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Flames Roll to Fifth Straight in Win over VMI
With the victory, Liberty's fifth straight, which included a second straight Eastern Regional Dual title, the Flames up their season record to 11-9-1. The setback was VMI's 10th straight to drop the visiting Keydets to 0-10-0 and served as Liberty's second win of the year over an athletics department with full-fledged membership in the Big South Conference.
Prior to the start of the dual, the Flames honored four members of their senior class – Chris Daggett, Tim Harner, Christian Smith and Patrick Walker. The quartet helped the Flames return to the wrestling mats after a 12-year hiatus for the 2006-07 season.
Since donning Liberty singlets three seasons ago, the group has helped the Flames post a 37-29-1 dual meet record and back-to-back NCAA East Regional championships. Collectively, they have qualified for nine NCAA national championship appearances during their wrestling careers.
Following the evening's opening festivities, the team score quickly moved to 6-6 with back-to-back forfeits. John Pope picked up an uncontested victory at 125 pounds for VMI, while Smith netted his 20th victory of the year without breaking a sweat with a forfeit win at 133 pounds.
Liberty quickly pushed its lead to six points, 12-6, following Harner's win by fall at 4:06 in the senior's 141-pound bout. After scoring a quick two-point takedown in the first, the bout score remained the same until the second.
After netting an escape point to open the middle period, Harner made a quick move on David Yost, taking the freshman down and pinning him to the mat for this 10th win by fall and team-leading 23rd win on the year.
Frankie Gayeski's bout at 149 pounds almost was identical to Harner's opening victory. Gayeski, a transfer from Lehigh, scored a two-point takedown with 15 seconds left in the opening three minutes of action.
A quick escape followed by the redshirt junior's second takedown of the bout, gave him position on Richard Crozier, leading to a win by fall at 4:04 to push Liberty's lead to 18-6.
What started out as a relatively quiet bout at 157 pounds, turned into something interesting in the final two minutes of action between Shaun Smith and Michael Long. Smith led 5-0 after five minutes, thanks to a pair of takedowns and a second-period escape point.
Long got on the scoreboard with an early escape to open the third, but Smith controlled the remainder of the final period, scoring a two-point takedown 20 seconds later which led to three near-fall points. After adding 3:20 minutes of riding time, Smith claimed the 11-1 major decision, giving the Flames a sizeable 22-6 lead with his fourth straight win.
Brad Clark kept things rolling for Liberty at 165 pounds, opening the first with four points against Jon Horne. The redshirt freshman took down Horne 13 seconds into the bout and added two near-fall points with the move.
After adding another takedown in the second, Clark recorded his third two-point move of the bout in the third which led to his first pin of his collegiate career, sticking Horne to the mats at 6:11 to widen Liberty's lead to 28-6 in the dual.
In the closest of the first five weight class matchups, Aaron Kelley quickly gained control of Andrew Szymborski with a takedown 13 seconds after the opening whistle. After the Keydets' 174-pound freshman escaped twice and a second takedown by Kelley, the junior lead 4-2 after three minutes.
A two-point reversal by Kelley and a third escape by Szymborski left the match with three after five minutes, 6-3. The Keydets grappler escaped for a fourth time after choosing down to open the third, but Kelley outlasted him and added 1:13 of riding time to net a 7-4 decision.
The Flames then sent their second hottest wrestle out to the mats in Daggett at 184 pounds to take on Vinnie Gallo. And the senior didn't disappoint the hometown crown, controlling his matchup with the Keydets freshmen from the onset.
Daggett rode two first-period takedowns to a 4-1 lead after three minutes, while widening his advantage to 9-2 after the second, thanks to an escape and another pair of takedowns.
The senior opened the third with a two-point reversal, leading to three near-fall points to put the bout out of reach. After adding 2:24 of riding time, Daggett picked up his sixth straight victory and 21st of the season to push Liberty's lead to 31 points, 35-6.
In the lowest scoring bout of the evening, the 197-pound matchup between Liberty's Brandon Johnson and VMI's Curtis Moore remained scoreless until the second.
The Keydets' sophomore choose the down position to open the middle round and 25 seconds later escaped for the bout's lone point. After tacking on 1:33 worth of riding time, Moore netted the visitors second and final victory of the night to change the scoreboard to read 35-9 in Liberty's favor.
The Flames' Walker and the Keydets' Josh Wine, two of the better heavyweights in the Commonwealth, concluded the evening against each other.
Walker quickly opened up a lead with a two-point takedown at 1:15 in the first to open up an early 2-0 lead. The junior, opened the second with an escape followed by a second takedown during the period.
Neither grapplers added points to the scoreboard during the third period aside from Walker's point for 3:33 worth of riding time, giving the junior his 11th win of the season and sealing the convincing win for the Flames for the third straight time over their in-state foe.
Liberty truly dominated in the dual, winning eight of 10 weight class matchups and letting the Keydets only score on eight escapes, the forfeit at 125 pounds and Moore's riding time at 197 pounds.
The Flames will return to action on Monday night when they welcome the Mountaineers of Appalachian State to the Vines Center. The opening whistle is set to sound at 7 p.m., in the contest that will mark the final regular-season dual for both squads.