BILLINGS — The sixth-ranked Billings West wrestling team really wanted a win against crosstown rival Billings Skyview on Senior Night Thursday at the Golden Dome.
Locked in a tight dual, Golden Bears sophomore Zac Malcolm delivered in the clutch and posted a 4-2 victory over Conor Reitler at 285 pounds to clinch the match for the Golden Bears.
With a 1-1 score in the third period, Malcolm broke the tie with a takedown and the Golden Bears faithful roared in approval. Malcolm would go on to earn a hard-fought 4-2 win. His victory gave the Bears an insurmountable 10-point lead with one match remaining and West would go on to win 35-28.
“That was crazy, I could hear it. It was adrenaline once I got it and it was relief and I had to finish it there,” Malcolm said.
West coach Jeremy Hernandez said he was “very proud” of his fourth-ranked heavyweight.
“It was a good match for us,” Hernandez said. “All that guy was doing was pushing and pushing and pushing and Zac has to get wrestling like a football lineman like he is and it clicked.”
Prior to the match, the Bears honored their seven seniors. Malcolm said he was inspired to win so the seniors could have a memorable night. In particular, Malcolm said senior Hunter Morse pushed him at 205 pounds in the wrestling room last year.
“I felt some pressure going in,” Malcolm said. “I really did it for the seniors here. One of them I’ve become good friends with and we’ve really bonded the last two years. We battled a lot last year.”
Hernandez said the victory was “probably the first time in eight years we’ve won a Senior Night Dual at West in the Golden Dome.”
Last season, the Bears posted a dramatic 30-29 victory over Skyview, which was believed to be the Bears’ first win over the Falcons in over 20 years.
“It feels really good,” Hernandez said. “Last year was the first time we beat them in 20 years and we beat them again. They have a tough team and some studs. It feels good to come out with the win. I’m excited and happy.”
The dual started at 113 pounds and West won the first five matches, including forfeit victories at 113 and 126 pounds, to take a 26-0 lead. Jesse Aarness (120) won by pin for West and Drake Rhodes (132) and RJ Lowdog (138) won by major decision.
Lowdog, a junior who was third at the State AA tourney at 120 pounds last year, won by major decision at 138 pounds to give the Bears the 26-point advantage. Lowdog said he had been sidelined for three weeks after having arthroscopic surgery on his knee. He returned at the Cowboy Invitational in Miles City last weekend and placed second.
The Bears (9-4) finished second at the Cowboy, 12.5-points behind Skyview (10-4), and were motivated to wrestle the Falcons on Thursday.
“I thought it went really good,” Lowdog, ranked third at 132 pounds in Class AA, said. “My teammates did good in general. I’m very proud of them. The hard work is paying off. We have a month until state and we'll keep working hard until then.”
The Falcons stormed back with three straight pins by Gentry Lamb (145), Cameron Savaria (152) and Paolo Salminen (160) to trim the Bears’ lead to eight.
“It was definitely exciting,” Falcons coach Ben Sulser said. “We wrestled pretty well for what we had going on. Jeremy is doing a really good job.
“We still had a good last weekend and we have a lot of work to do. We have to get guys back in the lineup and healthy for the AA Duals.”
West senior Solomon Hernandez, coach Hernandez’s nephew, followed with a pin for the Bears.
“Solomon wrestled pretty darn tough and he got the pin and it changed the momentum,” coach Hernandez said.
Skyview tacked on two more wins as Dilen Barrington (182) claimed a decision and Brenner Bushfield (205) fought to a major decision victory.
That’s when Malcolm came through for the Bears, ensuring the victory by Skyview’s Hunter Ketchem at 103 to end the night wouldn’t change the outcome of the dual.
“Everybody was excited. That was a big match for us,” Lowdog said. “If we don’t win, it could go either way.”
West and Skyview will both compete at the Border Wars in Sheridan, Wyoming, Saturday.
“That was a big win for us,” Malcolm said. “It will help our team with a confidence boost. We beat the No. 1 team from last weekend and should be able to do that any weekend.”