Rough Rides to the Finals — Bring It: Chapter 26
When we arrived mat side, Tommy was already countering a pin attempt using a neck bridge, fighting for his figurative life. Time was running out in the first period, though. Twenty more seconds and the clock would save him. He’d start the second period in the down position, but it was better than the present situation. The entire team was urging him, telling him to hang on. Cheerleaders pounded on the edge of the mat, exhorting him to keep going.
With ten seconds left, Tommy seized an opening. Rolling inward, he pulled his opponent, Harlan Richardson, over the top of him and came up on top for a reversal and a near fall, scoring four points in as many seconds. As time expired on the period, Tommy was in control.
As close as he had been to losing the match, he began the second period down by only four points but in the up position. Tommy allowed his opponent an escape but immediately scored another takedown, to gain one point in the trade-off. He turned a countermove against the previous year’s third-place finisher and received a two-point near fall. Trailing by only a point, Tommy continued the pressure. Forced to use a neck bridge of his own, Harlan resisted. Tommy refused to allow a peak in the back arch, forcing his man to push up against Tommy’s crossbody weight.
Richardson’s shoulders were exposed to the mat for two seconds. The referee awarded Tommy a three-point near fall, giving him the lead as the second period ended.
Coach Ellis provided Tommy with explicit instructions. Listening intently, head nodding, if executed properly, would result in a pin. As I watched, Tommy laughed at the last thing the coach said to him.
He returned to the mat seeming eager to continue or perhaps to get it over. As the whistle blew, Tommy rejoined his physical game, containing Harlan’s attempt at escaping while thwarting a reversal. His rival was unwilling to allow his chances at the title to go by the wayside. In a focused moment of daring, Harlan forced Tommy into a choice that resulted in an escape with a little more than a minute remaining. Free to pursue an offensive strategy of his own, Richardson unleashed a flurry of trial moves seeking any weakness.
Ahead by a mere three points, Tommy could not assume a defensive posture. He needed to continue the attack while preventing his challenger from any opportunity of putting him on his back. Fighting off attack after attack, knowing a takedown and a two-point near fall would give Harlan the lead, Tommy had to identify vulnerability immediately and then capitalize on it.
Harlan caught Tommy out of position and off guard, scoring a takedown, cutting the lead to one. Tommy escaped before his opponent could gain further control, his lead back to two points. Richardson again capitalized on a weakness to score a takedown and tied the score. With the ride time clock, Tommy still had a slight edge in the match, but he could not allow his opponent to score any more points.
Forcing a move through strength alone, Tommy reversed for two points, and then locked Harlan into a hold, exposing a shoulder to the mat to receive two points for a near fall. Up by four with time running out, Tommy maintained control in the hard-fought match.
With seventeen seconds remaining, Harlan reversed. Tommy countered, resisting attempts to turn him, clinging to a two-point lead. With seven seconds left, Tommy escaped, and his lead was three. Harlan again tried for a takedown, but Tommy’s defensive counter prevented it, surviving a narrow decision to advance to the state finals for the 135-pound class.
Exhausted, sweat dripping from his brow, beaded on his arms and shoulders, Coach Friske tossed Tommy a towel. Everyone to a man congratulated him for his inspired effort, resisting defeat to gain the victory.
Following the two 145-pound matches, it was Chuck’s turn. Advance or fail, it came down to one match at a time for each of the wrestlers. Chuck drew James Foster, the state’s top-ranked wrestler. For Chuck to win, he would need flawless execution and a lot of luck. He would need his greatest victory of the season as Foster was undefeated.
After Tommy’s effort, the team believed in the possibility of seven state champions, allowing for the dream to fill our imaginations. Sure, it was going to be tough, but Chuck delivered before. He could do it.
From the outset, Foster was clearly the aggressor, scoring an almost immediate takedown, and then binding Chuck. Fighting against the completion of a hold from which it would be impossible to escape. Thirty-seven seconds into the match, despite Chuck’s best effort to resist, Foster won by pin. The team’s incredible streak was broken. The first of ‘The Magnificent Seven’ was shot down.
Maybe the bursting of the bubble affected Gary. He made a stupid mistake in the first period and his opponent turned it into a quick pin. But, suddenly, two of the seven had fallen.
“That’s it, guys. No more,” Kevin said to Timmy, and then looked directly at me. “Brent?”
“No more, Kevin,” I stood up and like ‘The Three Musketeers’, we extended our hands, raised to an apex. “One for all and all for one!”
“I got this,” Timmy promised.
