By Pedro Velazco
Peru — Over and over Saturday morning, the big cats won opening-round matches. Over and over Saturday afternoon, big cats took their spots in the finals.
With predatory efficiency, Peru’s Bengal Tigers, Kokomo’s Wildkats, and Western’s Panthers asserted dominance at the Peru Wrestling Regional. Peru advanced a stunning dozen wrestlers to next Saturday’s Fort Wayne Semistate, and ran away with the team title, amassing 209 points. Kokomo advanced seven wrestlers to Fort Wayne, including five champions. Western will take eight to Fort Wayne.
Only two weight classes will be without a Peru representative next weekend at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. The Bengal contingent is highlighted by four champions. Shane Garretson won the 106-pound class in style with a first-period pin. Kegan Kern won the 126-pound class with a pin with 36 seconds left in an all-action third period. Evan Loe matched Garrettson’s time exactly with a pin just 1:27 into his 138-pound final. And Kaleb Hammersley controlled a 10-5 decision to win the 160-pound class.
Peru coach Andy Hobbs said the Bengals had a “great first round. The kids had a great week, were really looking forward to this, kept putting the matches together, wrestled wide open all day long. These kids did a great job.”
First-round winners at the regional level book passage to semistate action, then spend the rest of the meet sorting first through fourth which translates to semistate seeding. Also for Peru, Peyton Sturgill (132), Colin Quin (145) and Braxton Simpson (152) were each runners up, Nick Cress (182) took third, and Connor Quin (113), Kane Rockenbaugh (170), Danny Fisher (195) and Erik Hobbs (220) finished fourth. Only one Bengal was eliminated on the day.
“Having two freshmen advance is massive I think,” Andy Hobbs said. The freshmen are Erik Hobbs and Sturgill. “It’s a great experience for them at such a young age. We’ve got four seniors in the lineup — relatively young — so those juniors and sophomores get to wrestle in the big barn.”
Kokomo took eight wrestlers to the regional and saw seven survive. Andrew Ledford got Kokomo’s championship run moving with a come-from-behind pin of Maconaquah’s Chase Wilson in an action-packed final of the 120-pound class. Two weights later, Christian Hall scored a dominant 12-2 victory to win the 132-pound class. Chad Gaddis then won the 152 title match 8-4, and Keair Ross survived three overtime sessions to win the 170-pound title 2-1. Finally, Fletcher Miller ran his record to 43-0 with three pins en route to the 220-pound title.
Also for the Wildkats, A.J. Nelson took third at 113 and Scotty Barbary was third at 126. That meant each of the seven Kats who advanced closed his day with a victory. Kokomo was second in the team standings with 148 points.
“That’s as good as it could have got — when you have five guys in the finals and win five championships, and two guys wrestle for third and both of them win those matches,” Kokomo coach Ryan Wells said.
“To bring eight guys here and get seven out, that’s a good day. I’m so proud of those guys. Even Brenton [Etherington, eliminated at 195], he wrestled his heart out, he wanted it. All these guys wrestled to their potential and they’re just getting so much better. They’re a great, hard-working group of guys and I want to see a few of them stay alive the next two weeks.”
Western scored a champion in Corey Hinkle, who was in control throughout in winning the 182-pound final. Additionally, Russell McDorman (195), Ben Lenahan (160) and Caleb Maddox (113) were each second, Skylar Braden (152) took third, and Sydney Allen (285), Dustin Hinkle (145) and Robert Pinkham (120) were each fourth.
“I wondered how the kids would wrestle after a big weekend last weekend, but everybody wrestled well, even the guys who didn’t make it through,” Western coach Chad Shepherd said. “We wrestled a lot of matches [Saturday] and we wrestled hard.”
The Panthers, who won last week’s Oak Hill Sectional and finished in third on Saturday, a point behind Kokomo, had plenty of highlights to take from the day.
“Skylar winning that third/fourth-place match was huge,” Shepherd said. “I didn’t think he was going to pull it out, but he buckled down and got a takedown in the last 20 seconds of the match. That was big. Liam Page, coming back and beating a kid that beat him twice last week [for fifth at 126], Tanner [Heady] wrestling back to fifth, he was down on points and kept wrestling and ended up winning the match at 106.
“Robert was a JV wrestler at the beginning of the year. He’s in the semistate. Sydney Allen just came out for wrestling because he wanted to get in shape. He’s in the semistate.
“Corey [Hinkle] had another dominating day. The score was 6-0 but [his opponent] never got off the mat. He grinds people down.”
Eastern advanced a couple wrestlers to Fort Wayne. Chris Travis overpowered the heavyweight class, scoring three first-period pins for the title. Also, 106-pounder Ty Swisher took third.
Taylor, Maconaquah and Northwestern each placed one wrestler in the field at Fort Wayne. Taylor’s Logan Sarber took third at 160, Mac’s Wilson was second at 120, and Northwestern’s Luke Akers was second at 170, losing by a point in overtime.