Thrill and agony

AUSTINTOWN – The 250th career victory for Austintown Fitch wrestling coach Brett Powell was as exciting as any match he’s been a part of during his 29-year career.

His 116th career loss, which also came on Wednesday during the OHSAA Division I Dual Team Tournament, was equally thrilling.

“It was a fun two matches,” Powell said.

One was a bit more enjoyable than the other.

The No. 2-seeded Falcons trailed, 30-10, with only five weight classes remaining in their opening-round match against seventh-seeded Kenston. That left almost no room for error. Fitch senior captain Camran Rezapourian stopped a four-match win streak by the Bombers at 170 pounds. Rezapourian secured a takedown in the final period to edge Nolan Kondik, 9-8.

The victory put a charge in the Falcons, who then won three straight to make the score 30-25 heading into the final match at 285 pounds. That meant senior Ron Shadd needed a pin for Fitch to win.

“We were talking during the 195 match, me and our 220,” said Shadd of a discussion with Jake Franks, who pinned his opponent to give the Falcons a chance for victory, “and we were doing the math, and we figured out we needed two pins. He got his, and I knew I had to get mine in order for our coach to get that 250th win.”

Shadd took Brandon Baker of Kenston down twice but couldn’t get the leverage he needed for the pin, so he let him up to try and secure a better position. Shadd then snapped Baker to the mat and laced an underhook before driving Baker onto his back for a pin that set off a wild celebration on the Fitch bench.

“I was over there warming up, and the entire time I was just thinking it wasn’t really an option for me to lose,” Shadd said. “It wasn’t a regular match. It meant something more to our coach than just a normal, regular match would have, so I knew I had to go in there and get it done.”

Powell, one of the most successful coaches in northeast Ohio history, didn’t deny that the victory was a special one. Earlier in the season, he mentioned how he wasn’t sure how much longer he would coach, so earning another milestone – in dramatic fashion, nonetheless – felt good.

“It’s a night I’ll never forget,” Powell said. “It was cool. I couldn’t have wrote it any better.

“And this (250 wins) wasn’t me. It was all the kids. They came together yearly, and it all added into (250 wins). I was just lucky enough to be the guy sitting there.”

The win set up a showdown with Aurora, which defeated Boardman, 45-25, in its first-round match. The Region 4-A quarterfinal, held just 20 minutes after the first round ended, went completely different for the Falcons, who overcame a slow start to take a 29-18 lead with four matches remaining.

That’s when the Greenmen made their charge. They earned three straight wins, including a 3-1 victory at 182 in which Aurora’s A.J. Suchovsky secured a reversal against Tony Behanna in the final seconds, and a 4-2 overtime win by Dean Hayden over Jake Franks. Both Franks and Behanna won key bouts in the first match to help Fitch beat Kenston. Their losses against Aurora cut Fitch’s advantage to 29-27 and put all the pressure back on Shadd, a smaller 285-pound wrestler (he weighs around 225) who had to face a monster of a heavyweight in 6-foot-4, 280-pound Josh Burger.

“I was really psyched and hype for the second match to come up,” Shadd said. “And then things just happened.”

Shadd tussled with Burger at the start as they worked for inside position in a tie-up. Burger saw an opening and got a takedown, and trouble quickly occurred for Shadd. The heavier Burger was able to immediately attain a half nelson and drive Shadd to his back for a pin that lifted the Greenmen to a wild comeback victory, 33-29.

Aurora coach Dick Bliss said he plotted out how the scoring of the match might go before it started, but the last part was hard to figure out.

“We knew we could start well, and we knew we could finish well, but we were scared to death,” Bliss said with a laugh. “I knew our upperweights were going to have to battle like hell to win, and they did.”

Despite being eliminated from the dual team tournament, the night was still a memorable one for Powell, not only because of the landmark win but also because he noticed progress with his team. The Falcons (11-5) are enjoying a bounce-back season after a few, rare down years. He gave a lot of the credit to assistant coach John Burd, who Powell said takes the kids to tournaments all over the state – and the country – during the offseason to help them improve.

“He’s rode with me through some tough streets,” Powell said. “I couldn’t ask for a better assistant coach. He wrestled for me, and he coached with me. He gave me everything he had when we wrestled, and now as a coach he gives everything he has. I don’t think you can put a price on that as a head coach.”

Powell, Burd and the Falcons now set their sights on the annual Joshua Hephner Memorial Tournament, which begins at 4 p.m. Friday at Fitch High School.