By Josh Brown
COLUMBUS — An inch here, an inch there.
In the end, both Miami East’s Alex Isbrandt and Covington’s Lancer Miller came up short in their Division III state championship matches Saturday during the 80th annual state wrestling tournament at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, with Isbrandt falling to Mechanicsburg’s Alex Rhine 8-6 in sudden victory overtime and Miller losing to Geno Area’s James Limongi 1-0.
Isbrandt vs. Rhine
The match didn’t begin well for Miami East’s Alex Isbrandt, but the Miami East junior made the rest of it go the way he needed it to.
He even missed winning it in regulation by a matter of inches.
In the end, though, Mechanicsburg’s Alex Rhine avoided giving up what would have been a tie-breaking takedown in the final minute by falling out of bounds, sending the 132-pound championship match against Isbrandt to overtime tied 6-6. There, Rhine scored a sudden-victory takedown with 39 seconds remaining in the overtime period, as Isbrandt finished the Division III state runner-up after an 8-6 defeat.
“If we were going to win that match, it played out exactly the way we needed it to,” Miami East coach Mark Rose said. “We needed it to be close in the third. We wanted him to get a stall call. We thought everything was going our way.”
It didn’t begin that way, though, as Rhine scored a takedown in the first 15 seconds, let Isbrandt up and got another quick one to take a 4-1 lead. Another Isbrandt escape and Rhine takedown later, and Isbrandt found himself down 6-2 after the first period.
“A little bit,” Isbrandt said when asked if he was nervous early. “Once he got that first takedown, I got up and he got another takedown, once I was down 4-1, I was worried a bit. I knew I’d have to come back from more, that it’d be tougher to come back.”
But in the second, Isbrandt began chipping away at the lead, scoring a takedown midway through to go into the third only down 6-4. And with 1:04 left in the third, Rhine was hit with a stalling call to make the gap only one — and an escape by Isbrandt at the one-minute mark tied the score at 6-6.
“Once I was only down two, and the third period was my choice, I felt better,” Isbrandt said. “I thought I could tie it up or go for the win there, and I got a stall and an escape to tie it.”
With 28 seconds remaining, Isbrandt fended off a takedown attempt by Rhine and turned it around on him, appearing to get control — but the officials ruled the play out of bounds, and the match remained tied.
“I thought I had it,” Isbrandt said. “I didn’t feel my knees touch before the whistle.”
“I’m not 100 percent sure it was two (points) — I didn’t see it — but he blew the whistle before Alex Rhine falling,” Rose said. “It sure looked like it, but I didn’t see it 100 percent. But it was a hard-fought match.”
Isbrandt had to play defense one more time before regulation ended, but he was able to keep Rhine from gaining control on a takedown attempt late, and the match went into overtime. There, though, the Mechanicsburg senior was able to score the match-winner.
It was the fourth time the two had faced each other this season alone, with Isbrandt going 1-3 against Rhine.
“The sectional (semifinal match) got away from us, but the state duals was much better. They knew what each other had going into this one,” Rose said.
“It made it a little better,” Isbrandt said of being familiar with his finals opponent going in. “But it still wasn’t the way I like to feel before a match. It (stinks to lose), but I placed higher than I thought I would.”
“We know Mechanicsburg, are good friends with their coaches, and we see their kids a lot. I was happy to see them win the state tournament. Not this match, but the tournament,” Rose said with a chuckle, as the Indians had already wrapped up the team title. “We were rooting for them in every match — except for the 132-pound championship.”
The Vikings turned in a top-10 finish as a team, as well, finishing ninth with 40 points.
Miller vs. Limongi
Covington’s Lance Miller entered Saturday’s 160-pound championship match on fire.
Genoa Area’s James Limongi found a way to put it out.
Limongi was able to keep Miller at arm’s length while the two were on their feet, then he scored an escape in the second period and rode out the entire third period to hang on for a hard-fought 1-0 victory over the Covington senior.
“He (Miller) just didn’t get comfortable,” Covington coach Tom Barbee said. “The kid shut him down in his natural takedowns, so Lance tried to look for some other situations. Then he rode us out. Lance got to his feet, but he just couldn’t quite get away.
“That’s how those 1-0 matches go. You know you’re in the match, you know it could’ve gone your way just as easy. It just didn’t happen.”
Miller went in hard on a shot early in the match, but he came away bloodied and was forced to tape up his nose at the end of a scoreless first period. Limongi started on bottom in the second, scored an escape 20 seconds in and spent the next 1:40 fighting off Miller’s takedown attempts to maintain a 1-0 lead.
“He just wasn’t tying up with me,” Miller said. “I couldn’t get to my shots because of it. It worked to his advantage, too, because he is a beast on top and rode me out in the third.”
“All sectional and district, Lance was a takedown machine,” Barbee said. “Takedown after takedown after takedown. But that kid shut him down. Sometimes that happens where your style and their style doesn’t go your way.”
Miller got to his feet in the middle of the third, but Limongi was able to hang on to one foot and maintain control long enough to earn a restart. And from a restart with 11 seconds left, Miller tried one last trick, going for a reversal, but Limongi was able to hold him off until the clock ran out.
“At that point, it’s a change of pace, something different, and a good thing to do,” Barbee said of the reversal attempt. “Maybe you catch him in a bad situation and get two, or even just tie it up. It was a good move on Lance’s part.”
And while Miller wasn’t happy with the result, the experience of wrestling in the state finals is something that will stay with the senior.
“It was cool before I lost,” Miller said. “I’m sure I’ll be happy later, but right now it just (stinks).”
“I’m very, very proud of him,” Barbee said. “He had a super year. After the Troy Invitational, he really got focused and wrestled well.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.