On paper, his match should have been a close contest. He and his opponent, Joe Jefferson, had a similar record and wrestling style. When Timmy went on the offensive, he immediately forced Jefferson back on his heels, scoring a takedown and forcing a near fall within the first twenty seconds of the match. Joe worked against the pressure, momentarily reversing Timmy, only to end up in a worse position, locked out of the chance of resisting. With fifteen seconds left in the first period, Timmy scored a pin.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” Kevin said as it was his turn. His opponent, Steven Benton was ranked number four in the state, where he had been for much of the season. He had one loss early in the season to Roger Perry, who just won by a pin in the second period of his match.
Kevin was out to impress and wasted no time scoring a takedown and pushing Benton onto his back. Kevin began to apply a cradle. Although Benton resisted, straining against Kevin’s arm strength, once hands were clasped together, and shoulders were rocked back onto the mat, a three-count ended the match with forty-seven seconds expired.
Confident as usual, Kevin stepped off the mat. He pointed to Perry, directly challenging him, mouthing the words, “You’re next.”
“Go get it,” Kevin patted me on the back.
I glanced into the crowd, my eyes focusing on Pam’s smiling face as she stood applauding me. Then I saw them, sitting on the other side of Aunt Claire. My parents had arrived, both of them standing and cheering as well.
My opponent was Clark Witherspoon from Canton, a previously unranked challenger who knocked off the former top-ranked wrestler who had held the position since I first defeated Mark Heath back in January. Clark was an inch or two taller, seventy pounds heavier and, from the looks of his arms, likely stronger. Although he had many more matches during the season, my won-loss percentage was far better. He was a junior with only one-year prior experience.
“You should have this one,” Coach Friske said as he held my shoulders squared to his. “You know what you have to do. It can be as easy or as difficult as you make it.”
“Kick some butt, Brent!” I heard Ralph’s voice over the crowd noise.
As the cheerleaders began to chant a rehearsed routine, I stood toe-to-toe and looked up slightly into Witherspoon’s eyes. “So, you’re Woods. Thought you’d be taller.”
I said nothing, just continued to stare. He blinked first. Then he laughed. The referee stepped between us, parting us, and directing us to take our positions in the inner circle. Upon the sound of the whistle, he lunged at me. With a hand pressed to his chest, I halted him, then shoved, forcing him to step back to maintain his balance. I lowered my left shoulder and slammed into his midsection. He fell onto his backside. Immediately, I grabbed a leg and rocked back. Before he could fully arch his back in a neck bridge, I bore down on his chest. He was lifting against my weight. I could feel his strength, more than I expected.
Clark’s left heel, the foundation for one end of his neck bridge, slipped under the pressure. His shoulders crashed to the mat. He pressed my weight up to toss me from him, but in doing so his shoulders were exposed to the mat for a count of three. Effectively, he pinned himself.
He realized his mistake and rolled over, angrily pounding his fists into the mat. Forcing himself up to his knees, he remained there for a few seconds before getting to his feet. He turned to face me. “You don’t deserve to win,” he growled toward me. “I beat number one!”
I beat Heath, several times. I didn’t need to beat him. “You did it to yourself.”
Coach Friske escorted me from the mat, his arm around my shoulders. “One more.”
I was ready for it to be over. However it ended would have been fine, except now I wanted to put on a show for my folks. They hadn’t seen me wrestle since I was four years old when on summer Sunday afternoons in the front yard where a neighbor kid named Debbie, who was twice my size, sat on me, pinning me to the ground.
“You hungry?” the coach asked.
“I’m buying. You have a while for it to digest.”
“Sure.” I shrugged. “So, what do I need to know about Pattison?”
“Heath was lucky to beat him last year.”
“Heath was lucky a lot.”
“What do you want me to say? Pattison is as good as everyone says he is.”
“As good as me?”
“Nobody’s better than you.”
“Are you believing your bullshit or mine?”
“Is there a difference?”
Laughing, I followed him out of the arena to the concession area. We took our places at the end of the line.
“Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you don’t deserve to win.”
“I don’t think I ever have accepted that.”
“Witherspoon was stupid. His mistake was what a first-year wrestler does. It’s not something you see in a state semi-finals match.”
“His trouble is he thinks he could have beaten me. I have no idea how he thinks that.”
“You had him on his back. It was a matter of how long he could resist.”
“What he said didn’t bother me, Coach.”
“It bothered me. You’ll win the next match if you have flawless execution.”
“Like always. Nothing but perfection. That’s the secret,” I said with a laugh. “So, it’s really no big deal, then.”
The coach laughed, too. “You’re a pain in the ass, but you know that, of course.”
