Big Blacks win 2 state titles


Point Pleasant finishes 8th in final AAA tournament

Point Pleasant state champions George Smith, third from left, and Grant Safford, second from right, are joined by Point Pleasant coaches James Casto, Dave Bonecutter, John Bonecutter and Jed Ott for a photo following the conclusion of Saturday night’s 2016 WVSSAC Class AAA state wrestling tournament in Huntington, W.Va.


Bryan Walters/OVP Sports

Point Pleasant senior Tannor Hill battles to his feet during his Class AAA 220-pound championship match against Wheeling Park’s Isaiah Myers Saturday night at Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington, W.Va.


Bryan Walters/OVP Sports

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Going out in style.

After four years of trials and tribulations at the Class AAA level, the Point Pleasant wrestling program enjoyed one last hurrah with the big boys this past weekend at the 2016 WVSSAC state championships held at Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Cabell County.

The Big Blacks — who return to Class AA-A competition in the fall of 2016 — made program history by sending three grapplers to Championship Saturday in the AAA ranks, which eventually led to another first as PPHS came away a pair of state titles at the same AAA meet.

Point Pleasant junior Grant Safford captured a 10-8 decision to win the 182-pound crown, while freshman George Smith scored a third period escape with 12 seconds left to win the 106-pound title. It was also the first time since 2013 that Point Pleasant won an individual state championship.

The underclassmen duo allowed the Red, Black and White to double the program’s AAA title count from two to four, as well as earning the school’s 20th and 21st championships overall.

Safford and Smith are the 15th and 16th champions in PPHS history and also join Alex Reed (1998) and Trevor Hill (2013) as the program’s only AAA champions.

Senior Tannor Hill wasn’t as fortunate in his final match after dropping a 5-2 decision in the 220-pound final. Senior Hunter White also finished the weekend third overall in the 170-pound division.

With a 17-10 overall mark, four podium finishes and two state champions from their eight state qualifiers, the Big Blacks earned eighth place out of 34 scoring teams with 89 points. It was the fourth consecutive year that PPHS — currently the smallest AAA school in West Virginia — finished the state tournament in the top-10.

Needless to say, seventh-year Point Pleasant coach John Bonecutter was pleased with a majority of the results from the weekend … particularly at midway point of the tournament.

“First, I want to say that the kids wrestled their tails off this weekend and I’m so proud of all eight of those guys,” Bonecutter said. “This tournament can be tough early on and Friday night can be very cruel to a program, so we really felt like we had some momentum after winning all four matches in that third session. The four that went into Saturday represented us well until the very end, so I’m proud — overall — of how things went for us this weekend.”

The Big Blacks were 9-9 overall and down to four wrestlers entering Friday night’s matches, but PPHS won all four of its third session contests before going on to win four of its final five bouts. Point Pleasant had previously gone 7-17 overall in Friday night matches over the previous three AAA tournaments.

Safford — who was a state runner-up at 195 pounds a year ago — redeemed himself with a hard-fought 10-8 decision over Parkersburg South’s Hunter DeLong in the 182 division, Point’s first of three matches Saturday night.

Safford trailed 2-1 at the end of the first period and was down 4-2 through two periods, but the junior earned an escape and a takedown in the opening minute of the third — giving him a 6-4 advantage. Safford twice increased his lead to three at 8-5 and again at 10-7 before ultimately claiming the two-point victory.

After being on the other side of the spectrum 365 days ago, Safford — who finished the year with a 41-2 overall mark — was humble in reaching the pinnacle of this sport.

“After getting to the state finals last year and losing, I can tell you that I truly appreciate how much this moment means right now,” said Safford, who owns a career mark of 125-22. “To work so hard after last year and get back to the state final is something to be proud of. To actually win it, this is truly the best feeling in the world. It’s definitely much better than last year.”

Smith — who finished his first varsity campaign with a 43-4 mark — became the program’s first freshman champion at the AAA level after earning an exciting 1-0 decision at 106 pounds.

Scoreless through two periods against Parkersburg South’s Tucker Windland, Smith started the third on bottom. After a constant battle to maintain leverage, Smith managed to escape Windland’s hold with a mere 12 seconds — which ultimately provided the bout’s only score.

In joining Rusty Maness — Point’s only four-time state champion (2008-11) — as the only freshmen to win state titles for the Big Blacks, Smith was overwhelmed by what he had just done.

“I’m blown away. I’m so excited to be able to accomplish this,” Smith said. “I really need to thank my teammates, my coaches and my dad, because they have all put a lot of work into me this season and over the years. I was fortunate there at the end, but I stuck to what I had been taught and it worked out for us. I’m just really thrilled and don’t know what else to say right now.”

The middle match Saturday night proved heartbreaking, and just not in the result itself.

