CLEVELAND, Tenn. - It wasn't Cleveland's biggest or most complete win of the high school wrestling season, but it was the Blue Raiders' sweetest with no doubt.
They scored the first 15 points and won 40-23 Thursday night at crosstown rival Bradley Central. It was the defending state champions' third straight win over the Bears.
"We're looking for a gauge for where we're at, getting ready for the region and state duals," Cleveland coach Jake Yost said, "and it was nice to come in and get a view of what their lineup is like, because we may see them again in the postseason. We're not where we want to be. I saw some positions we definitely need to work on."
The Blue Raiders, coming off a long Christmas break, didn't compare favorably with the team that last year swept through the state duals and the traditional state tournament, but Yost said there was still time.
"If everybody's healthy and everybody wrestles to their potential, we have a shot," he said of a possible repeat in one or both.
Bradley closed within four points six matches in but could get no closer as the Raiders went on a four-match win streak including a pin from Chris Debien (126 pounds), a major decision from Ezra Taylor (138) and decisions from Austin Stevison (132) and William Haas (145).
"Chris has some room to grow," Yost said. "He took some losses early in the season to kids from out of state that showed us he has some areas to improve on. He always does really well in state and sometimes in national events, but he knows he has work to do."
Following a pin by the Bears' Colter McConnell at 152, Cleveland put the match out of reach with a decision from Aron Oliver (160) and a pin from Josh Hamilton (170).
Cleveland won nine of the 14 bouts, picking up bonus points in five. Bradley managed extra points in four matches but had just one pin.
"That's a winnable match for us," Bears coach Ben Smith said. "Coming in we talked about making it a close match and getting some respect, but hindsight being 20-20, the more we thought about it we felt it was winnable. Three of those [close] matches go the other way it's a different match. But before I go further, they're a better team than us."
Cleveland beat Bradley 63-29 last year.
"We lost four close ones, gave up a forfeit and three of the swing matches, we lost two of them," Smith said. "It's hard to be the No. 1-ranked public school team when you do that. You talk about getting bonus points and winning the close ones; we didn't do that tonight and they did."
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.