“Yeah, but you’ll miss me next season.”
“Barry!” Coach Jarvis approached us.
“Great seeing you again, Roy. Twice in less than a month.”
“Yeah, people are gonna start talking.” Jarvis chuckled. “And you, Mr. Woods.” Jarvis turned toward me. “If you reconsider, you have my number, right?”
I smiled. “I’m committed to Purdue for now, but not for wrestling.”
“It’ll be a pity if you don’t wrestle in college, son. With your raw talent… you need some mentoring and coaching, but you’d do fine in the Big Ten. Whether you wrestle for us or at Purdue, you should seriously consider it.”
“We’ll see,” I said, intending it as my parents always did.
“Good seeing you, Barry.”
“Best of luck out there in the finals, son.”
Lunch consisted of chilidogs with nachos and unsweetened iced tea. As I turned around from the counter, Pam was in line with her siblings, just where I expected to find her. As my hands were full, she kissed my cheek. “Brent, this is Catherine, David, and Stephen.”
“My apologies for having my hands full. It’s good to finally meet all of you. This is my coach, Barry Friske.”
“I’ve heard good things about you from Coach Jarvis,” Stephen said.
“You did very well when you wrestled here,” David said.
“That was ages ago,” Coach Friske said.
“And you did very well out there on the mat,” David directed to me.
“My opponent lost the match more than I won it.”
“You take those as they come,” Stephen said.
“So, I hear there’s a guy who wants to meet me,” Catherine said.
“Kevin, the 185-pound wrestler.”
Catherine smiled. “How old is he?”
“He’ll be nineteen in August.”
“I’m not that much older than him, then.” She smiled. “Tell him I’ll be watching.”
“I will. I guess we’re going to find someplace to sit and eat. You’re welcome to join us.”
“When do you need to be back?” Pam asked. “There it was. The question we’d rehearsed for Coach Friske’s sake.”
“The consolation matches start at one.”
“Maybe we can walk around for a bit.” She made the necessary suggestion that would free me from the coach’s company.
“Yeah, I’d like that, if it’s okay with Coach Friske.”
“Just don’t be late. Okay. I’m counting on you to keep him on schedule.” He told Pam.
“We’ll find you,” Catherine said with a wink.
“It was nice meeting all of you,” Coach Friske said.
Rare that it was for someone to finish eating before me, the coach did. And as he started to get up, he patted my shoulder. “Remember before one, be back and ready to cheer on your teammates.”
Taking my time finishing my chilidog, it couldn’t have been more than three minutes before Pam joined me. “So, how much time do we have?”
“Enough to eat, I think. The ceremony isn’t until noon.”
She sat and as I finished my nachos, she began eating.
“So where are we going to hide?”
“I don’t know yet. We’ll find someplace where we won’t be disturbed.
I glanced at the clock. It was eleven thirty-five.
“You said you’ve done this before.”
“Yeah, shorter distance but the same principle.”
“Did you figure out how to be in two places at once?”
“Kind of. Dawn and Jen showed me something a while ago, but I didn’t know I knew - if that makes sense.”
Pam looked around, seeing that Catherine was approaching. “Magic?” she whispered.
She shrugged. “In Pittsburgh?”
“Somewhere near there — about twenty minutes from now.”
Catherine joined us followed shortly by the twins. By then both Pam and I had finished eating. Pam made an excuse, saying she needed to find the restroom, and asked me if I wanted to escort her.
“If I don’t get the chance to tell you, Good luck,” Catherine called after me.
“Thanks,” I said over my shoulder.
“You’re sure you can do this?” Pam asked.
“Yeah. I was in bed the first time I did this. The next couple of times I was sitting at my desk. But it’s pretty easy once you know how.”
Pam tested a door handle only to discover it was locked. “I was hoping. This would be perfect.”
I touched the knob and turned it, pulling the door open.
“You need to teach me that one.”
“I’m surprised Claire hasn’t shown you, yet.” I held the door for her to squeeze inside.
I joined her, closing the door behind us, then wrapped my arms around her. “We need to be close, and you’ll need to think about me and follow my lead.”
“Okay,” she said. “Uh, if this isn’t an excuse to get me alone so we can kiss…you really didn’t need to go to all this trouble.”
I laughed. “You ready?”
“Close your eyes. Do you see my glow?
“Yep, bluish-green. Brighter today than usual.”
“Yeah. I’m feeling great. Just think about me,” I said, kissing her passionately.
Suddenly, the smell of ammonia and musty mops was replaced by a gentle spring breeze and the fragrance of multiple flowers.
“You can open your eyes, now. We’ve arrived.”