NEW ULM - There was no pressure for the St. James wrestling team in its South Central Conference dual meet on Thursday against New Ulm - except that the team's large fan section that made the trip was eager to see the Saints earn the 750th win in program history.
There were a number of close matches throughout the night, but in the end St. James took care of business with a 53-9 victory to reach the 750-win milestone.
"Our St. James wrestling program, since 1950, won its 750th match tonight, so that was kind of a neat achievement," St. James head coach Gene Hildebrandt said. "We've been keeping track of it, and it just happened to happen tonight. The kids, we talked a little bit about it and so on, but it's fun to be a part of history - 750, that's an awful lot of wins."
The Saints' victory was assured after St. James senior Zack Gleiter pinned Sam Hoppe at 152 pounds, but the exclamation point to reaching the milestone came when fellow senior Victor Torres pinned New Ulm's Andy Bregel to cap the night's action at heavyweight.
Torres used a move that he recently added to his repertoire - an underhook to single - to send Bregel to the mat, where he pinned him at 1:48 in the first period.
"My coaches have really been drilling me to practice that and incorporate it into my wrestling, so tonight was sort of a little tryout to see if I can really do it in a match," Torres said. "It feels great, because now I've got another move into my arsenal, and that will only help me in the end."
Gleiter and Torres accounted for two of the Saints' five pins in the match-up, but a number of the other matches came right down to the wire.
The trend of neck-and-neck matches was set right from the start, when St. James' Mario Garcia eked out a 10-9 decision against New Ulm's Ryan Wacker at 106.
Garcia held an 8-5 lead entering the third period, but Wacker tied the score at 9-9 with a takedown late in the third period. However, Garcia earned an escape right as time expired to break the tie.
Pins by St. James seniors Cody Hanson (113) and Richard Soto (126) gave the Saints an early 21-0 lead, but New Ulm fought back with a pair of narrow victories.
New Ulm's Luke Cihak went into overtime against Isaac Carreon at 132 in a match-up of seniors, where he earned a takedown 29 seconds in to seal a 4-2 decision.
Eagles junior Jagger Hoffmann led throughout in his match at 138 against Mark Alvarado, but was pushed until the end in an eventual 7-5 decision.
"There were a lot of close matches tonight, I thought our kids wrestled real well," New Ulm head coach John Rieser said. "I'm real happy with how they fought, even in some of the losing efforts our kids really battled in there. We've got to keep working hard and we can win some of those close matches."
New Ulm's only other victory was a 6-1 decision by Braxton Greenwaldt at 220 against A.J. Najera.
With the score tied at 1-1 late in the third period, Greenwaldt earned a takedown with 25 seconds left and held Najera to the mat the rest of the match, but wasn't able to complete the pin and had to settle for a three-point near fall.
"I was feeling pretty tired and I just had to keep working to end up with the win, and I got it," Greenwaldt said. "I obviously had to get him on his back. I just worked and worked on it, and then I got it."
St. James' other fall was earned by Carlos Marquez at 160. Devin Wolle came close to earning a fall against New Ulm's Cole Wilfahrt at 182, but Wilfahrt stubbornly resisted and held Wolle to a technical fall victory on points.
"There were some good efforts on both sides," Hildebrandt said. "New Ulm's program has been down a while, but they've got it together, you could tell the way their kids were coming out there and being aggressive. We had to work for everything we wanted. They've got things turning around here in New Ulm."
New Ulm will immediately return to action today when the team travels to compete in an eight-team tournament hosted by St. Francis.
St. James (8-1, 2-0) will enter a tough schedule starting Saturday in Windom, where it will compete in a five-team meet against Windom/Mountain Lake, Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial/Nicollet, United South Central and West Lyon (Iowa). The Saints will then host Wabasso/Red Rock Central and Madelia/Truman/Martin Luther on Tuesday.
"Our next four dual meets in a row are going to be tougher than nails," Hildebrandt said. "Then you sprinkle in Madelia/Truman for a common section opponent, and our next four or five duals, we're going to have some dandies. We're hoping to come out of that healthy and see where we're at after that, but we'll know a whole lot more about where we're at after Tuesday next week."
With the Saints' roster consisting of a number of seniors, it's now entering the time of the season where the wrestlers are conscious about making a strong push to bring about a successful end to their St. James careers.
"It's incredibly nerve-wracking, because this is my last time, this is my last chance - my chance to leave a mark in my school, my history," Torres said. "It's very nerve-wracking, but it's exciting at the same time."
St. James 53, New Ulm 9
106 - Mario Garcia (SJ) dec. Ryan Wacker 10-9; 113 - Cody Hanson (SJ) pinned Tanner Stark 1:19; 120 - Angel Zamarripa (SJ) forfeit; 126 - Richard Soto (SJ) pinned Austin Iles 1:36; 132 - Luke Cihak (NU) dec. Isaac Carreon 4-2 (OT); 138 - Jagger Hoffmann (NU) dec. Mark Alvarado 7-5; 145 - Kody Curry (SJ) dec. Austin Brandes 6-5; 152 - Zack Gleiter (SJ) pinned Sam Hoppe 2:55; 160 - Carlos Marquez (SJ) pinned Riley Shelgren 5:14; 170 - Ryan Westman (SJ) forfeit; 182 - Devin Wolle (SJ) tech. fall Cole Wilfahrt; 195 - Chris Johnson (SJ) forfeit; 220 - Braxton Greenwaldt (NU) dec. A.J. Najera 6-1; 285 - Victor Torres (SJ) pinned Andy Bregel 1:48.