Perhaps the most trouble Daniel Lewis had this season on the wrestling mats came just four seconds into his Class 4 160-pound title match Saturday at the 2014 MSHSAA State Wrestling Championships.
A hand to the Blue Springs senior’s face from Ritenour’s Tyron Welch knocked both contact lenses out of Lewis’ eyes.
After struggling for a couple minutes to get them back in – eventually aided by a small mirror held by a tournament worker – Lewis went to work quickly as always. One contact popped out again, but he still muscled a takedown and eventually caught Welch with his wicked trademark cradle, earning the pin in 1 minute, 18 seconds.
Then came the moment he’d been savoring, even planning for – the public address announcement and standing ovation afforded to a four-time state champion.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had both come out,” Lewis said. “It was one paw, and it took both of them out.
“Oh man, it felt surreal. It was great – I got the cradle, his shoulders were so wide, I couldn’t … I don’t know man, it felt great. I was excited to get the pin, because that kid was a stallion. He was enough to go for six minutes, and you know I haven’t gone six minutes. I was real excited when I heard that whistle and felt that pat on the mat.”
About a half-hour later, his Blue Springs classmate Michael Pixley snared the 195-pound title in similarly dominating fashion, pinning Lee’s Summit West’s Tyler Nelson in 1:05 with a fierce cradle after his second takedown.
Next up, Blue Springs South junior Christian Boyles scored a dramatic 6-4 overtime win over McCluer North’s Travon Butler to claim the 220-pound title in Class 4. Boyles lifted Butler and scored the tying takedown at the end of the third. Then, with a combined Blue Springs community section cheering him on, the referees ruled Boyles had enough control after a scramble to be awarded the winning takedown.
While Pixley became a two-time state champion (182 last year), Lewis became the 23rd wrestler in state history to accomplish the feat – by just a couple minutes, as Whitfield’s Rodney Hahn became No. 24 over on the Class 1 mat – and he treated the Mizzou Arena crowd with what he said was his first post-match backflip.
“It felt great, the crowd standing up,” said Lewis, who became just the second four-time champion to win in four different weight classes (103, 126, 138 and 160). “I do it for myself, but I also do it for the fans.
“I think my celebration might’ve been a little better. People kept telling me to do it, and I’m like, ‘We’ll see, we’ll see.’ I do it in practices sometimes, but never after a match. I felt like this called for it.”
Lewis’ earlier pins came in 25 and 33 seconds and 2:35. He completed a perfect 45-0 season in which he never went two full periods.
Pixley, who went unbeaten to win the 182 title last year, finished 43-1. His semifinal technical fall over Waynesville’s Joseph Bradford meant he didn’t reach his stated goal of pinning through the tournament, but that obviously didn’t bother him.
“I was a little more confident this year – actually, a lot more confident,” Pixley said. “I had something planned (for a celebration), but I kind of froze up. I was going to salute the stands or something, but I froze.”
Blue Springs coach Mike Hagerty said the domination Lewis and Pixley displayed this season simply put them at a different level.
“I think what’s encouraging me as a coach is it’s time for them to move on,” said Hagerty, whose team finished sixth in the Class 4 team standings with 74 points. “You know there’s that next level out there and they need that now – they need that next challenge. It’s simply time for them go and do bigger and better things at the collegiate level.
“It’s bittersweet. You hate to lose them – they’re such special gifts to the sport.”
Lewis has always employed his cradle to devastating effect, and Hagerty said Pixley’s cradle also came around this year since he committed himself to improving from the top position.
“He was always good, but now he’s just flat pinning people and putting them on his back with that cradle – pretty impressive,” Hagerty said. “You would think we should just go in the room and teach cradles all day. Don’t do anything else, just watch Daniel and Michael and just go cradle everyone.
“In the semis he hit five tilts – he tilted the kid out,” Hagerty said of Pixley. “But this particular one, you could just tell he was going for the kill. He wanted to make a statement, and he did it.”
Unlike the Wildcat duo, Boyles’ match was in doubt the whole time. He worked a couple escapes and was given another but still trailed 5-3 to Butler – who last year beat Blue Springs’ Austin Reyes for third place – in the third period before securing the tying takedown in the final seconds.
Boyles said he could sense Butler tiring by the way he moved and breathed, so he tried to push the pace.
“I just went after it, kept going, kept going, kept going, until I got the takedown,” he said. “Once I got the takedown, got into overtime, I just went, went, went, went, went until we got that.”
“That” was both wrestlers had a good grasp of the other, and after Boyles and Butler both hit the mat on their shoulder, the takedown call went in Boyles’ favor.
“I felt it was there, but it was a scramble situation, and fortunately he came out on top,” South coach Doug Black said. “So happy for the kid. He’s worked so hard, and it paid off.”
While Butler was on his knees in an agony of disbelief, Boyles emphatically acknowledged his cheering section, got some hugs from nearby teammates and jogged into the arena bowels, where he let out a couple primal screams.
“I’m on cloud nine right now,” Boyles said. “There’s no better feeling than this right now. I’ve said it all year, I’m going to come down and win state. Everyone doubted me; no one thought I’d be able to do it. I can’t even believe it right now. It’s just amazing, absolutely amazing.”
Boyles, who became South’s first state champion since James Williamson in 2002 and 2003, said he was confident a takedown ruling would go in his favor and acknowledged he also was tired at the end.
“Oh yeah, of course, but we prepare for stuff like this. Coach Black always puts us in situations – down by two, 30 seconds left, other guy’s just trying to run the clock out. You’ve just got to go, go, go until you get the takedown.
“If anything, it would’ve been a stalemate because I had control and he had control, as well. I feel like the ref on the other side had a good view, that he didn’t have both arms around and both legs.”