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"I can't remember ever going undefeated in the ticket round. Going 7-0 .... that was huge," stated Bellmont wrestling coach Brent Faurote after his Braves earned those seven slots in the IHSAA State Individual Wrestling Finals with a flurry of impressive performances.
"We always talk about that round being the roller-coaster round, up and down, but Daniel (Meyer) was taking the mat and we were still on that high and hadn't been down, with six guys in. I told Daniel that 'the train keeps running. We need an engine or a caboose, I don't care which one you want to be, just keep us going.' He had a nail-biter against a real tough kid but came through for us," noted Faurote.
Trailing 1-0 in period three against the No. 5-rated heavyweight, Elkhart Central's Dominique Stauffer, Meyer countered a pair of shots, scoring takedowns en route to the 4-1 win to complete the amazing Bellmont run.
Meyer went on to earn the heavyweight crown and senior Travis Thatcher scored his first semistate title to lead the Bellmont push. Senior Ryley Hankenson yielded a late takedown by Jackson Bratcher of Eastbrook in a 4-3 loss in the 171-pound finals, earning second place. Brooks Faurote at 140 and John Mahlan at 160 took thirds for the Braves, while the two improbably BHS state streeters, Bobby Keuneke at 119 and Ben Baker at 189, took fourth places.
Adams Central earned three state slots, led by the runner-up finishes or junior Derek Roe at 119 and senior Jarod Schwartz at 152, his second state berth. Sophomore Cody Walburn took third for the Jets at 112 pounds.
South Adams, which lost unbeaten Josh Ehr at 152 to an opening round fall, earned two state spots, but both were fourth placers. Senior T.J. Burnfield at 152 and junior Todd Batt, who fell to Bluffton's Philip Gerber in the consolations after beating Gerber five straight times this season at 125, were the two advancing for SA.
Keuneke, now 30-14, had to beat a pair of wrestlers with a combined record of 53-3, and he stopped them both with crushing first-period cradles. "It was the same move both times, a Palmer cradle," said Keuneke. "The first kid (Chas Busz of Whitko) wasn't really pinned, but the ref called it. The second kid definitely was. I just gave it my all. It hasn't really soaked in yet," said Keuneke, not exactly a favorite to come out of the Coliseum Saturday night with his reservations for Indy.
"Keuneke's wins were huge. He put himself in good position and hit those two cradles. Then in the consolation he has the lead on Kody George (Homestead), but that kid is a notorious come-from-behind wrestler and Bobby couldn't hold him off," said Coach Faurote.
Keuneke's semi-final loss was 5-0 to Yorktown's Chandler Carroll, one of seven Tigers' champs on the day. Carroll downed AC's Derek Roe 4-2 in the title match.
Ben Baker had the same challenge, beating a regional champ and runner-up. He definitely made it look like no accident, avenging a bad loss to Huntington's Alex Evans (37-2) in the first round with a 9-3 verdict, then dominating Wayne's Redrecus McCurrie (25-1) 6-1 in the ticket round.
"I don't know if it's hit me yet. I'm still in shock," said Baker after the meet.
"Being a jayvee wrestler most of the year, then coming in here as a fourth-place regional wrestler, then knocking off one and two seeds from regional ... I'm still taking it all in."
"What a day Ben Baker had. I'm really pleased for him. I know he's a little disappointed with fourth, but he accomplished a lot today. He could've been sitting up in the stands watching," said Coach Faurote.
Ben is the third member of his family to make it to state. His brother, Billy, was 215-pound champ two years ago and Ryan Baker was a two-time state placer.
Baker took Scott Neff of Yorktown down and that match was tied when Baker chose down in the third period of the semi-final match. He was pinned in 5:47. Baker then fell 8-2 to loop rival Spencer Raypole of Carroll in the consolation round.
Brooks Faurote continued his strong season, losing only a semi-final match to a red-hot Drake Meska of Jay County (7-0), the eventual champ. Faurote avenged his NHC tourney loss to Lucas Riecke of East Noble with a 7-0 whitewash, then the BHS junior handled Logan Lee of Garrett 5-0.
In the consolation round, Brooks earned a couple of takedowns in a 6-3 win over Kevin Marsh of West Noble.
"Brooks got a good single-leg in the first period of that ticket round, then hit a reversal. It was a relief to get him through that round. His season could've been over four weeks ago (broken hand), but for him to come back Wednesday night with the win, then get through today .... I'm just real happy for him as a father and coach," offered Brent Faurote.
"It's the best feeling in the world right now. I wanted it badly for myself, and I know dad wanted it for me," stated Brooks Faurote.
The Braves did lose three first-round matches. Coach Faurote felt that Jacob Girod at 112 and Blake Adams at 125 were just beaten by superior wrestlers. Will Busse fell 1-0 to Isaac Steury of Leo, who finished third. Stueury was beaten in the semis by AC's Schwartz 5-4.
"I feel bad for Will because he's a senior, he's worked hard and he was right there with a couple of shots in the first period, but couldn't finish," said Faurote.
Hankenson scored three falls to get to Bratcher. He took down the Eastbrook Wrestler for a 3-1 lead in period two and was still ahead 3-2 with 25 seconds to go in the match. "Ryley and Bratcher are two of the finer athletes in the tournament and both are outstanding wrestlers. Bratcher just kept coming. Ryley fought off one attack, but he got into his legs on that second one,," described Faurote on the late two-pointer and 4-3 Bratcher victory.
Ironically, Hankenson drew opposite Drake Stein of Princeton, the defending 171-pound state champ, and the only other wrestler he lost to this year, also by a point.
Hankenson pinned Zach Kurtz of Elkhart Central in 2:33 to earn his ticket, then pinned Jeff Enrietto of Carroll in the semis in 2:56. It was Ryley's fourth win over Enrietto.
Mahlan was tied 1-1 in the third period versus Ryan Chandler of Prairie Heights, the exploded for the key takedown. "Mahlan did a nice job of cutting the corner on the kid at the edge of the mat, got behind the kid and was in control when they rolled out of bounds with 30 seconds to go," noted Faurote on the 3-1 win over Chandler.
Mahlan fell by tech fall in six minutes to Conner Lefever of Carroll in the semis before coming back for the 8-3 consolation win. "No way I was going to lose that (consolation) match," said Mahlan. "My goal all year has been to make it to state and place, and I can do that with third. I set myself up as best I could."
Thatcher went six minutes four times for his title. He won 8-4 over Bryan Martin of Lakeland, then a conservative 3-0 over Clint Davis of Fort Wayne North to lock up his slot. He stopped Chase Starnes of Eastern 9-2 in the semis, then opened up in the 18-6 finals win over Alex Jakacki of Leo.
"I was sluggish. I started out slow in those first two matches and the third match I got a little better," said Thatcher. In the finals match I really got fired up and started hitting stuff I normally hit on my feet."
Thatcher was a bit disappointed not to get a shot at Taylor Grubb of Prairie Heights, a wrestler that nipped Thatcher at Mishawaka. Grub fell to Chase Starnes of Eastern, then Thatcher dispatched Starnes.
"Meyer actually won that heavyweight title match without scoring," noted Faurote. It was a 0-0 match in period two when Meyer got a little high on Eric Forrest of Jimtown.
"I regained my balance and turned him," explained Meyer.
The seven Bellmonters to make state is one less than the record, held by two of Brent Faurote's teams.
"I can't wait to walk out when they call our name at Conseco Fieldhouse Friday. It'll be a thrill," offered Ben Baker.