The battle for the Lake Division championship started out on a positive note for visiting Stevenson Friday night in this North Suburban Conference dual meet in Libertyville.
Starting at 106 pounds, the Patriots took a 4-0 lead over the Wildcats on freshman Eric Carter's 12-3 major decision to get things going.
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But it was very much an uphill struggle for Stevenson (13-6, 5-1) the rest of the way as No. 13-ranked Libertyville (18-2, 6-0) rolled to a 53-8 victory to win its 12th Lake Division title in the 14 years since the NSC went to a two-division format.
The Wildcats will be going for their 17th NSC crown in school history next weekend at Vernon Hills when they are expected to battle it out with arch rival Grant in the two-day tournament.
The Bulldogs rolled to the NSC Prairie Division championship Friday night at Lakes. Grant has now won its division 13 times out of 14 seasons since joining the NSC in 2001.
At 113 pounds, Pat Potts got Libertyville rolling against Stevenson as his technical fall in 5:22 gave the Wildcats the lead for good at 5-4.
Next, 120-pounder Dan Schilling followed that win with a hard-fought 5-3 decision over Evan Rodriguez before Minnesota-bound Steve Polakowski pinned his opponent in 2:43 to give the Cats an early 14-4 advantage. Then 132-pounder Will Johnson really came through for Libertyville as he pulled out a 3-1 overtime decision against Ben Ponto to make the score 17-4.
At 132 pounds, teammate Tyler Brooks added a 12-1 major decision before a pin in 58 seconds by 138-pounder Nick Andrews put the Patriots in a 27-4 hole.
"Libertyville is the conference champion for a reason, and we're just not on that level yet," said Stevenson coach Shane Cook. "It would be a realistic goal for us to put several guys on the podium (top five) and realistically we hope to finish in the top five teams (at conference)."
The Pats did get a strong performance from 152-pounder Ryan Mass Friday night as his 16-8 major decision over Sal Potts cut the lead to 27-8. Libertyville 152-pounder Joey Gunther missed the meet due to illness.
But that was the last victory Stevenson was able to muster as 160-pound senior Colton Bast's technical fall got the Wildcats headed in the right direction again on their senior night.
Then came the wildest match of the night as Libertyville 170-pounder Kayne MacCallum and junior Tyler Harrington battled down to the wire with Harrington forcing a 3-3 tie with 1:20 left in the third period.
Harrington was ultimately assessed a 1-point stalling penalty for an illegal move with 9.5 seconds remaining before he lost to MacCallum 5-3 in a very heated end to their bout. MacCallum also defeated Harrington early in the season at the Barrington tournament.
"Those are two pretty good guys and it was a great match," said Libertyvile coach Dale Eggert, who ranks ninth in IHSA history with 508 wins. "They (Stevenson) had a lot of guys out of their lineup or it would have been a lot closer."
At 182, Libertyville's Austin Koziol posted an 8-2 decision over Zach Horwitz before teammate Mark Dunsing picked up a forfeit victory at 195. At 220, Kevin Barbian beat Stevenson's Seth Harris 3-0 in a defensive struggle before Libertyville 285-pounder Chris McDermand closed out the meet by pinning his man in 5:57.
Polakowski knows the NSC meet will be tough and he expects a real battle with the ever-present Grant in the powerful tourney.
"We're definitely ready for the conference tournament and we're definitely excited about it," said Polakowski, whose only loss was at the Barrington tourney. "We've just got to wrestle tough, we've got to score the extra points when we can, and we just can't give up anything easy."
Eggert is cautiously optimistic heading into the NSC meet as Libertyville and Grant have owned this tournament over the past 14 years.
"We'll see how it goes, get ready for a great battle," Eggert said. "I look forward to seeing how we match up against everybody."