After badly spraining his ankle a few weeks ago, Paducah Tilghman sophomore Derek Miller faced an enormous challenge if he wanted to win a region championship. The injury would have to heal quickly enough to allow him to work back into wrestling shape in time.
That wasn't a problem Saturday, as he beat Union County's Robbie Dezember 10-9 in the 120-pound championship of the Region 1 tournament at Paducah Tilghman High School. The title, which gives him a first-round match in the state tournament on Friday against a fourth-place finisher in another region, comes after consecutive fourth-place finishes the previous two seasons.
"I refused to get fourth place again," Miller said. "It feels good. Just happy, surprised, shocked, all at the same time."
Union County won the tournament with 297.5 points, and Caldwell County placed best among area schools, finishing fifth with 110 points. Trigg County 195-pounder Aaron Stevens and Caldwell County heavyweight Noah Kennaday were the lone other area wrestlers to earn a region title.
Miller needed a thrilling comeback to win. Dezember took a 9-8 lead on an escape with about 15 seconds remaining in the bout, before Miller earned a takedown as time expired for the 10-9 decision.
"I knew I couldn't give up on it," he said. "I couldn't give up on it."
Miller jumped to a 5-2 lead in the first period on the strength of two takedowns and an escape. However, Dezember built an 8-6 margin going into the third period after an escape, a takedown and three back points.
Tilghman coach Jared Allen believes Miller tired in the period but still is in good shape. His wrestler proved him right by earning a reversal to even the score at 8 before Dezember's late escape.
Miller's victory comes after Dezember, who finished fifth at state last season at 113 pounds, pinned him earlier in the season after Miller held an 8-4 lead. Allen told Miller to focus on his takedowns and not wrestle much on the mat because Miller's lack of height.
"He stuck with the gameplan," Allen said. "Next week, he gets to go to the state tournament as a No. 1 seed from this region. Now, he gets to open up, unlike the other two years - it gets him kind of a warm-up match. Hopefully, he gets on the podium."
four to state
Despite going 2-2 in the championship round Saturday, the Tigers are still sending four wrestlers to the state tournament.
In addition to Kennaday's win, Dylan Gray placed third at 120. However, 138-pounder Chris Gilkey and 152-pounder Kegan Agnew, both seeded first, were upset in their championship bouts. Gilkey lost a 16-5 major decision to Union County's Jackson Oxford, and Agnew fell 6-5 to Hopkinsville's Robert Bussell despite leading late.
"They went out there and got emotional, let the crowd get involved," Tigers coach Jason Walls said. "There were some calls that were controversial, but you're going to have that at the state tournament. You have to overcome it.
"They'll have to come back next week and take care of business. I'd like to come away with four medals from the state tournament."
Team scores - 1. Union County, 297.5; 2. Christian County, 190; 3. Hopkinsville, 155.5; 4. Fort Campbell, 152.5; 5. Caldwell County, 110; 6. Ohio County, 99; 7. Calloway County, 83; 8. Trigg County, 81; 9. University Heights, 48; 10. McCracken County, 39; 11. Paducah Tilghman, 38; 12. Graves County, 16.
Top 4 advance to state
Championship-106 - Saul Ervin, UC, dec. Kaleb Sapp, OC, 6-0; 113 - Bryce Sheffer, UC, pinned Frolian Agulto, Chr, 1:28; 120 - Derek Miller, PT, dec. Robbie Dezember, UC, 10-9; 126 - Trae Blackwell, UC, dec. Caleb Austin, Chr, 15-8; 132 - Brock Ervin, UC, pinned Connor Jaschen, Hop, 4:20; 138 - Jackson Oxford, UC, maj. dec. Chris Gilkey, Cald, 16-5; 145 - Dekeevious Matlock, Chr, dec. Chad Gahafer, UC, 10-8; 152 - Robert Bussell, Hop, dec. Kegan Agnew, Cald, 6-5; 160 - Avery Buckman, UC, dec. Nate Williams, Hop, 6-5 2 OT; 170 - Ki Ryder, FtC, dec. Issac Lawson, Hop, 5-3; 182 - Gino Haywood, FtC, pinned Devin Smith, UC, 3:17; 195 - Aaron Stevens, Trig, maj. dec. Kajwan Major, Chr, 12-4; 220 - Bryan Carter, UC, dec. Zachary Farris, OC, 9-4; 285 - Noah Kennaday, Cald, pinned Jake Jorstad, FtC, 0:51.
Third place-106 - Louis Regalado, FtC, maj. dec. Davonta Turner, 9-0; 113 - Jack Haynes, Cal, dec. Cameron Dearmond, Hop, 7-0; 120 - Dylan Gray, Cald, dec. Daniel Dyess, UH, 11-4; 126 - Chance Collins, UH, tech. fall Sam Yates, Hop, 16-1; 132 - BJ Miller, OC, dec. Chandler Martin, McC, 9-6; 138 - Brian Hedrick, FtC, tech. fall Diion Leavell, Chr, 18-3; 145 - Isaiah Frank, Call, pinned Ryan Gallogly, Trig, 3:56; 152 - Kobe Perry, Chr, pinned Tim Pike, UC, 2:27; 160 - Kenneth Sells, Chr, maj. dec. Bryson Elliot, Cal, 15-6; 170 - Kane Morris, UC, pinned Xavier Pate, Chr, 2:57; 182 - Jacob Harris, Chr, pinned Mario Miles, Hop, 2:28; 195 - Conner Sherman, UC, maj. dec. Bradley Easterling, OC, 13-2; 220 - Tevin Toler, Chr, dec. AJ Ogburn, FtC, 5-2; 285 - Luke Shaffer, OC, dec. Raynel Brown, UC, 5-2.
Call Daniel Paulling, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8662, or follow on Twitter @DanielPaulling.