The Lions will next set their sights on the NWOC district tournament back at Putnam

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - St. Helens' Ryan Burri scores a takedown against Putnam's Koby Paola at 152 pounds during the Lions' 42-36 win at Putnamon Feb. 1.St. Helens wrestler Rachawn Lee took a look at the scoreboard and knew he was in a bit of trouble against Putnam's Brandon Nguyen last week.

Fortunately for Lee, it was only the end of the first round.

Trailing 6-2, the St. Helens junior scored a reversal and then put Nguyen on his back with 44 seconds remaining in the second round, eventually securing a crucial pin that helped carry the Lions to a 42-36 Northwest Oregon Conference dual win over the Kingsmen at Putnam High School on Feb. 1.

St. Helens' Will Webb also won by fall at 138, Dylan Scott added another pin at 182, and Putnam surrendered forfeit wins to Joe Austin at 106, Tristin Buchanan at 113, Jordan McFarland at 120 and Isak Williams at 285 as the Lions closed out the regular season with their second win in six league duals.

"It's always good to get a win, especially with a young team," Lions coach Greg Gadbois said. "We're really young, so any kind of win we get is good for us. Putnam is always tough and this is a tough place to come wrestle."

Putnam's Brendan Hawkins was awarded a forfeit win at 132, but even with that, the Kingsmen had to erase an 18-point deficit to have a chance at pulling out a win on Senior Night.

And they almost did it.

Of the nine weight classes that were contested, Putnam won six, scoring pins with Jonathan Hernandez at 126, Giovanni Hernandez at 160, Justin Bean at 170 and Damian Baldwin at 195, while picking up decisions from Koby Paola at 152 and Danny Aguilar at 220.

"We knew it was going to be tight and we knew we'd have to wrestle tough," Kingsmen coach John Telesmanich said. "There were a few weights where we wrestled better than we should — Justin's pin at 170 was huge and Damian's pin at 195 was three bonus points we weren't expecting — and when you do that and the chance for a win is right there, that's when it's hard."

The turning point in the dual was the Lee-Nguyen bout at 145 in which Nguyen, one of the Kingsmen's six seniors, used a takedown, a penalty point, an escape and another takedown to jump out to a 6-2 lead in the first round.

In the second round, Nguyen started from the top position, but got into trouble as he went for a pinning combination and Lee, a junior, countered.

"The main thing I was thinking about was trying to get control of the situation because Nguyen is definitely tough and he's a good competitor," Lee said. "He was going for a leg ride and then he went for a banana split, but right when he went for it, I threw my hips back, sat down with it and he wasn't able to flip me onto my shoulders.

"I was able to grab his head and push him arms back and break his lock a little bit more, which allowed me to sink in a half-nelson and hold him there."

Lee said the match almost went the other way.

"I was thinking Nguyen was going to get the move on me and that it was going to be a good fight for a minute there," he said. "I'm pretty sure I was just as surprised as everyone else, because I certainly wasn't expecting that outcome at first. But I stayed tough and fought through it."

Counting the forfeits, St. Helens had a 30-12 lead in the dual heading into the 145-pound bout. If Nguyen had held on to win the decision, that would have made it 30-15. Instead, Lee's pin made it 36-12 and the nine-point swing put the Lions in a commanding position.

"Rachawn is a good wrestler," Telesmanich said. "He was a district placer from last year and he's expected to go to state this year. He's a leg-rider and we were trying to tell Brandon not to leg ride, but he put the leg in and I think Rachawn was looking for that."

Said Gadbois: "It looked like Putnam was going to get us for at least a decision, and then it goes from them getting three points to us getting six. After that, just one more win and we knew it was over."

The Lions got the win they were looking for at 182 as Scott, a freshman, won by fall over Putnam senior Zach Howell.

Howell scored the initial takedown but Scott answered with a reversal and the first round ended in a 2-2 tie. Howell picked up an escape to start the second round, but Scott came back about a minute later with a takedown and then put Howell on his back with 28 seconds left in the round.

"Dylan is a first-year wrestler and he has done everything we've asked of him and more," Gadbois said. "He's still green as everyone could see, but a lot can be said for hard work and dedication, and he has both.

"It looked like the Putnam guy kind of ran out of gas and it's easier to roll somebody oever after he gets tired. That was bascially our secret, I guess. We were in better shape and sometimes it goes that way."

The teams will return to Putnam for the two-day NWOC district championships beginning Friday. The top four finishers in each weight class advance to the Feb. 16-17 Class 5A wrestling state championships at Portland's Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

"Obviously, getting a win for us is a great jumping off point for districts," Gadbois said. "We'll go back to work for the next seven days and then we'll come back to Putnam and see how it goes.

"We're expecting to wrestle as well as we can possibly wrestle and improve on what we've done throughout the season. Our goal is to surprise ourselves and maybe some other people at district, and get some guys to state who have never been there."

Putnam 145-pounder Drew Urben, a returning state qualifier who sat out Thursday's dual with a knee injury, remains a question mark for the district tournament. But assuming Urben is ready to go, Telesmanich said it's possible the Kingsmen could have as many as eight wrestlers advance to the state tournament.

"Things have to work right, but our kids are jacked about having the district tournament at home," Telesmanich said. "A couple of our kids know they haven't lost at home this season and there's no question it helps having district here."

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