There are matches within each wrestling dual that teams can pretty much pencil in as wins where guys simply outmatch their opponents. Then there are the toss-up weight classes that ultimately end up deciding those duals between evenly-matched teams.
With the Section 6A championship on the line on Friday night, those close weight classes came in the first six matches from 106 through 138 pounds.
“The first match, we figured that was in our favor,” Bertha-Hewitt-Verndale-Parkers Prairie head coach Bill Wagner said. “The next one was either way. Once we got that one it was like, ‘OK, we’re on a bit of a roll.’ We could lose the first two and all of a sudden you’re in trouble.”
The eighth-ranked Raiders came into the section tournament as the No. 1 seed, but second-seeded and 10th-ranked West Central Area-Ashby-Brandon-Evansville had pushed them during the regular season in a tight loss for the Knights.
On Friday in front of a packed crowd in Underwood, the Raiders won 39-21 to secure their spot at state, most notably by winning five of those six opening weight classes.
“I really couldn’t ask for anything better,” Wagner said. “We got some bonus points here and there in some tight matches. In matches that were really tight, we seemed to wrestle really well in the third period to finish the match.”
The Knights got to the title match with a 34-33 win over Ottertail Central in the semifinals, while B-H-V-Parkers Prairie beat New York Mills 51-24.
It was not just the fact that the Raiders got some early wins against the Knights, but it was how a couple of those wins came that felt so important to B-H-V-Parkers Prairie’s cause.
David Revering and Deagen Captain got them bonus points right off the bat with wins at 106 and 113. Solomon Wales got WCA-A-B-E its first win with a 5-3 decision at 120 pounds, and the Knights looked like they might flip the momentum from there.
The Knights’ Ashton Danner was leading in the third period at 126 against Reese Thompson before Thompson got a reversal and then back points to win a 7-4 decision.
Justin Koehn then completely grabbed the momentum for the Raiders at 132. He was trailing 8-4 against Dierk Goeden when Koehn saw his shot and took it. He got Goeden on his back and pinned him 50 seconds into the second period to send his team into a frenzy with a 17-3 lead.
“When I get down early, I just think I have more to make up,” Koehn said. “It’s all about perseverance. You don’t give up. You don’t give in, and you will succeed. It might take longer than you think it should, but you will eventually succeed.
“It felt big. We had confidence, but we figured that we needed something big to happen to get the team jump started and to set the tone.”
Both coaches recognized that stretch as a turning point in the match.
“I don’t want to point any fingers on who’s fault it was or anything like that, but momentum is momentum,” WCA-A-B-E head coach Brandon Gruchow said. “Once you get it going, everyone knows it definitely helps. When it’s taken away, it’s hard for guys to bounce back and be the next guy to step up.”
Jason Koehn added to that momentum with a 9-2 win at 138 pounds before Kade Olson stopped the bleeding for the Knights with a pin of Abby Ervasti in 58 seconds at 145. The Raiders’ Brock Peterson got a pin at 152 to give his team a 26-9 lead.
The Knights did respond. They got a technical-fall win from Jordan Lohse, a major decision from Nathaniel Kisgen and a 7-4 decision win from Colton Lindquist. That got it as close as 26-21 after 182 pounds, but the Knights knew what was waiting down the line.
Craig Orlando, the two-time defending state champion at heavyweight, is undefeated and an anchor for the Raiders at 285. That added to the sense of urgency for the Knights to get bonus points in front of that heavyweight match.
“That’s a nightmare knowing they have an anchor up top,” Gruchow said. “We knew we had to get big points through there, and they weren’t coming either. We weren’t getting the pins, so that was tough for our guys.”
Gideon Ervasti created more separation for the Raiders with a 16-7 major decision win at 195. Jaden Finck then put the match away with a decision win over a good opponent in Devin Stone at 220 before Orlando won by forfeit.
“This is only his second year wrestling, so he’s really coming on,” Wagner said of Finck at 220. “He’s putting it all together with a plan of attack, where as earlier in the year he was spending all his energy in the first period. Now, we’ve just figured out how to be physical and not exert too much energy. He’s really putting that to work with some really big wins the last couple weeks.”
Gruchow is confident the Knights will bounce back at the section individual tournament next week, but he challenged his guys to grow from this loss in the offseason.
“I just asked them to think of a few times maybe this year where they cut a corner or took the easy way out,” Gruchow said. “Put those all in your head and go back and would that have made a difference in your matches? Just remember what tonight felt like so that next year, they don’t have to feel that.”
For B-H-V-Parkers Prairie, adversity came early in the season after getting beat 51-27 against fourth-ranked Minnewaska and then being upset by United North Central 36-33 on Dec. 10. The Raiders started the winter with goals of getting to the state tournament, but those early losses served as a wakeup call.
“We came back together and talked about goals. What do we want to do?” Wagner said. “I just told the boys, ‘You make the goal.’ After that session, they came back and said, ‘We want to come out and make sure we’re never flat so that we’re always ready.’ I thought, how mature is that for a bunch of high school kids to say?”
That focus has been there night in and night out the rest of the season. Their reward is a second straight trip to the state tournament on Feb. 27.
B-H-V-PP 39, WCA-A-B-E 21
106 - David Revering (BH) def. Adam Lohse by major decision, 13-5; 113 - Deagen Captain (BH) def. Hunter Gruchow by major decision, 12-4; 120 - Solomon Wales (WCA) def. Aiden Larson, 5-3; 126 - Reese Thompson (BH) def. Ashton Danner, 7-4; 132 - Justin Koehn (BH) def. Dierk Goeden by fall, 2:50; 138 - Jason Koehn (BH) def. Anthony Sykora, 9-2; 145 - Kade Olson (WCA) def. Abby Ervasti by fall, 0:58; 152 - Brock Peterson (BH) def. Kaleb Getz by fall, 1:07; 160 - Jordan Lohse (WCA) def. Mason Schroeder by tech fall, 16-1, 5:19; 170 - Nathaniel Kisgen (WCA) def. Carter Rokes by major decision, 11-0; 182 - Colton Lindquist (WCA) def. Hunter Dean, 7-4; 195 - Gideon Ervasti (BH) def. Deklin Goeden by major decision, 16-7; 220 - Jaden Finck (BH) def. Devin Stone, 5-1; 285 - Craig Orlando (BH) won by forfeit