Matched up against Isaac Casey, a familiar opponent from crosstown rival Peninsula High School, Gig Harbor High School senior Zayne Ball just needed to get to his feet and break free to earn the win in the fourth-overtime period in dual-meet action on Jan. 17.
Mustering up whatever energy he had left, Ball did exactly that, then raising his arms in jubilation after the hard-earned victory before sinking to his knees in pure exhaustion.
It was exactly the type of signature win Zayne Ball needed. Both Ball and Casey wrestled in the Mat Classic state tournament at the Tacoma Dome a season ago. Both are among the area’s top wrestlers. Both are seniors with plenty of experience in the 170-pound weight class.
Ball’s thought process, when both wrestlers were completely exhausted, was fairly straight forward.
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“Get out,” Ball said. “That’s pretty much all I was thinking. Just do whatever I can to get out.”
To a casual fan, the match might have been anything but exciting. Neither wrestler could land shots or earn takedowns. Neither wrestler surprised the other.
“It was pretty much a match that you could’ve drawn up and predicted,” said Peninsula coach Mark Nickels. “It’s going to be low scoring, go to the wire. And it’s about who has the tank at the end of it and can pull something off. Congratulations to Zayne, he did a great job, stayed in good position and did enough to get a win. There were no surprises. It’s just who’s going to push and be on top when the time runs out.”
Gig Harbor coach Jacob Spadoni said the familiarity between the two made for a difficult match on both sides.
“It’s really hard,” Spadoni said. “They wrestle club together, that’s what makes it really difficult. (Ball) sees (Casey) two-thirds of the year, every single weekend and at least twice a week for practice.”
Ball knew if he were to win, it wouldn’t come cheap.
“We know each other so well,” Ball said. “He knows I like leg rides, I know he likes the slide by. It was just really evenly matched. You see at the college level, a lot of guys who are evenly matched, there’s not a ton of action because they study film and know each other’s counters. It’s one of the toughest matches I’ve wrestled all year.”
Ball, a senior who placed seventh in the 160-pound weight class at last year’s Mat Classic state tournament, has been on the wrong end of some close matches this season. Getting the win against a familiar opponent could be the perfect confidence boost heading into the postseason.
“It’s nice to come out on top in a close match,” Ball said. “It was just a grind and shows how much you have to prepare in the mat room, endurance-wise, especially. I’m trying to cut weight right now. It’s nice being able to see a guy like that.”
Spadoni said after Ball lost to Casey in his junior season, they worked to make some adjustments.
“We had to re-evaluate what we were doing,” Spadoni said. “Trying to open him up on his a lot more. I think we saw that pay off in that match. He looked cleaner, he wasn’t giving up points. He was working on all the things we wanted him to work on.”
Casey might drop down to 160 before the state tournament, also, setting up a possible rematch in the state tournament between two of the state’s top Class 3A wrestlers.
After taking sixth in 160 as a sophomore, and seventh as a junior, Ball is all-in for a state title this season.
“I need to just push myself more in the mat room, just focus everything these last two weeks,” Ball said. “There are times when my focus lapses a little bit. Just focusing on my diet, work ethic, workouts and everything going in. It’s going to take a lot of hard work. I’ve won my last four matches, so just getting a good flow and momentum heading into the postseason is a huge thing for me.”