Proving doubters wrong, ‘undersized’ Northwood freshman Josh Miller finishes as state runner-up in Cinderella championship run

Posted 6/30/21

GIBSONVILLE — Josh Miller fought the doubters all season, straight into the NCHSAA 3A wrestling state championship finals on Saturday.

Northwood’s scrappy 106-pounder planned to make the …

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Proving doubters wrong, ‘undersized’ Northwood freshman Josh Miller finishes as state runner-up in Cinderella championship run

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Posted

GIBSONVILLE — Josh Miller fought the doubters all season, straight into the NCHSAA 3A wrestling state championship finals on Saturday.

Northwood’s scrappy 106-pounder planned to make the title bout a bruiser as well, but Central Cabarrus standout Charleston Baglio barred him from the crown.

After dispatching his opponents in workmanlike fashion earlier in the day, Miller (22-1) faced a familiar foe in Baglio (18-2). The freshmen evenly split their previous four matchups. But Baglio used a bar arm and half nelson to deck Miller at 1:54 of the first period, ending what appeared to most — except the confident Miller, a Big Eight all-conference freshman — as a Cinderella season.

“Nobody thought that I would be in the finals going into the season,” Miller said following the championship match. “My name was not on any big boards. My name was not anywhere. No one thought I was going to be where I was. No one thought I was going to win regionals. … I won outstanding wrestler there. And I’m sure they thought kids were going to beat me today. I just took that and used that as fuel. Let’s go out there and show them who we are.”

“We didn’t get where we wanted to, but at the end of the day, he wrestled hard and we’re excited to see him wrestle in the future,” added Northwood head coach Ryan Armstrong, who’s counting on Miller to be one of the team’s primary leaders over the next three years.

“There’s only one thing you can tell him — you’re proud of him, win, lose or indifferent,” Armstrong said of his overachieving freshman finalist. “We’re proud of Josh. We’re proud of Cliff (Davis) as well.”

Miller was pumped heading into his title clash.

“My game plan was just to make it into a fight because I’m undersized for my weight (class),” Miller said. “Because he’s bigger, I was like, ‘I need to fight him and make it scrappy.’ I had a game plan and it didn’t work.”

The strategy included pummeling Baglio with a front headlock from his feet. Twice he was successful in isolating Baglio’s head, but was unable to capitalize.

“I couldn’t snap him, couldn’t get his head to the mat and couldn’t spin around quick enough,” Miller said.

“When he figured he couldn’t turn him he got nervous and he let the kid bait him with a low single,” Armstrong added.

“I stepped and he timed it well, got in on my leg and took me down,” Miller said.

He couldn’t squirm free of Baglio’s ensuing gut wrench/near wrist ride, which transitioned into a bar arm and half nelson.

“That’s my favorite pinning move,” Baglio said. “I went out there to pin him. I didn’t expect it, though.”

Armstrong said Miller, who weighs in at 105 pounds natural weight, had to battle a size differential all season.

“When you’re wrestling kids that are cutting from 125 to 106 and we’re a true 106, you’re not going to get (wins) every time,” Armstrong said.

Miller isn’t going to waste any time preparing for a run to that elusive state title next year. He’ll be heading into the weight room soon to put on more muscle and continuing year-round mat time with Raleigh Area Wrestling Club.

“I already feel like I’m a good wrestler, but next season I’m going to try to come in like a great, phenomenal wrestler because clearly, I wasn’t good enough this year,” he said.

His early-round opponents could see glimpses of his phenomenal potential.

After getting a forfeit win in the opening round when Tuscola grappler Aiden Ball (12-7) scratched, Miller advanced to the quarterfinals to face sophomore Matthew Vindigni (16-2) of Cleveland, the third-place finisher in the East Region.

That bout was punctuated by a series of furious flurries and scrambles, with Miller’s dominance on his feet carrying him to an 8-5 victory. At one point he displayed lightning quickness on a now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t duck under that was as slick as you’ll ever see. He also hit a bulldozer of a double leg for another one of his takedowns.

His semifinal tussle with Piedmont sophomore Noah Cauble (26-5), the runner-up in the 3A Midwest Region tournament, pitted wrestlers of similar style, with Miller prevailing in a come-from-behind 11-9 victory.

Cauble took a 4-0 lead with takedowns in the first and second periods and went up 6-2 after trading reversals with Miller. Miller got an escape, then took a 7-6 lead later after Cauble got too high on his leg ride. Miller shook him off for the reversal and picked up a pair of back points in the process.

The Northwood phenom tacked on a pair of takedowns to finish his scoring.

Also on the day, sophomore Cliff Davis (15-5) — a Big Eight all-conference wrestler himself — lost by fall in the 182-pound opening round to senior Tayron Frost (25-3), the eventual runner-up from East Rowan. Davis qualified for states after finishing fourth in the 3A Mideast Region.

Frost, a senior who seized the 3A Southeast Region championship this season, was coming off of a fifth-place finish at the 2020 state championships.

He had his debut match at the state tournament spoiled by Frost at the 1:31 mark of the first period.

Standing a full head taller than Davis, Frost used a decided reach advantage to score on a sweeping double leg. He put Davis standing to narrow the score to 2-1, but then decoyed the Northwood grappler into a lateral drop that sent Davis helplessly hurtling through the air and straight to his back for the pin.

“I felt it earlier in the match, he was trying to do it earlier,” Davis said. “I think he saw it as a weak point so that’s why he wanted to give me a point and put me up (on his feet). He was setting me up the whole time.”

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