By Greg Tunnicliff
Special for Second Half
BATTLE CREEK – Rematches are always fun.
But they don’t get any better than when they are between the top two teams, and in the MHSAA Finals.
Detroit Catholic Central, ranked No. 1, and Davison, ranked No. 2, met for the second time this winter in Saturday’s Division 1 championship match at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.
The highly-anticipated rematch lived up to its billing, with the Shamrocks pulling out a thrilling 29-26 victory when junior Evan Toth earned a pin at 125 pounds with 36 seconds left in the third period.
Toth trailed 9-2 before he successfully put a headlock on Davison junior Derek Humphrey, turned him over, and recorded the six-point victory to send the Shamrocks’ bench and many of the capacity crowd of 3,618 into a frenzy.
Coincidentally, Toth lost to a wrestler from Oxford in the last match of the 2011 state finals. The Wildcats beat the Shamrocks 26-25.
“I’ve been in that situation before,” Toth said. “I knew we needed more than three points, and I was looking for something big the whole match. I knew what I had to do. You have to wrestle the whole six minutes. (Winning the championship) is the highest high you can have.”
It is DCC’s second straight MHSAA title and 10th overall. The Shamrocks ended this winter 25-3.
“I’m at a loss for words,” DCC coach Mitch Hancock said. “(Toth) never gave up. When you’re a Shamrock you believe to the end, and he did.”
While the Shamrocks were overjoyed Saturday, Davison’s contingent was stunned. The Cardinals led for most of the match and appeared to be headed for their first MHSAA title since 2006 when they took a 26-23 lead on 3-1 decision by Lincoln Olson at 119 pounds.
Humphrey got off to fast start at 125 and controlled the majority of the match, leading 4-1 after the first period and 9-2 after the second.
Davison ended this season 14-5.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Davison coach Roy Hall said. “That kid (Toth) found his position. He had one opportunity to hit a home run.”
In a star-studded Division 1 lineup that featured eight teams that had won a combined 34 team championships, it was no surprise that Davison and DCC faced each other in the Final.
Entering this weekend’s final round of the state tournament, the Cardinals and the Shamrocks boasted a combined 17 MHSAA titles and three runner-up finishes. Both teams featured a combined 21 ranked wrestlers.
DCC and Davison were the top two seeded teams, with Catholic Central at No. 1 and Davison No. 2. Both squads more than lived up to their lofty billings by demolishing their quarterfinal and semifinal opponents.
Davison defeated Holt, 50-12, in Friday’s Quarterfinals before polishing off third-seeded Hartland, 44-15, in Saturday’s Semifinals. The Shamrocks beat eighth-seeded Grandville, 62-7, before downing fourth-seeded Rochester, 48-13.
Davison started out Saturday’s championship rematch in much better fashion than its first encounter with Catholic Central, a 44-23 setback on Dec. 14.
Saturday’s match began at 130 pounds and Davison captured the first five weights to take an 18-3 lead. DCC was able to get back into match, primarily, because of the performances of its heavyweights.
The Shamrocks captured four straight weights from 171-285, recording back-to-back major decisions at 171 and 189 and a pin at 285 by senior Bob Coe that gave Catholic Central its first lead at 20-18.
“The whole year we didn’t talk about repeating,” Coe said. “Now that it’s done, we can talk about a repeat. I firmly believe we have the best coaching staff in the country and the hardest-working team in the country.”
One of the big reasons Davison was able to stay with Catholic Central and nearly win was the return two-time individual champion Justin Oliver and the performance of freshman Max Johnson.
Oliver did not compete in the Cardinals’ first match with the Shamrocks, and they both recorded key victories Saturday. Oliver opened the match at 130 by recording a 3-0 victory over Myles Amine, giving the Cardinals a 3-0 lead.
After Catholic Central came and took the lead, Johnson gave Davison the lead back at 23-20 with a technical fall victory, 15-0, over the Shamrocks’ Tommy Herrimann at 103 pounds.
“Justin Oliver is a two-time state champion,” said Hall of Oliver, who returned to the Cardinals’ lineup at the team District tournament. “He is a stud and he lights up an athletic event. I was happy with the effort. That’s all you can ask for. Our guys will be back.”
The Cardinals almost put a huge distance between themselves and Catholic Central when Jacob Madrigal nearly pinned Parker O’Brien at 112 pounds.
Trailing 4-2 with less than 10 seconds left in the third period, Madrigal flipped O’Brien over and came seconds away from securing a pin before time expired. O’Brien took the victory and tied the match.
“I went a little too quick,” O’Brien said. “I went for two points (takedown) and I got a little sloppy. I just held on for the win.”
The loss was only the Cardinals’ third to a Michigan team this season. Besides Catholic Central, the only other Michigan squad to beat Davison was St. Johns, which beat Lowell, 42-20, in the Division 2 championship match.
“It’s very tough,” Hancock said of having to face Davison again. “We knew they were a much better team than we faced in December. Anytime you have (Davison’s coaches) Roy Hall and Paul Donahoe in a corner, you’re in for a war. We persevered.”
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