When the Tomah Timberwolves needed pins, they got them.
When they needed decisions, they got them.
When they needed wrestlers to stay off their back, they got that, too.
Nearly everyone on the roster delivered what was needed, and it allowed the Timberwolves to thread the needle and defeat Sparta 33-30 in a Mississippi Valley Conference dual Thursday at Sparta High School.
Tomah improved its MVC record to 4-1 and overall mark to 12-3. It can nail down second place in the MVC with a victory at La Crosse Aquinas Jan. 25.
“I expected it to be this way − one match or another going either way deciding it,” Tomah coach Jeff Von Haden said. “All our guys contributed in their own way.”
The Timberwolves grabbed hold of the match in the light weights, where Cody Zimmerman (120 pounds) and Braden Bemis (126) scored back-to-back pins to give Tomah a 30-21 lead with four matches remaining.
Nate Boulton then put the Timberwolves at the doorstep of victory by hammering out a 6-3 decision over Estaban Rodriguez at 132. That left the fate of the match in the hands of Owen Walters at 138, who needed to just stay off his back to nail down the match.
Walters was taken down twice and trailed 5-0 late in the second period before rallying with an escape and reversal in the third period. It was a 5-3 loss, but it left the Timberwolves ahead by nine points with just one match left.
Von Haden said Walters wrestled a prudent match.
“He could have maybe gone out and won that match, but he did what he needed to do − he didn’t want to get caught in a bad position,” Von Haden said.
Sparta asserted itself in the middle weights, but the Timberwolves got exactly what they needed at 182, 195 and 285.
Connor Von Haden pounded out a hard-fought 6-2 decision over Kelton Pfaff. The score was tied 2-2 with Pfaff on top to start the third period, but Connor Von Haden got a reversal 10 seconds into the period and rolled Pfaff into a two-point near fall 25 seconds later. Pfaff quickly rolled back onto his stomach, but Connor Von Haden rode Pfaff the rest of the match.
At 195, Tomah’s Kaden Hericks made quick work of freshman Madden Connelly with a first-period pin. Two matches later at 285, Tomah sent sophomore Hayden Larson, a first-year wrestler, against a much more experienced Noah Benish. Neither wrestler could execute a takedown, and the match’s only points were scored in the second period, when Benish got an escape and a stall point to account for his 2-0 win.
Jeff Von Haden said limiting Sparta to three team points in that match was critical.
“What a battle out there not to get to get pinned by (Noah) Benish,” Von Haden said. “If he gets pinned, it’s a different outcome at the end of the night.”
Another close loss to start the match worked in Tomah’s favor. Sparta’s Brett Von Ruden took a 28-2 record into his match against Travis Von Haden but had to survive a third-period takedown by Von Haden before claiming a 6-3 decision.
Tomah’s other victory came at 113, where Dawson Lambert (31-3) was pushed hard by Vince Polhamus before grinding out a 6-2 victory.
Lambert took a 4-0 lead with a takedown in the first period and a reversal with 16 seconds left in the second period. However, Polhamus cut the gap to 4-2 with a takedown midway through the third period before Lambert clinched the match by getting a reversal with 11 seconds left.
The Spartans were without Jon Bailey, who owns a 24-1 record wrestling mostly at 120. However, Bailey’s absence almost didn’t factor into the final outcome. Tomah was on the verge of picking up an unexpected victory at 170, where Tomah’s Seth Carlson had Mathias Krien on his back late in the first period. However, Krien kept just enough space between his shoulder blade and the mat to keep the official from calling a pin. Krien rallied for an escape and reversal to cap a wild first period which ended with Carlson ahead 8-7.
Carlson started on top in the second period, but Krien got a quick reversal and rolled Carlson onto his back for a pin at 2:20.
Von Haden said getting a win over a traditional power like Sparta is important for his team.
“It’s huge for our program; it’s huge for our year,” Von Haden said. “It tells us we can compete with the good teams.”