Ty Swarm could chuckle about it afterwards.
But the Kearney coach sure wasn’t smiling as he watched his senior 152-pounder try to close out Friday night’s semifinals.
Top-ranked Kalen Mazankowski needed every second and every inch of the mat for a 5-4 victory over No. 4 Justice Bridgeford of Omaha Burke.
Mazankowski, leading by one at a stoppage with eight seconds remaining, did just enough in the eyes of the official to fend off a deep double-leg attempt by Bridgeford near the edge of the circle.
Just like they drew it up, right?
“It was 100 percent opposite of what we did,” Swarm said of the late strategy. “He’s phenomenal defensively. I think he was confident in his ability. But we want to circle and defend in that situation.”
The scramble ended an entertaining match in heartbreaking fashion for Bridgeford. The Bulldog senior, a state champion in 2011, led 2-1 after one, but was hit for a penalty point in the second to even things.
A Mazankowski reversal later in the period gave him a two-point lead, which Bridgeford erased with a pair of escapes.
As the two got set to tangle again in the final 10 seconds, Bridgeford lunged at Mazankowski’s feet before the whistle, drawing his third caution of the match and giving Mazankowski a point. Mazankowski called the next eight seconds a “dogfight.”
“I tried to stay in there,” he said. “I managed to fight it off and whizzer it out for eight seconds. It worked. It took everything I had not to give him that two (points) at the end.”
After tearing up his shoulder in a tournament in October, Mazankowski wasn’t sure how much of his senior season he’d get. He returned after Christmas and has gone 27-0 in his final campaign.
Mazankowski, whose best finish before this season was sixth a year ago, will wrestle in Saturday’s finals against second-ranked Antoine Tureaud of Ralston — a triple-overtime winner over Bellevue East’s John Porter.
Mazankowski was asked afterwards if he’d sleep well Friday night in anticipation of the biggest match of his life.
“I don’t know about that,” he said with a laugh. “I might be up pretty late.”
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