In its first home dual of the season, Paonia defeated Palisade last Wednesday in a competition that came down to the final match.
Paonia head coach Nate Wiggins and Palisade head coach Tanner Ridgway both wrestled at Paonia under former head coach Andy Pipher. Both coaches had wrestlers who sat out the dual while they recovered from the Dec. 15-16 Warrior Classic. With some wrestlers not ready to get back on the mat, "We just had to get the best match-ups possible," said Ridgway.
The first eight matches were won by pin. The dual started at 160, with Bulldogs senior Austin Bernal scoring the first points for Palisade with a third-round pin over junior Jesse Burns.
Paonia freshman Anthony Miller wrestled at 170 against Palisade junior Cody Cordova. Cordova was leading in the second round when Miller got him in a headlock, took him down and pinned him before Cordova could respond. "We knew that was going to be a tough one that we had to win," said Wiggins. "That was a big win."
At 182, Anthony Felice scored seven points in the first 30 seconds of his win over Joseph Alejo, getting the pin at 1 minute, 34 seconds.
At 195, Palisade senior Terrance Williams tied the match at 12-12, pinning junior varsity sophomore Austyn Norris in 19 seconds.
Wrestling up two weights, Jaden Miller won at 220 pounds over Palisade's Gabe Correa. "He got us a big pin," said Wiggins.
Paonia's Cyrus Malek-Madani won by forfeit at 285, and Reagan Todd won by forfeit at 106. Palisade's Robert Page won by forfeit at 113.
At 120, Soul Connolly lost by pin to Palisade's Raul Inchauregui. Palisade tied the dual at 30-30 on a pin at 126 by Jaggar Wade over Ethan White.
At 132, Zeb Etter gave Paonia a six-point lead, pinning Palisade freshman Moises Marquez in 38 seconds.
Senior Caden Meilner officially stepped on the mat for the first time this season to win at 138 pounds by a 17-6 major decision over Cobe Clark and giving Paonia a 40-30 lead. Palisade's Wyatt Wilbourn won the 145-pound match by pin over Paonia's Shane Odom, bringing the Bulldogs within a technical fall of a win.
In the final match, No. 2-ranked sophomore Rockley "Grey" Neal (152) pinned Bulldogs' top-15-ranked senior Cody Head for a 46-36 win.
"Rockley came through," said Wiggins.
The original line-up matched Neal with Bernal, which would have given Neal a shot at redemption after his quarterfinal, one-point sudden victory loss to the seventh-ranked senior at the Warrior. That was unfortunate, said Wiggins, as it could have been the highlight match of the dual.
For Coach Ridgway, a state runner-up in 2006 and 2007 state champion for Paonia, it's an opportunity to come home for a quick visit. His parents and other family members were in the stands, as was Coach Pipher.
When he was in high school, Palisade and Paonia never dueled, said Ridgway. A few years back he and Pipher met up at a tournament, and both were looking for an additional dual. It's now an annual tradition. Last week's dual was their fourth.
"It always works," said Ridgway. "We always get a good dual."