Tigers advance to state finals
There were some scary moments for the Pigeon Forge Tigers in the Friday night semifinals at the TSSAA State Wrestling Duals in Franklin, Tenn. — none more so than looking up and scoreboard and finding themselves trailing to Stone Memorial High School 22-9 in the match’s early going.
But 30 minutes and a string of huge pinfalls later, and the state runners-up from a year ago have a spot in the finals for a chance at sweet redemption.
The Pigeon Forge Tigers, riding four-straight pins in crunch-time — including two from freshmen — earned a berth in tonight’s championship match against the Greeneville Greene Devils for all the marbles.
“(We’re) closing that book (on coming up short two years in a row),” Pigeon Forge coach Greg Foreman said after the 42-32 victory. “Closing that chapter.”
“We’re excited to be here, and excited to be in the finals again.”
After winning the opening contest of the match with quick pinfall from 152-pounder Joseph Dodgen, the Tigers began to struggle.
Through the 160, 170 and 182 matches, the Panthers ran off 16-straight points and took a 10-point lead 16-6.
Sophomore Alex Breeden stopped the bleeding for the Tigers with a hard-fought 6-5 decision win, which cut the lead back to 16-9.
But the Tigers were forced to forfeit the 220 match, since they don’t have a healthy wrestler at that weight.
Trailing 22-9, the Tigers’ wrestlers and coaches were wearily eyeing the scoreboard.
But sophomore heavyweight Nick Hilley earned a huge 8-5 decision over a bigger opponent to start the positive rolling for the Tigers, and a forfeit victory to Matthew Kieta at 106 cut the Panthers’ lead to just four points at 22-18.
Jacob Ruiter lost a tough match at 113, but avoided a pinfall, and Stone led 26-18.
That’s when the magic happened.
Senior Caleb Poole pinned his 120 opponent in the first round, narrowing the gap to 26-24.
Freshman Josh Croley earned a huge six-point swing with another pin moments later at 126 to give the Tigers their first lead since early on.
Seconds later senior Joseph Dodgen smashed his opponent in just over a minute, widening the lead to 36-26.
Finally, in the 138 match, freshman Xavier Bohanan fought an outstanding match to a 3-3 stalemate before catching his opponent in a cradle for the match-clinching pin in the second round.
As his teammates and the Orange and Black fans exploded with celebration, Bohanan’s coach was introspective.
“I told you early in the week, these freshmen are stepping up, stepping up and stepping up,” Foreman said. “This is what we rely on now. We expect our seniors to step up and do what they’re supposed to do, and I’m feeling more and more confident with freshmen every time they step out there.
“They’re really stepping up to the plate, and there’s a lot of pressure here.
“Freshmen and underclassmen have a big legacy (to live up to). Our seniors have got us closer, and our freshmen kind of sealed the deal.”
Now all that stands between Pigeon Forge and finally getting the runner-up monkey off their shoulder is Greeneville High School.
A power in the late 1990s, the Greene Devils are experiencing a resurgence this season.
They defeated Hixson and East Ridge, two really good teams, to reach the finals.