Hubbard wrestlers take down Liberty
By Ryan Buck
The gym lights are eerily dim. The home crowd — animated and boisterous — is uniformly dressed for the occasion with dark shirts and bright, shining eyeglass frames. The leopard mural adorning the far wall of the Liberty High gymnasium even appears slightly more vicious than usual.
The annual “blackout” facilitated by the Liberty wrestling community creates one of the most intimidating settings in the Mahoning Valley.
Such a scene should faze any and all opponents. There was one problem, however.
The Leopards’ All-American Conference rival, Hubbard, wasn’t intimidated at all.
The Eagles used eight pins in 11 weight classes to defeat Liberty in their dual match, 54-27, Wednesday night.
Hubbard coach and alumnus Don Newell was pleased with the night’s proceedings.
“It was a great atmosphere,” he said. “What they did here with the lighting situation, our fans and their fans, the whole situation, it’s just a great rivalry just like I remember from when I was in school.”
The conference names and members may have changed, but matchups with Liberty still light a fire inside Newell.
“It was always a battle. It was always just a great atmosphere. Both teams have a lot of fans in the stands and it was just crazy.”
Hubbard’s superiority in the heavier weight classes, and collection of young talent in the lighter, were too much for the Leopards.
Ian Lowry (182), Tyler Wittaker (195), and Tyree Daniels (285) all earned victories. Damian Sharpnack’s pin of Joey Leshnack at the one minute mark of the 160-pound match’s second period was critical.
“That kind of started to swing the momentum their way,” Liberty coach Hadi Hadi said. “That’s where our strength really is between 152 and 170. They just really wrestled well.”
As defending conference champions at home with a true rival on the mat, Hadi watched Hubbard flip the script on his squad.
“They came out and they did what we do,” Hadi said. “We normally pin and don’t get pinned. Tonight, they pinned and didn’t get pinned and they did a good job of it.
“This is a sport where you can’t get pinned. If you do, you give up six points. We just got pinned all over the place.”
In the night’s later matches, Hubbard sophomore Shirley Flynn claimed victory in the 106-pound class with a takedown just over a minute. Justin Halicki (126), Jimmy Cupp (132), Cameron Nastasi (138) and Corey Ward (145) followed suit.
“It’s kind of a chess match,” Newell said. “I tell the kids, ‘You guys go out to win.’ As coaches, we have to try to put a winning line-up together.
“This year is kind of special because I’ve got a full team.”
Brandon Jefferson (152) and Tyrell Jethrow (170) each earned six points for the Leopards with overpowering wins. Liberty claimed two more matches due to forfeit.