Josh Barr (right) and Rocco Welsh in the 170 lb Junior freestyle finals (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Michigan standout Josh Barr knew what he was in for with Pennsylvania's Rocco Welsh in one of the most highly anticipated junior freestyle finals in Fargo. But as Barr found out, scouting Welsh and wrestling him were totally different things that called for all of Barr's scoring prowess and poise to beat him in the 170-pound finals.
The matchup between Barr, a Penn State commit, and Welsh, an Ohio State pledge, was the marquee match of the biggest high school freestyle tournament in the country. It was also a showdown with plenty of potential to put the clash of styles on center stage in even higher-leverage situations in the future.
Barr took this one, 8-5, but had to plow through Welsh's strength and rally late for the winning points.
Welsh first seized control by dictating the ties and using his power to keep the match in his wheelhouse until Barr chipped away and opened the floodgates late.
Adjustments were critical, first by Welsh to get the looks he wanted and later by Barr as he found the right distance and got Welsh moving his feet. Along the way, Barr got the message loud and clear that he had to be ready to scrap.
"He's very, very, very strong," Barr said. "Very, very strong. The first time he clubbed me, I've told a couple people, my whole body rung. I got a little tingly and was like, 'He's stronger than I thought,' but one of my main training partners is Remy Cotton and he wrestled 195 at Fargo. I wrestle with Logan Massa, too, and he is very, very strong, so I was ready for it, I think."
Barr scored the first point of the match in the first period when Welsh was unable to score after he was put on the shot clock. Bell rung or not, Barr fired off the first quality shot, but got stuck under Welsh's heavy hips early in the first period. Barr also got stuffed on a good throw-by attempt when Welsh proved an immovable object.
Just as he started the match with a quick single, Barr went after Welsh off the second-period whistle and liked the look he got. Even so, Welsh was able to stymie his momentum and power him backwards for two exposure points. Barr went from liking his look to trailing 2-1, but still took more positives than negatives away from the sequence.
"It was like, 'Oh, crap, this guy's even good there when I'm starting to get up a little bit,'" Barr said. "I just had to stay the course and continue to attack because I know it's where I'm going to score. I couldn't let it really faze me the rest of the match. I had to keep shooting.
"Ultimately, I kind of made adjustments to the next couple shots I got and made sure that didn't happen again."
After that sequence, Welsh got the tie he wanted and managed to power Barr out of bounds for a step out and 3-1 lead. Welsh felt the momentum swing in his direction and was in his comfort zone when he got his hooks into Barr again, then dropped levels out of nowhere to blast through Welsh for another takedown and a 5-1 lead.
With 2:22 left on the clock, Barr was working hard, angling for his offense and pushing the pace, but Welsh was doing the actual scoring. He made his opportunities count.
"He waited for me to hang a little bit and popped and ran through me like he does a lot of people," Barr said.
Barr returned to the center losing the battle, but still feeling more encouraged he could win the war. The pace, he felt, was wearing on Welsh so he committed to pressing, working his motion, changing levels and making Welsh keep working hard.
Barr thought the work he was doing would soon pay off and that the tide was going to turn, and he was right.
"After he doubled me out of bounds and got the two, I felt him breathing pretty heavy," Barr said. "It was one of those moments where it's just like, 'Keep on going.' I felt like I had him cracking a little bit, and I felt like, even though he did expose me on that shot, that was a really deep shot.
"I felt like, if I just got there again and made a couple adjustments, I'm going to start scoring on those."
Barr did start dictating the action off that restart and made those adjustments to get in deep and finish for his first takedown to close the gap to 5-3. Before he ultimately took him down, he brought Welsh to his knees once and drew a phantom sprawl with a series of hard fakes.
With about 30 seconds remaining, Barr attacked and countered a Welsh re-attack to take the lead on criteria, 5-5. They landed near the edge with Welsh flat and his hips open enough that Barr could swing the leg over and power Welsh to his back.
Barr got two exposure points and another for a step out, and he turned a 5-1 deficit into an 8-5 win.
Mindset made a difference for Barr in those final moments, and so did his conditioning and confidence in what he was doing. He focused on scoring the next point until he had suddenly scored seven straight to win his second straight Fargo title.
"I always tell myself, whenever there's a break in the match, 'Just keep on going,'" Barr said. "I try and just stay focused on what I need to do to score points. And that's all I'm really focused on, scoring the next point every single time. Whether it's a situation like this in freestyle or I'm up 14-0 on somebody in folkstyle, it's just scoring the next point, no matter what the situation is."
Josh Barr after the Junior freestyle finals (photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
After Barr finished off the win, he squatted at the center of the mat and flashed a couple of twos for the matside cameras.
Then he stood up, shook Welsh's hand and expressed to him what many anticipate will be the case: these two will likely be seeing more of each other, whether in Big Ten duals, NCAAs or in battles to make United States world teams in the future.
Barr went into Fargo ranked No. 4 in MatScouts' pound-for-pound national rankings, and Welsh was No. 13. They were also Nos. 1 and 2 in the 170-pound rankings, where they will likely stay until they move to the next level and try to climb the ladder to Big Ten glory together.
Barr expects nothing less.
"It's Rocco, and he's very talented, but I did tell him after the match, 'We'll do it again,'" Barr said. "We're going to be wrestling for a long time. I imagine that we're going to be wrestling to make world teams and Olympic teams.
"I think that we're the top two guys in our class and in this weight class. We're going to be wrestling for a long time, NCAA titles, everything, so I'm ready for it."