Janesville Craig’s wrestling team saved its best for last Friday night.
Trailing by one with one match left, the Cougars pinned their hopes on heavyweight Keeanu Benton.
The junior and state qualifier a year ago didn’t disappoint as he scored a 5-1 decision in the 285-pound match to give Craig a 31-29 Big Eight Conference win in a battle of two of the league’s top teams.
Craig now has the inside track at a No. 1 seed at the Big Eight Showcase, where the top team from the East matches up against the top team from the West for the outright dual meet title, later this season.
Middleton bumped Dion Huff from 190 pounds to 285 in hopes of pulling the upset of Benton. The plan backfired.
“I was in the same predicament my freshman year at the Showcase tournament and won, so I knew I could handle the pressure tonight,” Benton said. “He was a lot lighter than me, but that was OK because I know how to wrestle lighter guys.
“I knew once I broke him down from his hips that he couldn’t get up, and that’s what I did.”
The match was back and forth early on, with Craig getting a pin from Mayson Maclennan at 113 and wins from Dylan Nichols at 126 and Joe Bellomo at 132.
Nate Ellis pushed Craig’s lead to 18-9 with a 13-second pin at 138, and Ethan Smith’s 8-2 decision at 152 gave the Cougars a 21-12 advantage.
Middleton won four of the next five matches to take a 29-28 lead, with Craig’s only win coming from Marshall Getchell at 170.
In the finale, Benton led 2-1 after the first period and added on three more points over the next four minutes to lift his team to victory.
“A very big win for us because Middleton is probably our biggest rival right now,” Craig coach Mark Mullen said.
“We’ve got a whole lot of things to work on to get better as a team, but to get a win over a team as good as Middleton with some guys wrestling varsity for the first time is huge.”
Craig wrestles at Madison Memorial on Tuesday.
CRAIG 31, MIDDLETON 29
106—Les Neisius (M) pinned Joey Coulter, :49; 113—Mayson Maclennan (C) pinned Karim Said, :39; 120—Calvin Srem (M) dec. Juan Armas, 6-5; 126—Dylan Nichols (C) dec. Joe Schulze, 15-10; 132—Joe Bellomo (C) dec. Jesus Queschel, 4-1; 138—Nate Ellis (C) pinned Jacob Helmuth, :13; 145—Jeremiah Huff (M) dec. Dennis Nguyen, 8-2.
152—Ethan Smith (C) dec. Joseph Hoffman, 8-2; 160—Kevin Meicher (M) pinned Davon Serrano, 3:00; 170-Marshall Getchell (C) dec. Remington Lockwood, 10-8; 182—Mitchell Schuman (C) major dec. over Devin Jackson, 8-0; 195—Elliot Zanon (M) pinned Magnus Jenson, 3:33; 220—Gavin Adler (M) tech. fall over Brady Schenk, 16-1; 285—Keeanu Benton (C) dec. Dion Huff, 5-1.