Lee, St. Helens show well against Scappoose
The cramps rolled up Rachawn Lee's muscle-bound calves, to his hamstrings, seizing his strength and momentarily halting what to that point had been a masterful match.
The St. Helens wrestling captain froze, if only for a second, stretching his strung-out limbs while taking down Scappoose's Max Amaro in their 160-pound matchup.
But as Lee looked up around the jam-packed Scappoose gym, with fans from both sides of the Jan. 24 "Seven-Mile War" locked in on the action under the glaring spotlight, quitting wasn't an option.
It'd been decades since Scappoose and St. Helens squared off on each other's home turf in a dual. The last thing Lee wanted was to tap out of a rivalry he desperately wanted to be a part of.
And so, as the cramps subsided, Lee went to work, pinning Amaro with 30 seconds left in the first period for six critical team points.
"After the cramps left, I knew I could hit my next move and wrestle the way I wanted to instead of being restricted like that," Lee said. "I've been working pretty hard in the wrestling room to get where I'm at, so I felt fairly confident in myself."
Ultimately, the team battle went to Scappoose, whose state tournament hopefuls showed up in a 40-23 win.
Yet, Lee continued to be impressed with a young group that's earned respect around the Northwest Oregon Conference this year.
St. Helens' Tristin Buchanan (126) and Mavrick Rask (195) both won by fall, while 113-pounder Malakie Gibney and 145-pound Alexander Bilton won by decision.
"Our team really wanted to win this," Lee said. "We have a lot of young guys, though, and guys who haven't wrestled a lot of years. But we always say 'hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.'
"I feel like we all try to be the team that's more conditioned than the better opponent."
Both St. Helens and Scappoose came out in full force to support a rivalry that was finally renewed when the Oregon School Activities Association moved the Indians up to Class 5A and naturally situated them in the Lions' NWOC.
And the first dual meet since the early aughts didn't disappoint. Of the 14 matches, only six were decided by fall. Neither side won by forfeit. Each weight class was filled, and each match, for the most part, was highly competitive before a crowd that came ready with electricity.
"There was a lot of emotion in the air," Lee said. "It was really exciting. Once I rolled (Amaro) over, I could hear the roaring of the crowd through my headgear. That was an awesome feeling. It's a huge boost of adrenaline, and that's what carries you, especially when it gets tough and you're tired. You hear somebody yell your name and it's a huge boost."
Now that Scappoose and St. Helens are once against conference and district foes across the athletic landscape, Lee said one can expect those kind of fireworks. St. Helens coach Greg Gadbois was a long-time assistant coach for the Indians in multiple sports. Many of the Indians and Lions wrestlers know each other well from sparring sessions and off-season training.
"It's very heated," Lee said. "In football, a lot of people showed up. There was a lot at stake. Everything is riding on this rivalry, it feels like. The Seven-Mile War goes way back. It's a huge thing for us. We all want to win it, not just for ourselves, but the fans and St. Helens."
The match of the night was arguably a square-off between two district contenders: Scappoose's AJ DeGrande and St. Helens' Narcizo Garza in the 120-pound bout. Garza, a freshman with a world of promise, nearly beat DeGrande, who took fourth at the state meet a year ago. Garza held the lead in the third period before DeGrande got a big takedown to go in front.
"(Garza) took it to him, put the pressure on and kept his foot on the gas," Lee said. "That's something that motivates our team, knowing we can beat somebody if we outwork them.
"Conditioning plays a huge role. When you're restricted by your energy levels, it sucks because you can't take the shots you want because you're too tired or keep the gas on because you're running out yourself. (Garza) really made DeGrande work and feel it."