Hill — the 195-pound AAA runner-up in 2014 — and Wheeling Park’s Isaiah Myers battled to a scoreless tie through the first period of their 220-pound bout, but Myers scored a takedown early in the second period for a 2-0 edge.

Hill lost his footing while trying to reverse a hold, and Myers capitalized by scoring a near-fall — making it a 5-0 contest. Hill eventually escaped to score a point for a 5-1 deficit headed into the final period.

Hill managed to escape from the down position in the third period for a 5-2 contest, but ultimately ran out of time in the three-point loss. Hill finished the year with a 136-30 career mark and went 41-8 during his senior campaign.

White — who lost a second round championship match (8-5) to eventual 170-pound runner-up T.J. Lambiotte of Parkersburg South — finished the weekend with a 5-1 overall mark, including wins in his final four bouts.

The senior — who was named the AAA Region 4 Most Outstanding Wrestler — ended up picking up his 150th career win en route to his third place finish. White completed his final season at PPHS with a 44-6 mark.

Senior Scotty Wilcox — a three-time state qualifier — also earned points for the Big Blacks after going 1-2 overall at 120 pounds. Point’s other two seniors — Chris Lush (145) and James Patterson (195) — joined sophomore Brian Gillispie (285) with 0-2 marks in their first state tournament appearances.

The Big Blacks’ best Class AAA season came in 2014 after earning six podium finishes while placing sixth with 107 points. PPHS was also sixth with 101 points and five podium efforts in 2013, while last year’s squad had three podium finishes and placed ninth with 77 points.

After winning three straight team championships at the Class AA-A level before moving up to big-school division in 2013, Bonecutter acknowledged that the last four years have tested his program — for better and for worse.

He also notes that, despite what he considers a solid showing over the last four years, it will be nice to head back to the Class AA-A ranks.

“I will say that in being at the AAA level the last four years, I think we as a program have earned a lot of respect from our peers in the state,” Bonecutter said. “It’s certainly tested us, going from three straight team championships to four top-10 finishes. I also think that we have become a better program for it.

“In moving forward, we don’t see next year as a chance to defend our titles from four years ago. We want to get back to where we were and there are a lot of good double-A teams waiting for us. Independence is the top dog right now, we simply want what they have … the same as everyone else.”

Parkersburg South won the Class AAA title with 198.5 points, with Huntington (134.5) and Cabell Midland (132) rounding out the top three spots.

Point Pleasant joined Parkersburg, Parkersburg South and Cabell Midland as the only AAA programs with multiple state champions at the 2016 event.

Saint Albans, George Washington, University, Ripley, Buchannon-Upshur and Wheeling Park also earned a state title apiece in the big-school division.

Wahama did not score at the Class AA-A level for the first time in seven years as sophomore Ethan Herdman — the White Falcons’ only state qualifier — went 0-2 at 145 pounds.

Independence won the Class AA-A title with 254.5 points, while Roane County (131) and East Fairmont (122.5) rounded out the top-three of 42 scoring programs.

Independence led the AA-A field with four state champions, followed by East Fairmont with three and Greenbrier West with two titles. Roane County, Oak Glen, North Marion, Calhoun County and Moorefield also won a title apiece in the smaller school division.

Huntington’s Rob Archer was named AAA Coach of the Year and Hunter Jones of George Washington (160) earned the AAA Outstanding Wrestler Award.

Cliff Warden of Independence was named the AA-A Coach of the Year, while the duo of Logan Robertson of Greenbrier West (126) and Cam Moore of Roane County (120) shared AA-A Outstanding Wrestler honors.

Complete results of the 69th annual WVSSAC state wrestling tournament are available on the web at wvmat.com

Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.

Point Pleasant state champions George Smith, third from left, and Grant Safford, second from right, are joined by Point Pleasant coaches James Casto, Dave Bonecutter, John Bonecutter and Jed Ott for a photo following the conclusion of Saturday night’s 2016 WVSSAC Class AAA state wrestling tournament in Huntington, W.Va.
http://mydailyregister.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/web1_3.1-PP-Group.jpgPoint Pleasant state champions George Smith, third from left, and Grant Safford, second from right, are joined by Point Pleasant coaches James Casto, Dave Bonecutter, John Bonecutter and Jed Ott for a photo following the conclusion of Saturday night’s 2016 WVSSAC Class AAA state wrestling tournament in Huntington, W.Va. Bryan Walters/OVP Sports

Point Pleasant senior Tannor Hill battles to his feet during his Class AAA 220-pound championship match against Wheeling Park’s Isaiah Myers Saturday night at Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington, W.Va.
http://mydailyregister.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/web1_3.1-PP-Hill.jpgPoint Pleasant senior Tannor Hill battles to his feet during his Class AAA 220-pound championship match against Wheeling Park’s Isaiah Myers Saturday night at Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington, W.Va. Bryan Walters/OVP Sports
Point Pleasant finishes 8th in final AAA tournament
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