By Dan Gilles
Avon Lake began the finals in pretty tight cluster with fellow Lorain County rivals Elyria Catholic, Columbia and Midview in the battle for fourth place at the 12-team Columbia Wrestling Invitational Tournament last Saturday.
The Shoremen only got one individual champion – junior D.J. Murdock at 138 pounds – but it was enough to pull away from those other three and take fourth with 96 points at the 38th annual event.
Avon Lake finished behind Southwestern Conference rivals Westlake – second place with 133.5 points – but did finish ahead of SWC foes Olmsted Falls – eighth place with 65 points.
Murdock was one of three finalists for Avon Lake and one of six wrestlers who placed in the top four at the tournament.
Murdock (12-4) claimed his first tournament championship of the season with a 3-0 performance Saturday, capped by an 8-5 decision over Columbia’s Shane Lambert in the finals.
Murdock reached the finals by pinning Cuyahoga Heights’ Ben Huff in 2:30 and with a 5-0 decision over Fairview’s Mahmoud Awad in the semifinals.
“I came in second here the past two years, so it feels nice to finally win it,” Murdock said. “I wanted to win it this year really bad, so I trained a lot harder this week (and) kept my weight down. Thanks to that, I think I was able to finally win it.”
Caleb Rojek (170) and Matt Sokolow (182) were Avon Lake’s two other finalists; however, they did not join Murdock in the top spot in the podium.
“Those other two (Shoremen finalists) are seniors, and they were supposed to win this and I wasn’t,” Murdock said. “So, it kind of makes it feel more special to be the only one. I’ll have some bragging rights.”
Sokolow (17-5) advanced to the finals with a first-round bye and a pinfall win in 2:59 over Cuyahoga Heights’ Bryan Jones. However, he was pinned in just 29 seconds by Columbia senior Brandon Heidinger.
Heidinger (21-1), who won all three of his matches by pin last Saturday, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Wrestler as a result.
Rojek (12-4) scored a 56-second pin on Olmsted Falls’ Logan Ballard and a 10-6 decision over Midview’s Joey Zuckerman to reach the finals. However, Rojek was defeated, 10-4, by Western Reserve’s Tim Hunkley
Where Avon Lake was able to pull away from Columbia (fifth, 89), EC (sixth, 88.5) and Midview (seventh, 86.5) was in the consolation finals. The Shoremen advanced three wrestlers to the third-place match, and two of them won.
Nick Mayer pinned Westlake’s Zach Goodman in 58 seconds to take third at 106, while Adam Graehling pinned Olmsted Falls’ David Rivera in 1:55 to claim third at 120.
EC’s Tyler Filiaggi defeated Avon Lake’s Jimmy Emerson, 8-5, to claim third place at 152, thwarting a potential clean sweep of the consolation finals.
Mayer (17-7) pinned Columbia’s Nathan Hirsch in 36 seconds, but dropped a 6-1 decision to eventual champion Nick Orr of Cuyahoga Heights in the semifinals. He rebounded by pinning Midview’s Allec Kholhoff in 1:50 to reach the third-place match.
Graehling (10-8) was pinned in his very first match by eventual champion Tyler Grys of Western Reserve in 3:12. However, he rebounded with three consecutive pinfall victories in the consolation bracket.
First, Graehling pinned Cleveland Central Catholic’s Matt Harrigan in 4:29. Then, he pinned Columbia’s Nick Jacobucci in 44 seconds to reach the third-place match.
Emerson (17-6), who was the top-seed in his bracket, opened up by pinning Cleveland Central Catholic’s Michael Sadie in 1:33. However, he was edged, 4-3, by eventual champion Cody Ramage of Western Reserve in the semifinals.
He rebounded with a 12-1 major decision over Columbia’s Brandon Medina to reach the third-place match; however, he couldn’t get past the 16-5 Filiaggi.
“I thought we did a pretty good job (today), but I thought we fell apart a little at the end there,” Murdock said. “Our team seems to crash a lot in the finals this season, and that showed today.
“Now that I’ve gotten a taste of a championship, I’m more motivated to win again this season. This feels nice.”
Tyler Majer (160) was the only other Avon Lake wrestler with a chance to place in the top four, advancing to the consolation semifinals. However, Majer (1-2), a freshman making his varsity debut, was pinned in 33 seconds by eventual third-place finisher Zack Frambach of Midview.
Western Reserve, with six individual champions and 11 overall placers, claimed the team championship with 194 points.
The Shoremen are off until this Saturday, when they take part in the Midpark Tournament. They will have their lone home dual the following Friday (Jan. 20), hosting Midpark in SWC action.