By PEDRO VELAZCO Kokomo Tribune
---- — FORT WAYNE — As a long slate of Saturday morning quarterfinals went along, cheers from small pockets of fans around the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum signaled big moments on the mats.
The cheers from the Tribune-area contingents kept coming, one after another in the first round. Eleven area wrestlers won opening-round matches at the Fort Wayne Semistate, putting themselves a win away from a trip to state.
Then, a win by Peru 132-pounder Kegan Kern got things moving. His takedown at the buzzer in the second round put him in the state meet. Simultaneously, Western’s Dustin Hinkle scored a win at 138 pounds for his ticket to state. Then Peru 145-pounder Evan Loe won his second match, followed by Kokomo 152-pounder Chad Gaddis and the local snowball was growing.
Western 182-pounder Corey Hinkle won next, followed by Kokomo 170-pounder Keair Ross scoring a win. Kokomo 220-pounder Fletcher Miller won for his spot at state, and finally Peru 195-pounder Nick Cress snagged his second victory for a trip to state.
In total, eight area wrestlers snagged spots at state, a huge haul compared to most seasons. Loe, Corey Hinkle and Miller went on to claim semistate championships.
“The last couple years our regional’s been low on numbers,” said Miller, who repeated as 220-pound champ. The Howard County and Miami County schools all reached Fort Wayne via the Peru Regional.
“The local representation is just awesome. We’re not going to be looked at as the low man on the totem pole anymore, we’re going to be an area to be reckoned with.”
The state finals are this coming Friday and Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Dustin Hinkle and Gaddis were each third. Kern, Ross and Cress each dropped two placement matches to finish fourth.
“I’m excited,” Western coach Chad Shepherd said. He took five wrestlers to Fort Wayne and saw two, the Hinkle brothers, live on to next week. “All the hard work is paying off. The boys wrestled well. I think Caleb [Maddox] would like to have his match back, but that’s part of it. Russell [McDorman] had a great season. Skylar [Braden], we were in that match right there at the end we had a chance to win it, and that’s all we wanted to be with him.
“Dustin wrestled outstanding all day long. We made one mistake against [DeKalb’s Zachery] Krumlauf. Going into the third period we were up one point. I think that shows Dustin is right there with some of the elite guys in the state.
“And what do you say about Corey? Holy cow.”
Corey Hinkle pinned three of his opponents in the first round and beat the other 5-0 in the ticket round. He didn’t give up any points on the day.
Despite all that, his biggest thrill was watching older brother Dustin qualify for state before the 182s took the mat.
“I was really excited when he won. I had to make sure he didn’t show me up,” Corey Hinkle said. “This is his senior year, his only goal this year was to make it to state so I was really happy when he got in.”
Getting three wrestlers to state ties a high water mark for both Kokomo and Peru.
“With Chad and Keair, those guys were so close, both had made it to the ticket round [in last year’s semistate],” Kokomo coach Ryan Wells said. Ross and Gaddis each lost in the second round last season, a step away from state. “Their big goal was not to let that happen again, and they worked so hard and both of them won close matches, just gutted it out and found ways to make it happen. I’m so happy for those two, and Fletcher. We expected him to do what he did, and that’s dominate all day.”
Miller pinned all four of his opponents.
Peru coach Andy Hobbs was equally excited about his haul to Indy.
“Twenty-two years in [coaching] this is the very best performance in the semistate,” he said. “We’ve had three kids advance other times, this is our third time with that, but we had nine kids wrestle and I thought all nine of them did as well as they could.
“This is the fourth time [Kern] has been here, he’s been in that ticket match a couple times, had some one-point, some heartbreaking losses. I was just really hoping he’d get over the hump. He sure did with style, a big finish on a double for the win [in the second round].
“Evan, state placer last year, qualified as a sophomore, got second here last year, won it this time, just hope he has a great week and can make a charge.
“Nick Cress has really turned it around the last two weeks. He struggled at conference and sectional, has really turned it around and wrestled lights out.”
Having three Bengal Tigers alive in the final week of the season will change the energy in the wrestling room for senior Loe, who is making his third trip. He didn’t give up a takedown in his four wins.
“It’s awesome to have a bunch of teammates going,” he said. “The last two years it’s only been me.”
Miller, who was the state runner-up last season at 220, is glad to have classmates keeping him company as the Wildkat trio prepare for state.
“Going down last year I had [teammate] Andrew Ledford with me, and this year I’ve got two more guys with Keair Ross and Chad Gaddis,” he said. “It’s always better with company. It’s going to be a fun week this week.”
Three more area wrestlers won opening matches and lost in the ticket round.
Maconaquah 126-pounder Chase Wilson suffered a 5-4 loss in the second round, his only loss of the season. Northwestern 160-pounder Luke Akers suffered the same heartbreak, winning his opener only to lose 2-0 in the ticket round, his only loss of the season. And Eastern freshman 220-pounder Evan Ellis scored a pin in the opening round then lost 3-2 in the ticket round.
Check the scoreboard for more results.