Wrestlers 2nd at Section Team Meet
The dual meet portion of the wrestling season may have come to an end last Saturday for the Blue Earth Area Buccaneers, but not before the wrestlers provided their fans with some exciting moments to remember the day by – as they came within one victory of a State Tournament berth.
BEA’s come-from-behind win over Medford earned them a place in the section championship match against the Class A No. 4 ranked Jackson County Central Huskies.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, they were unable to pull off the upset, falling to the Huskies 43-13, but taking home the second place trophy for Section 2A.
Semi-final contests between USC and JCC on one mat and Medford, and Blue Earth Area on the other, provided the real drama for the day as both contests came down to the final match.
USC had taken the lead 33-32 against the favored Huskies going into the final match. The Huskies’ heavyweight, Jordan Phibbs, notched an 11-0 major decision win, giving the Huskies a 36-33 victory.
Meanwhile, the Bucs were struggling against last year’s section champion, the Medford Tigers. The Tigers had defeated the Bucs last year in the section finals. BEA had notched an eight point win over Medford in January.
Travis Hagedorn gave the Bucs a 6-0 lead when he pinned his opponent in 1:45. The Tigers would pull within three with a decision at 112. Zach Keller of the Tigers, who is rated second in the state at 112, moved up a weight and won a close 3-2 decision over Jake Wirtjes to tie things up at 6-6.
D.J. Gronewald put the Bucs back on top 10-6 with a 9-0 major decision at 125.
Brad Maas, ranked fifth in the state, and Curt Maas, ranked first in the state, each scored pins for the Tigers at 130 and 135 respectively, giving Medford an 18-10 lead.
The 140-pound match pitted Joe Franta of the Bucs against the only wrestler to defeat Franta this year, Zach Kanzenbach. Kanzenbach, rated fifth in the state, was able to come away with a 9-3 victory, giving the Tigers a 21-10 advantage.
Next it was Matt Dulas at 145 facing the sixth-ranked wrestler in the state, Cole Kavitz. The Tiger wrestler scored a 10-2 major decision over Dulas, as Medford stretched their lead to 25-10.
Brad Keller, ranked No. 9 in the state, scored a 19-5 major decision over Abi Vasquez at 160 pounds. Vasquez fought through an injury suffered early in the match and denied Keller a tech fall (a win by 15 points) which would have given Medford one more point. Medford had now opened its biggest lead at 29-10.
Carter Hanson broke the run of 23 straight points by the Tigers as he scored a 25-10 technical fall over his opponent in the 160 pound match.
The Bucs’ Daniel Eckhardt, ranked fourth in the state, recorded a pin in 1:33 to cut the Medford lead to eight points at 29-21.
The match at 189 pounds featured two state ranked wrestlers. Medford’s Reid Balzer came into the match ranked seventh in Class 2A, while Cody Eckhardt of the Bucs was ranked ninth. Eckhardt had defeated Balzer in a close match when they met in January.
This match would be just as close. After a scoreless first period, Balzer scored an escape and a take-down to take a 3-0 lead early in the second period. Eckhardt was able to get an escape to make it 3-1 heading into the final period. Balzer ended up scoring a 5-4 victory, although Eckhardt was close to getting a reversal as the match ended.
Two matches to go and the Bucs were down by 11 points, 32-21. It appeared they would need two pins to gain the victory.
Jason Mertens, wrestling for the injured Taylor Andrews, was the next Buc to take the mat, at 215 pounds. Mertens scored an early take-down and tried getting his opponent turned. The Medford wrestler was warned for stalling as the period ended with Mertens ahead 2-0.
Mertens started the second period in the down position and scored an escape and another take-down and again worked to get his opponent on his back. The Medford wrestler was warned for stalling a second time and then Mertens was awarded a penalty point when stalling was called for the third time.
Another stalling call early in the third period gave Mertens two more points. The Buc crowd and coaches yelled encouragement as they watched the clock winding down. Then, with 25 seconds left in the match, the referee blew his whistle, calling another stall on the Tiger’s wrestler which resulted in a disqualification and six points for Blue Earth Area. This made the score 32-27 in favor of Medford with one match to go.
Heavyweight Josh Johnson of the Bucs didn’t waste any time, scoring a fall in 30 seconds. This completed the incredible comeback for the Bucs as they claimed a 33-32 victory.
“Medford won the toss and was able to move their guys around,” comments Bucs coach Randy Wirtjes. “They’ve got some excellent wrestlers. It was just a great team effort on our part.”
Indeed, in a close contest like Blue Earth Area had against Medford, it wasn’t just about the matches won but also how even though some wrestlers lost, they denied their opponent a pin, a technical fall, or a major decision.
Blue Earth Area faced Maple River in their first contest of the day and came away with a 47-20 win.
Travis Hagedorn scored an 11-3 major decision, but Maple River came back with two consecutive pins to take a 12-4 lead.
Jake Wirtjes pinned his opponent in 2:30 and D.J. Gronewald scored a 5-3 overtime victory as the Bucs regained the lead at 13-12.
A 2-1 decision by David Franta and an 11-4 win by Joe Franta increased the Bucs’ lead to 19-12.
Maple River sandwiched major decisions around Carter Hanson’s major decision for the Bucs to make the score 23-20 with four weights remaining to wrestle.
Daniel Eckhardt, Cody Eckhardt, and Jason Mertens all scored falls for Blue Earth Area, while Josh Johnson collected a forfeit. The Bucs scored the last 24 points for the 47-20 triumph.
The Bucs compiled a 24-4 dual meet record this season. Two of the losses were against fourth-ranked JCC, while the other two losses were to teams from Class AA. Besides winning a share of the conference dual meet championship, they also won the Park Cottage Grove Duals and the Estherville Dual Meet Tournament and finished as Section 2A runners-up for the second straight year.