Losing a host of talented seniors created an experience vacuum for the Tallassee wrestling team coming into this season. Tiger coach John Mask knew the talent was there but was uncertain what the on-mat product would look like. Thursday night he sat ringside and watched his squad pick up back-to-back wins over Class 7A Prattville and Auburn.
That experience vacuum now looks more like a Dirt Devil and less like an industrial-strength Shop-Vac.
“It’s the kids,” Mask said. “I love them and the way they work. We had seven come back with experience and we had some this is their first time as wrestlers. Some, we are trying to groom to be wrestlers.”
Brendan Emfinger, who closed the night out with second period pin at 113 pounds against Auburn, is an example offered by Mask.
“Last year was his first year wrestling, but he’s come so far,” said Mask “He went to camps and worked in the gym and has improved. The same for Zak (Haynes) and Mason (Bell) — they are leading the team. And then you have (Jake) Debardelaben tearing it up out there. The boys work hard and they don’t ever listen when someone tells them they aren’t supposed to (be successful this early).”
But Mask also added this caveat to this: “We’ve got to keep working hard.”
In the opener against Prattville, Haynes (132), John Burnham (145), Bell (160) and Debardalaben (170) pinned their opponents as forfeits made up the difference in the 48-35 Tallassee win.
After dropping back-to-back matches against Auburn, Haynes reversed the hometown team’s fortune with a first-period pin. Seconds after the whistle, Haynes scored a takedown a then rolled his opponent onto his back for a near fall but couldn’t hold him down. With 57 seconds left in the opening round, Haynes scores again with another five-point move. This time, though, the result was a pin, cutting into Auburn’s 12-0 lead.
“I’m impressed with the kids and what they did (Thursday),” said Mask. “I like to bring Auburn in to start the season because you’ll learn real quick where you are, and then we brought in Prattville too. We’ve only been practicing for a couple of weeks and they’ve worked hard. I’m tickled for them.”
Tallassee continued to apply pressure with a victory at 138. Christian McCary led 2-0 to start the second period. A fortuitous tumble to start the stanza allowed him to score a reversal and double his lead. He continued to control the pace of the match en route to the 7-2 victory.
Auburn then pushed its lead to 17-9 before Tallassee answered again. At 152, Will Lackey out-muscled his opponent for a first-period pin.
Bell followed suit with a win at 160. In the third period Bell found himself down 6-4 but got a late takedown to tie the match, 6-6. In the short time, the ref awarded Tallassee a point for Auburn’s stalling, giving Bell the 7-6 victory.
That gave Tallassee its first led, 18-17, and the Tigers built on it with an injury forfeit at 170. Auburn then pulled away with back-to-back forfeits and a pin at 195.
But from that point on, Tallassee took control.
Jackson McKee guided his opponent at 220 directly to his back for the win. His pin points also secured the Tallassee victory at 30-29. The Tigers weren’t finished, though.
Land Bell scored a quick takedown at 106 then flipped his opponent onto his back leading to a first-period pin. Emfinger then closed the show with a payback win at 113 against Blake Byerley, who beat him last year. In the second period, he rolled through a pin attempt then used an old-school headlock to put Byerley on his back.