John Thornton was a freshman in high school in 1995, and it wasn’t until the following year that he attended C. Milton Wright as a student. He recalls the dual meets the Mustangs had with rival Bel Air, but never a win.
As the head coach of the Mustangs, Thornton, now in his fourth year at the helm, never knew the feeling of beating the rival Bobcats. Nobody between his tenure as a student athlete and coach did either.
Until Wednesday night.
C. Milton Wright finally “got the monkey off” its back and beat cross-town adversary Bel Air, 48-18, for the first time in 25 years and just the fourth time in program history.
“That was our goal when I took over,” Thornton said. “We’ve been getting closer and closer and closer, and I think this was the year that we had the team that could do it. ... The three years before this, I had it worked out on paper that we were going to beat them, and it never happened. This time I didn’t even bring the paper out; I just said let’s go straight at them.”
The Mustangs (13-3) won 10 of the 14 bouts, seven of which came in the last eight matches as they pulled away from what was a 15-15 tie at the halfway point.
As has been custom for No. 12 C. Milton Wright, junior James Riveira (126) sparked the run. The two-time state champion needed only 19 seconds to take Chase Hooper down and pin him, and the Mustangs never looked back. Juan Ortega (132), who Thornton said is “coming into his own” and wrestled his best match in a C. Milton Wright singlet, beat the second-period buzzer and stuck Allan Hernandez in 3:59 after building a nine-point advantage.
Carter Goscinski (138) kept the ball rolling with a fall in 1:37, but the wrestler Thornton singled out after the match was Kenny Frank (145). Frank trailed Bel Air’s Daniel Cross, 12-1, in the second period but slowly battled back and earned a technical violation point, a reversal and a takedown in the third period. He lost, 13-6, but he caught his coach’s and team’s attention.
“I made a point to call (Frank) out because I’m probably the most proud of him. He’s a JV guy — our starter at 145 has a concussion — and it was determined yesterday that we were going to need him to step up,” Thornton said. “He cut six pounds since yesterday to make weight — he has a fractured thumb right now — and to compete like that, that’s what we talk about in practice. The only way teams are going to beat us is we give up a lot of falls, and that’s heart. Kenny embodies that; he’s got heart.”
Leading 33-18 with three matches to go, Thornton said still didn’t feel completely comfortable. Losing to your rival for 24 years can do that to a coach.
“We were starting to run away but it always felt like the other shoe is going to drop,” he said.
Mark Hopkins (152) settled those fears quickly for the Mustangs. He edged Zach Gelston, 9-6, to give them an insurmountable lead. Christian Trombley (160) and Logan Dvorak (170) put the exclamation point on the dual with falls to close out the match.
Thornton was quick to credit Bel Air (17-9) afterwards. The Bobcats lost 13 seniors from last year and are “rebuilding,” assistant coach Matt Michael said filling in for head coach Craig Reddish. Their run of dominance in the UCBAC came to an end two weeks ago in a loss to Patterson Mill — their first conference loss since 2009 — yet they had C. Milton Wright on their heels early in the dual meet with a young lineup.
“Our guys are going to go give it their all,” Michael said. “They worked really hard and I was really proud of how hard they wrestled. That’s what we’ve been really committed to: the effort.”