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Woodbury wrestling: Team punches first-ever card to state

The Woodbury bench erupts after Josh McClain's win at 285 pounds over Stillwater's Peter Palacek which gave the Royals a 32-27 victory in the Section 4AAA championship Saturday in Stillwater. McClain's win helped put Woodbury in the Class 3A state tournament for the first time in school history. Photo by Nick Gerhardt1 / 4
Woodbury's Josh McClain reacts after his match Saturday at 285 pounds against Stillwater Area in the Section 4AAA championship in Stillwater. McClain earned a 9-2 decision to secure the Royals' first trip to the Class 3A state tournament. Photo by Nick Gerhardt2 / 4
Woodbury coaches and wrestlers encourage heavyweight Josh McClain during his match Saturday against Stillwater Area at the Section 4AAA championship match in Stillwater. McLain's 9-2 victory sealed a 32-27 win for the Royals and secured a trip to the state tournament for the first time in school history. Photo by Nick Gerhardt3 / 4
Woodbury's Justin Herold-Plakut tries to secure a pin Saturday at 160 pounds against Stillwater Area. Herold-Plakut got a pin in 53 seconds in the Section 4AAA championship in Stilwater. Photo by Nick Gerhardt4 / 4

Josh McClain has faced the situation with the dual on the line plenty of times this season to not allow the pressure of a trip to the state meet to affect him as he tried to help Woodbury beat Stillwater in the Section 4AAA championship.

That experience paid off Saturday, Feb. 16, and vaulted Woodbury to its first-ever trip to the Class 3A state tournament.

The cool and calm demeanor McClain displayed on the mat helped him earn a 9-2 decision against Stillwater's Peter Palacek at the 285-pound weight class in the Section 4AAA championship match. The Royals' undersized heavyweight, McClain, who weighed in at 201 pounds prior to the match, took control in the second period with a near fall and a takedown for a 5-1 lead. McClain carried that into the third period and got two more takedowns for the victory that sent the Woodbury bench and fans into celebration.

"It was nice to see him doing that," Royals head coach Justin Smith said. "He's got the capability right now to open up on people. He's got a little confidence and I think that's what it took."

McClain's win came with top-seeded Woodbury clinging to a 29-27 lead following the second-seeded Ponies' 5-3 overtime victory at 220 and the team needing the win for the dual.

McClain said he didn't feel much pressure with the dual on the line.

"A lot of pressure was on me, but I didn't feel the pressure because I knew I was going to go in there and want it more," McClain said.

Last season Stillwater ended the Royals' season in the section tournament with a 46-20 win in the semifinals. The win proved that much sweeter for Woodbury and junior Howard Jones.

"Coming out with a win against them, then especially how close it was, it was really exciting," Jones said. "We wanted to see Stillwater again so we could bring it to them and beat them in the section finals."

Junior John McNiff, a first-year wrestler, continued to impress with a 9-4 victory at 195 pounds to raise his season record to 16-3 since joining the varsity team this season. McNiff's victory also stretched Woodbury's lead to 29-24 at the time.

"Going into the season we knew we were going to be thin up top and he made the commitment to come out and I hope he's gotten everything that he thought it would be," Smith said.

Smith said when McNiff joined the team, he told Smith that they would go to the state tournament and Smith told him the team had a shot with him.

McNiff's win came after the Ponies picked up a fall at 182 pounds to close within 26-24, the closest the match had been since Stillwater held an 18-15 lead at 152 pounds.

The Ponies took their first lead of the match after picking up a major decision at 113 pounds. Stillwater took a 4-3 lead at the time and eventually increased the lead to 15-9 after the 138-pound match.

At 160 pounds, Justin Herold-Plakut, ranked second at 152 pounds, delivered a fall to allow the Royals to take a 21-18 lead, their first since a 6-4 lead after 10th-ranked Ty Johnson's 6-4 decision at 120 pounds.

Sixth-ranked Ben Donnelly got a pin at 145 pounds and Jones earned a 19-4 technical fall at 170 pounds to give Woodbury much-needed bonus points. The Ponies scored bonus points in four of its matches, compared to three for the Royals.

Young Vang started things off with a decision victory at 106 pounds for Woodbury, but Stillwater took a 4-3 lead after fourth-ranked Christian Bahl got a major decision victory at 112.

Matthew Delaney added a decision victory at 138 pounds for the Royals.

The Royals got to the finals with a 73-6 victory over eighth-seeded Cretin-Derham Hall and a 42-36 win over fourth-seeded Tartan.

"It's just the best feeling because we worked all season for this," Jones said. "We planned to be on top of everybody else."

The Class 3A state team tournament begins Feb. 28 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.