Cedar Rapids, Iowa -- Cumberland University's Corey Bleaken claimed the school's first individual wrestling national championship since 2005 with a 4-3 overtime victory Saturday over No. 3 Thomas Straughn of Notre Dame College at the 54th annual NAIA Wrestling National Championships at the US Cellular Center, Saturday night.
The redshirt 157-lb, senior, who was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler for the tournament, closed the season with 15 straight wins, including two over Straughn.
"This means everything," Bleaken said. "All of the hard work that I've put in with my coaches and teammates has paid off. Standing above everybody was a special moment."
Bleaken and Straughn faced each other three times this year with the Cumberland wrestler claiming two victories. All three matches were decided by a single point.
"We've wrestled before, so I knew he was a stud," Bleaken said. "I knew he was a stud and was going to come hard."
In the championship bout, the two battled through the first period with neither wrestler earning a point.
Bleaken won the coin toss for the first decision of position and began the second period down. The Clifton, N.J., native broke free from the Falcon grappler, claiming the first point of the match and the only tally of the period.
The Notre Dame grappler, who defeated Cumberland's James Casadaban in the national title match last year, started the third period in the down position and was quickly credited with an escape to knot the match at a point apiece.
Straughn recorded a takedown to take a 3-1 lead late in regulation. Bleaken escaped his grasp to make it a one-point contest.
With less than 30 seconds remaining in the third period, Bleaken was awarded a penalty point after Straughn was called for stalling. The point tied the match and neither wrestler scored again before the final horn of regulation.
"When I heard (the referee) call the penalty, I was almost relieved," Bleaken said. "I knew I had more in the tank."
Straughn began the first 30-second overtime down, but Bleaken never let loose of the Falcon wrestler and didn't surrender a point through the first half of the period.
Bleaken quickly earned an escape in the next half and survived the remaining time without giving up a point as he claimed the first individual national title since Keith Cupp brought home a banner six years earlier.
"It's unexplainable and it was such a rush," Bleaken said. "I was on top of the world. Keith won it and now I'm the second (at Cumberland). It's going down in history and is something that can never be erased. You get the trophies and the plaques, but the feeling will never go away."
Casadaban finished in eighth place, ending the tournament with a medical forfeit. His All-American finish marked the second straight year that CU had two wrestlers end the year in the Top Eight.
BULLDOGS WIN 5TH STRAIGHT GAME
FT. WORTH, TX -- Shortstop Tommy Winegardner belted a three-run homer and Lebanon’s Cody Ferrell tossed a complete game with five strikeouts, in No. 1 Cumberland's 7-1 victory Monday over Texas Wesleyan at historic LaGrave Field.
The Bulldogs (14-3) have won five straight contests on their current eight-game road trip, giving up a total of nine runs in the five outings.
Ferrell (1-1) was nothing short of masterful against the Rams (10-9), allowing just four hits through eight innings before running into trouble in the ninth.
TWU loaded the bases with a pair of singles and a walk before Joseph Lassiter flied out to end the contest.
Ferrell was roughed up in his last outing, but he rebounded in a big way for the Bulldogs on Monday, saving a somewhat thin pitching staff with a much-needed complete game.
CU collected 12 hits in the contest, three from Tommy Crews and two apiece by Greg Appleton and Mike Mandarino.
Winegardner provided the big blow with the three-run shot in the sixth, upping his current hitting streak to nine games.
Cumberland plays a 1 p.m. doubleheader Tuesday at Northwood University before finishing the road swing at 13th-ranked LSU-Shreveport on Wednesday at 4 p.m.
BULLDOGS ELIMINATED SATURDAY
PULASKI -- Graciano Negron and Josh Pierce scored in double figures, but Cumberland University came up short in the TranSouth Championships semifinals, falling to Martin Methodist College, 83-63, Saturday night, March 5.
Negron totaled 14 points, while Pierce contributed 11. Junior Michael Sweat finished two points shy of a double-double with eight points and 11 rebounds.
Coach Lonnie Thompson's club ended the season with an 18-12 record, losing in the conference semifinals for the second straight year.
Martin Methodist shot a red-hor 61 percent in the contest and held the Bulldogs to just 32 percent. CU scored the first points of the game on a 3-pointer by Negron, but the Bulldogs didn’t get on the board again until the 13:16 mark of the first half when Pierce put up his first points. During that nearly six-minute drought, MMC posted 17 points, taking a lead that would never be erased.
The RedHawks led by double digits at the break and scored 11 of the first 13 points in the second half to take a 20-point lead, cruising to the win.
Negron was named the Music City Star of the Game, reaching double figures for the 18th time on the year.
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