By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Liberty knew going in that is had no chance of winning a team championship. With only five wrestlers, there just wasn’t enough firepower.
But the Raiders still have to be one of the best stories of the 66th annual West Virginia High School Wrestling Championships. Four of coach Randy Daniel’s five qualifiers advanced to the semifinals. The only one who didn’t, Matthew Bailey, was narrowly beaten in the quarterfinals, 6-5 in overtime.
As it turns out, Liberty placed one in the finals — and he will be going against someone he knows very well.
Cody Clifton outlasted Wirt County’s Jake Linville in the 138-pound semifinals. His opponent today will be Independence senior Chris Clark — one of Clifton’s best friends.
Clifton, a sophomore, transferred from Independence. He was a state qualifier last year but did not place.
“When we talked about him transferring to Liberty, he said, ‘You might end up in the opposite corner, coaching against me,’” Independence coach Cliff Warden said. “I said, ‘Well, let’s do it.’”
They will today.
“Last year I didn’t even place, and I let that light a fire inside me and I worked hard all summer,” Clifton said. “I’ve worked all this seasn, and I think deserve it.”
Ironically, Clifton needed a timeout with 20 seconds when Clark and his opponent, Cole Ritchie of Calhoun County, actually rolled onto Clifton and Linville. Clifton said he felt a sharp pain in his ribs, but he recovered and got the win.
“It’s going to be like old times,” Clark said. “Just like in the practice room.”
“If he beats me, no hard feelings,” Clifton said. “But I’m not going to let him beat me.”
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Shady Spring’s Johnny Forren is the last man standing among area Class AAA wrestlers in the finals. The senior 120-pounder will face Jonathan Spence of Huntington in the state finals.
“I’ve been working for this my whole life,” an elated Forren (41-2) said after his win over Point Pleasant’s Guy Fisher in the semifinals.
Forren dominated Fisher from the outset and was never challenged.
“I thought he had more than that,” Forren said. “I was ready. I gave it all I had.”
Forren will try to win Shady Spring’s first state championship since 2006, when current Tigers assistant coach Derek Scarbro won the last of his three championships — not that Scarbro ever says anything about it.
“All the time in practice,” Forren said with a smile. “He pushes me, even when I’m tired and don’t want to wrestle.”
Shady is ninth in the team standings with 55 points. Huntington leads with 152.5 points.
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Southern West Virginia has not had a state champion since 2008, when Liberty’s Nick Hylton and Mike Carpenter won titles.
That will change today.
The area is guaranteed four state champs thanks to finals pitting Region 3 wrestlers against each other.
In addition to the Clark-Clifton matchup, Colton Ward of Independence will face Greenbrier West’s Dustin Yoakum in the 132-pound finals. In the 160-pound match will be West’s Marquis Frazier and Bluefield’s Brandon Eldridge, followed by the 170 title match pitting West’s Tyler Parker against Nicholas County’s Jacob Tyler.
Parker has beaten Tyler twice this season, including in the championship match at the WSAZ Invitational last month, in the same building where the state tournament is being contested.
Ward and Yoakum met in last week’s Region 3 finals, with Yoakum getting a narrow 2-1 decision.
“Everybody said, ‘Ah, Yoakum won,’” Warden said of fans’ uneasisness with the rematch. “No. Revenge.”
The championship finals will start at 6 p.m.
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