BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — PERU — The Peru Bengal Tigers kept their attention focused on the mat, but also made time to glance at the team point totals Saturday at the Peru Wrestling Regional. The Tigers had a tense battle brewing with Oak Hill.
Each team had already assured itself of nine wrestlers in next Saturday's Fort Wayne Semistate when the championship round rolled around. Oak Hill had five wrestlers in the final, and Peru four.
That's where Peru pulled away. The Bengal Tigers got title-winning efforts from Kegan Kern at 132 pounds, Evan Loe at 145 and Nick Cress at 195 while Oak Hill went 0-5 in title matches. Loe dominated. He scored three pins and his longest match was a 1:06 in the final.
Peru won the team title with 134 points, ahead of Oak Hill (120), Kokomo (100), Western (91) and Eastern (60). It's the sixth regional crown for Peru.
"Kids wrestled their hearts out, wrestled loose, hard," Peru coach Andy Hobbs said. "[We] had two kids get 100 wins. Connor Quin got his 100th win [Saturday] morning, Nick Cress got 100 wins in the second round. Evan Loe wins his fourth regional."
The team battle was a source of pride to the Bengals, who also advanced 106-pounder Shane Garretson (third place), 120-pounder Quin (third), 138-pounder Peyton Sturgill (second), 160-pounder Garrett Sparks (third), 170-pounder Danny Fisher (fourth), and 220-pounder Erik Hobbs (third).
"Very close team score, very exciting all day long," Hobbs said. "We led most of the way, but we had one round where we came out down a point or two. Oak Hill's got a phenomenal team. I'm thrilled for the kids to be able to put it together to win the regional."
Kokomo scored four champions and had five qualify for the semistate. Western won three titles and had five advance. Eastern had four advance. Taylor brought four wrestlers to the regional and got all four to Fort Wayne. Maconaquah had a champ and will take two to the semistate, and Northwestern scored one champion. The top four wrestlers in each weight class advance to the semistate.
Northwestern 160-pounder Luke Akers and Maconaquah 126-pounder Chase Wilson both remained undefeated after winning titles.
Each member of Kokomo's advancing group made it to the championship round. Jabin Wright got the ball rolling with a 7-6 victory over Eastern's Ty Swisher in the championship at 106 — a rematch of the sectional final won by Swisher a week previous. Chad Gaddis won by pin at 152 pounds, Keair Ross ruled the 170 field, and Fletcher Miller scored three pins en route to the 220-pound title.
"We've been preaching all week long, let's be a champion at regionals, you'll set yourself up better next week and give yourself, hopefully, a better draw to [advance to state], and that's the ultimate goal," Kokomo coach Ryan Wells said.
"Wright at 106, that was a tough weight class. There were four guys in that weight class that we thought could have won it, and we knew it was going to take a great effort on his part, just about a perfect day of wrestling to win it. He went out and he stuck to a game plan and he did it. Being a freshman regional champion, that's a big deal.
"Chad and Keair, they're starting to open up their offense more and more and get aggressive on their feet and that's exactly what they need to do at this point of the season to get to the state finals. And Fletch just continues to dominate and do what he does."
At 120 pounds, Kokomo senior A.J. Nelson lost the final to Western's Caleb Maddox by injury default. Nelson was believed to have suffered a concussion and Wells was not sure if he'd able to participate next week.
Maddox won three matches without ever making it to the half-way point of a six-minute match to give Western its first title of the day. Dustin Hinkle won the title at 138, and Corey Hinkle scored two pins and a major decision to win the 182-pound title. Also for Western, Skylar Braden was fourth at 152, and Russell McDorman second at 195.
"They all did a good job," Western coach Chad Shepherd said. "Caleb's match was kind of an unfortunate thing [due to Nelson's injury], Dustin wrestled well, Corey, I don't even know what to say about that kid, he's just so freaking strong, he just overpowers people. And the other [title] match, Russell's, we've beat that kid [Cress] twice, just [Saturday] wasn't our day. He wrestled well the rest of the time. I'm proud of the guys, we're going to take five quality wrestlers up to Fort Wayne."
Western hasn't had a wrestler advance to state since 2008 but is well positioned to have one or more make a run to the state meet.
"Competition's going to step up, there's no give-mes, but yeah, I like our chances," Shepherd said of surviving the semistate.
Taylor advanced its entire contingent. 113-pounder Chad Elmore was second, 138-pounder Stephen Sholty was fourth, 152-pounder Kaleil Rucker was third, and 160-pounder Logan Sarber was fourth.
"We just came out here and wrestled tough," Taylor coach Aaron Schlueter said. "Our kids are all about surviving and advancing so we knew that first match [an elimination match] was going to be tough for us. Chad Elmore at 113 dug deep, was down 5-0 ... and came back and won in overtime. That was a big win for us. He started us off on the right foot then Steven Sholty at 138 came up with the pin, Kaleil Rucker at 152, big win there, and Logan Sarber capped off that first round winning at 160."
Eastern also has four wrestlers in the semistate. Swisher was second at 106 pounds, Corbin Hetzner was second at 126, Chris Biddle was third at 170 and Evan Ellis was second at 220.
Besides Wilson, Maconaquah 195-pounder Nick Ingram was fourth and advances to Fort Wayne.
CHAMPIONS FROM AREA SCHOOLS KOKOMO: Jabin Wright (106 pounds); Chad Gaddis (152); Keair Ross (170); Fletcher Miller (220). PERU: Kegan Kern (132); Evan Loe (145); Nick Cress (195). WESTERN: Caleb Maddox (120); Dustin Hinkle (138); Corey Hinkle (182). MACONAQUAH: Chase Wilson (126). NORTHWESTERN: Luke Akers (160).