MURPHYSBORO -- Two of the longest tenured high school wrestling coaches in the region faced off Wednesday night and it came down to the last match before Dennis Ragan's Carbondale Terriers edged Dan Baker's Murphysboro Red Devils, 36-35.
The match was Baker's last home meet of his career.
"Matches like this are great for the sport of wrestling," Baker said. "It's Murphy-Carbondale before a great crowd coming down the end. Hats off to Coach Ragan and Carbondale they just had one point in them than we did."
Baker is stepping down at the end of the season after 19 years at the helm of his alma mater. He was honored before the match with a plaque to honor him reaching the 250 win mark on Jan. 13th with a 58-24 win over Pinckneyville. Since then, he's added five more wins to give him 255 with a winning percentage of 65 percent going into the final week and a half of the regular season.
During his tenure the Red Devils have had two individual state champions and have won seven regional titles. This year he has fielded one of his best teams sweeping the SIRR Conference (8-0) to win his ninth conference title while posting a a19-5 dual meet record.
"It's been a good run," Baker said. "I've been lucky enough to have two state champions and met a lot of people I have a lot of respect for. My brother, Ted, has always worked with me since I've been coach and what makes it special the last few years is my nephew Shea has been my assistant coach. To me wrestling is family and working with them makes it most rewarding. Here's an interesting fact. Me, Ted and Shea have all won Murdale Tournaments. Hopefully we might have a great-nephew Corbin coming up to make it three generations of winners."
The Red Devils are currently honorable mention in the state rankings as a team with senior Patrick Stanton ranked eighth in the 170 weight class. Senior Steven Bastien (113), junior Dylan Chambers (145) and Brock Barnes (160) are also honorable mention.
The Red Devils finish up at the Litchfield Tournament over the weekend before heading into the post season the following Saturday at the Carterville Class 1A Wrestling Regional.
Murphysboro jumped ahead in the meet 20-6, but Carbondale stormed back to take a 30-29 lead with two matches remaining. Junior Scott Rose gave Murphysboro the lead 35-30 with a pin of Floyd Sims at the one minute mark.
"I have a lot of respect for Coach Baker and his staff," Ragan said. "If I could have figured out a way to not lose, but give him a win I would have loved to have been able to do that."
With Carbondale needing a pin to win senior Issac Flores pinned Dehen Mulrooney with 32 seconds left in the first period.
"It was short and sweet just the way I like them," Flores said. "I got my low single, dumped his back pin and got it over with."
Baker is Murphysboro born and bred. He's a 1973 graduate of Murphysboro High School where he was a prep wrestler. He then played tennis for two years at John A. Logan before returning to his alma mater to teach and to become assistant wrestling coach in 1987.
"I did pretty good in high school -- one match away from qualifying for state," Baker said. "I got back into wrestling when Murphysboro approached me when they needed an assistant coach."
Baker became head coach in the fall 1996 and posted a 16-2 record his first year with Nick Grammer becoming his first state qualifier. He followed with five consecutive conference titles and four out of five regional titles while posting a 79-20 dual meet record.
"I would say my best teams were in 1999-00 and in 2008-09," Baker said. "We were 2A until 2005, so that means we were one of the smallest schools in the largest class in Illinois."
Baker added his sixth conference championship in 2003-04 and his fifth regional title in 2005-06. The following year Murphysboro won its first ever state wrestling title when freshman Jake Miller took first in the 103 weight class. Miller went on to qualify for state all four years finished third in each of his last three years.
The Red Devils won the conference championship again in 2007-08 before his nephew and current assistant coach Shea Baker won the state title in the 171 weight class while leading the 2008-09 team to the Elite Eight in its first and only berth in the team state tournament. Two years ago Murphysboro tied for the conference championship with Herrin.
"My greatest highlight was my nephew winning the state championship," Baker said. "I want to say we wouldn't be where we are today without the support of my mother Charlotte. My only plans for retirement is to do what I want. I do want to stay involved in wrestling in some volunteer capacity, but just what I don't know yet."