It wasn’t the start the Crater wrestling team needed Tuesday night but it was certainly the one that North Medford had hoped for in an early-season dual between two of the area’s top programs at Crater High in Central Point.

The Comets had earmarked a stretch of matches from 126-138 pounds that could very well determine the outcome of Tuesday’s match, and boy were they right.

With the gym packed with fans eager to see some of the first wrestling of the season, which coincidentally saw 126 pounds serve as the opening match of the night, North Medford was able to build early momentum and carry that through for a 39-30 win over the defending Class 5A state champions.

Chase Mitchell (126), Cole Zoller (132), Benjamin Zeigler (138) and Ethan Miller (145) scored triumphs for the Black Tornado to start the night with a 15-0 advantage that put the Comets in a hole early they couldn’t climb out of despite several strong efforts.

“For kids, that’s just tough emotionally to deal with that when you go down 15-0 to start it off,” said Crater head coach Greg Haga. “Those first three matches I was looking at probably needing to pull two of those out at least and then we were right in the ballpark for matchups but that didn’t happen.”

Instead, that put Class 6A North Medford in the driver’s seat and allowed for the Tornado to gain a hard-fought victory leading into this weekend’s Coast Classic.

“I was really happy with the way things went,” said North Medford head coach Phillip Lopez. “They’re the returning state champs with a ton of kids and studs on their team back and I think should be favored to win it all again. Realistically, I think all we did is we just woke up a sleeping giant.”

Mitchell created some confidence for his teammates with an 8-3 decision over Angel Diaz, then Zoller pinned Hunter Hiatt in one of the marquee matchups of the night after each was a fourth-place finisher in last year’s respective state tournaments.

Hiatt held the advantage early in the first period before Zoller baited him into a bad position and locked him up in a cradle for a pin in 1 minute, 31 seconds.

“Cole just got mean with it and fortunately got on top with it to finish it off,” said Lopez. “That was definitely a really good, key matchup.”

After Zeigler edged Isaiah Griffith with a 12-10 decision, Miller turned back Crater freshman Clayton Rock, 8-4, in another good battle to help the Black Tornado build its cushion.

Pins by Dallas Howard (152) and Logan Meek (160), who won in 19 seconds, allowed the Comets to regain some footing, but in another key match, North Medford’s Andres Ramirez was able to catch Crater’s Logan Lowder for a pin in 1:24.

“I think Lowder felt the throw and he went for it, but Andres already knew the kid liked to throw and ended up getting him to his back and holding him for a pin,” said Lopez.

North Medford’s Nicholas Winetrout, returning from a wrist injury that cost him last season, followed with a pin at 182 before Crater’s Tony Flores answered with a decision at 195.

Black Tornado senior Josh Robbins, also returning from injury, added a pin and Julian Stone was another winner by fall as North built an insurmountable cushion.

Crater finished the dual with consecutive wins by Jacob Banry (106), Tanner Ulrey (113) and Zeth Brower (120), but the damage had already been done.

“We didn’t perform on some of those matches and didn’t wrestle basic and started making stuff up,” said Haga, whose team will wrestle at Grants Pass on Thursday before also traveling to the Coast Classic.

For Lopez, Tuesday’s outcome was pleasing but certainly not something he’s willing to hang his hat on given how early in the season it is.

“Obviously if this is the end of the year, that would be great,” he said, “but realistically every team is like two or three weeks into the season and trying to figure out their groove again. We’ll see them again more this season and I’m sure they’re going to come back swinging at us, but you want that competition.”

“One thing I know for sure,” added Lopez, “there was no quit from either side tonight. It was hard-nosed wrestling in front of a packed house tonight and that was great to see.”

TEAM SCORE: North Medford 39, Crater 30.

106 — Jacob Banry, C, dec. Alex Silva, 10-6; 113 — Tanner Ulrey, C, pinned Jacob Watson, 1:49; 120 — Zeth Brower, C, pinned Enrique Jaime, 5:18; *126 — Chase Mitchell, NM, dec. Angel Diaz, 8-3; 132 — Cole Zoller, NM, pinned Hunter Hiatt, 1:31.

138 — Benjamin Zeigler, NM, dec. Isaiah Griffith, 12-10; 145 — Ethan Miller, NM, dec. Clayton Rock, 8-4; 152 — Dallas Howard, C, pinned Matthew Bryant, 1:21; 160 — Logan Meek, C, pinned Hunter Servis, :19.

170 — Andres Ramirez, NM, pinned Logan Lowder, 1:24; 182 — Nicholas Winetrout, NM, pinned Cameron Savage, 2:45; 195 — Tony Flores, C, dec. Matthew Smith, 8-3; 220 — Josh Robbins, NM, pinned Crayton Gillispie, 1:38; 285 — Julian Stone, NM, pinned Isaiah Mays, 2:22.

* starting weight

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry