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by Michael Leonard
The month of December reinforced some cold, hard facts for the Tallmadge wrestling squad.
In the Suburban League, the Blue Devils are still struggling, having gone 0-4 against league foes.
Once it has been able to get away from the league, however, Tallmadge has had a very successful season.
More evidence of that came Dec. 27 and 28 as the Blue Devils made their annual pilgrimage to the America's Best Value Inn Tournament in St. Clairsville.
Tallmadge returned home from southern Ohio with the team runner-up trophy, finishing with 282 points.
The Blue Devils proved to be the top Ohio-based team at the tournament.
Oak Glen, out of New Cumberland, W. Va., won the tournament for the 11th time in its 17-year history with 350.5 points. A total of 17 teams competed in the tourney.
Tallmadge head coach Jason Shaw was very pleased with his team's effort.
"The kids put it together," Shaw said. "They had gotten together and said they didn't want to come home without winning it."
Shaw noted the Blue Devils had the lead in the pool-style tournament after round one Dec. 27, but Oak Glen blew things open in the third round.
"We actually gained about 15 points on them in the finals, so I was happy to see that," Shaw said.
Junior Terrell Grant scored his third berth in a tournament final this season. He then claimed his second individual title at 106 pounds, pinning Dover's Gannon Petrollo in the final.
"Terrell was probably our MVP [Most Valuable Player]," Shaw said. "He just dominated that kid in the final. He had already racked up 14 points on the kid before he pinned him.
"Our goal for him, obviously, is to get him down to the state tournament. This is a good set up for that."
Tallmadge had two other finalists at St. Clairsville, including Danny Amato at 145 pounds.
Amato wrestled well to reach the final, but dropped a 9-4 decision to state qualifier Bailey Jenkins of Byesville Meadowbrook.
"Dan got himself in trouble right off the bat and went down 5-0," Shaw said. "He turned it around and went toe to toe with him.
"He could have beaten that guy easily. He, by far, had the toughest pool. Two of the guys in his pool from West Virginia were state qualifiers."
Blue Devils' junior Jacob Lahtonen also reached the final at 220 pounds. However, Lahtonen was overpowered by St. Clairsville's Michael Furbee and lost a 16-1 technical fall.
"Jacob is a small 220; he's only weighing in at about 205 pounds," Shaw said. "[Furbee] weighed a full 220. Unfortunately, the kid was pretty good."
Heavyweight Ben Cipa earned a third-place finish for Tallmadge. He pinned Oak Glen's Noah Miller in the third-place match.
"I thought the kid from Oak Glen should have been in the finals," Shaw said. "Ben went out there and just crushed him."
Tallmadge also got fifth-place finishes from Dustin McGraw (132), Josh Potok (138) and Justin Paonessa (170) as well as sixth-place finishes from Cailen Jackson (160) and Chris Cross (132).
Shaw said Joe Siesel (152) picked up a minor injury and was held out for precautionary reasons. He also said Travis Darago (195) did not wrestle due to a skin issue.
"If Travis wrestles, we've got a chance to win," Shaw said. "It was just like the Wayne Invitational. If we would have had a full lineup, we could have won the thing.
"The kids are really starting to get some confidence. Every kid we brought down scored points for us. That was great to see."
The Blue Devils are scheduled to host a double dual meet with Suburban League rivals Highland and Cloverleaf Jan. 9. First match is set for 6 p.m.
"If we go in and wrestle like we did at St. Clairsville, we should be able to pick up the wins," Shaw said.
"Like I told the kids, we've got to be able to start competing in the Suburban League."