happen, but it will take a special effort to get it done. They're very competitive. There are a lot of studs in that lineup."
Those include 132-pound Campbell Lewis, who'll be shooting for his fourth state title in mid-February; and top-ranked heavyweight Alex Seeley, Brett Ervin (195), Billy Swanson (220), Blaike Henry (170), Turbo Smith (145), Gage Richmond (138) and Jacob Stevens (120), each of whom is ranked among the state's top four in his weight class.
Richmond, Henry and Seeley collected pins along with the little guys -- Austin Houser (106) and Adam Brewer (11) -- and Swanson and Lewis collected forfeit victories. Stevens and Smith won technical falls, and Ervin and Luke Reno (182) gained major decisions.
Cleveland took a 3-0 lead after one bout but found itself down 12-3 with the Bears' Tyler Schuch (152) and Jacob Bailey (160) putting together consecutive pins. Cleveland regained the advantage, though, with four straight wins -- decisions from Juan Bobe (170) and Jesse Jones (195), a major decision from Oleg Stukanov (182) and a pin from Seth Snyder (220).
The Blue Raiders wouldn't be headed and, following Bradley heavyweight's hard-fought decision over Jordan Hines, reeled off bonus-point wins from Chris DeBien (106), Austin Stevens (113) and Austin Oliver (120) to put the match out of reach.
"Our seniors really showed up tonight. They led with heart and effort," Raiders coach Eric Phillips said. "Bradley did what we expected. They wrestled tough. They bowed their necks and fought."
There is just too much of a talent differential this year.
"All we could do was take our swings," Bradley coach Ben Smith said. "We definitely had better fight across the board than the first time we wrestled them, but some of the guys still are not believing. That's not to take anything away from Cleveland. They wrestled very well. It's just a bitter pill to swallow."
Cleveland's victory ended Bradley's consecutive state duals trips at 15.