By Jeff Keeling
By the time second-seeded Hunter Bagley reached the finals match of the TSSAA state championships Saturday, the Science Hill senior knew there was nothing to keep him from winning the school’s first state individual title in 10 years. He had watched top-seed Tyler Barber of Stewarts Creek in a couple of his matches over the weekend, and Bagley was confident.
It turned out he was also right, as he scored a 2-1 overtime victory to become the Toppers’ first state champion since Bo Usary won back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006.
“I was thinking that if I did everything I was supposed to do and everything I was able to do, that I would win the match,” said Bagley, who finished the season 51-2.
A large crowd at the Franklin Ag Expo building had seen champions crowned in 12 of the 14 weight divisions when Bagley and Barber stepped onto the mat for the 220-pound weight class final. Each had won four matches to get there, with Bagley pinning three of his opponents and dispatching quarterfinal foe Peyton Reinert of Beech Senior High in a relatively easy 7-1 decision.
The match lived up to its billing. The first two-minute round of regulation ended 0-0. “We had a couple of scrambles with each of us coming close to takedowns,” Bagley said.
Bagley started on the bottom in round two and escaped within 15 seconds to take a 1-0 lead. Again, neither wrestler could break through the other’s defense. As the third round started, Bagley felt good about his chances.
“I felt confident after escaping in the second period, because I knew I could just ride him,” Bagley said.
It didn’t turn out quite that easily, though Bagley kept on top of Barber for a good 90 seconds before the top seed finally got to his feet. Even then, Bagley returned Barber to the mat a couple of times, but Barber escaped as time elapsed in regulation. The wrestlers were tied 1-1 and would wrestle a one-minute sudden death round, followed if necessary by two 30-second rounds.
Having escaped quickly from the bottom and held Barber down for well over a minute, Bagley felt good about his chances heading into overtime. “The coaches just kept telling me, ‘keep going, you’ll be fine,’” Bagley said.
Neither wrestler scored in the first overtime. Bagley made another quick escape in the second round, and in the third, 30 seconds wasn’t long enough for Barber to escape.
“I haven’t met someone who could keep me down all season,” Bagley said. “Every time I’ve been in a match like that I’ve been able to win by escape.”
It was a satisfying finish after a disappointing tournament last year. Bagley missed out on medaling at 195 after having finished fifth as a sophomore. This year, he was joined as a medalist by sophomore Arthur James, who finished sixth at 145 pounds.
Bagley, who started wrestling in fourth grade and is leaning toward studying engineering in college, is bullish on Science Hill’s chances of a shorter drought between state champs – the team produced a champion a year from 2002-2006.
“The future’s looking bright,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good kids coming up.”
The Toppers sent seven sophomores and freshman Chase Diehl to state this year, and several eighth-grade wrestlers at Liberty Bell Middle School are thought to be squarely in the hunt at an upcoming state AAU championship.