By Bruce Sayler
BILLINGS — The result for Butte High at the state Class AA high school wrestling tournament might have been a little disappointing, but only because optimism in the program has been building.
The Bulldogs placed fifth in the tournament completed Saturday evening in The Metra, out of the trophies and with no individual championships, but with a pretty strong showing, numbers-wise. (Results)
“The kids competed hard,” fourth-year Butte High head coach Cory Johnston said. “We had nine state place-winners and it’s been a long time since Butte High had that.”
The top five finish was of recent success, too. The program has won 17 state championships, all since 1980, but none since 2003.
Great Falls High won the team championship with 242 ½ points, Flathead of Kalispell scored 197, edging out Billings Senior by half a point for the second-place trophy. Bozeman was fourth with 186 and Butte High fifth with 160 ½ to round out the top five in the 15-team field.
Sidney chained its third straight Class A championship and Glasgow topped the Class B-C standings.
Butte High junior Keagan Gransbery was the runner-up at 120 pounds, up a place from where he finished as a sophomore 103-pounder at state. Kobe Moreno was third in the 285-pound weight class and the Bulldogs had three fourth-place finishers in seniors Scout Allen at 138 pounds, Quinn Sullivan at 160 pounds and Kameron Moreno at 205. Sophomore 103-pounder Trey Whitlock garnered a fifth-place finish, and sixth-place spots were filled by sophomore Kyler Raiha at 113 pounds, junior Dominick Scown at 170 and senior Myles McClernan at 182.
Bulldogs shook off some disappointments in the semifinals to pull out wins in the consolation semifinals and gain slots in the place-winning bouts, adding to the team points.
“I just can’t stress enough that that’s the way this team has been all year,” Johnston said. “They bounce back, and come through the back door.”
He talked a bit about some of those moments.
“Myles McClernan is a senior and had never placed in a tournament at all, anywhere,” Johnston said. “And, he gets on the podium here. Then there’s Scout Allen and Quinn Sullivan finally getting on the podium. And, Dominick Scown finds himself on the podium.”
The Bulldogs qualified 19 wrestlers for this year’s state tourney. Nearly half of them placed.
“Our seniors built a foundation and we thank them a lot for re-establishing us in the AA,” Johnston said. “This tournament was another brick in the wall and we’re still building.”
Butte High had put six wrestlers into a rugged semifinal field. Only Gransbery was able to emerge. He had to reach deep to do it, too. He trailed Colton Martello of Great Falls C.M. Russell by a 5-3 score in the third frame, then exploded for eight points in the last two minutes. He pulled out an 11-7 win and avenged an 11-3 defeat to Martello in last year’s semifinals at 103.
The win put him in against strong Billings West freshman Jesse Aarness for the title at 120 pounds. Gransbery was the aggressor, but two good shots against Aarness failed to bring the Bulldog any points. One try was especially close, the two flying out of bounds with Gransbery on top, but the completion of the move being ruled out of bounds. The wrestlers went on to the second period with no score yet in the match.
Aarness, though, built a 6-0 lead in the second frame, scoring on an escape, takedown and three-point near-fall.
Gransbery started in the down position for the third period and was flipped by Aarness, stacking the Butte High wrestler’s shoulders to the mat and the pin was registered in 4 minutes, 18 seconds.
Kobe Moreno’s third-place win was one of the faster matches of the tournament, he pinned Josh Lee of Helena Capital in 27 seconds. Moreno had lost in the semis to Bozeman behemoth Tom Walkup 14-7. Walkup lost in the finals to Ethan Deroche of Great Falls High for the second year in a row.
Allen nearly finished a spot higher, victimized by a late reversal, he lost 3-2 to Idren Peak of Billings Senior in their third-place match. Allen battled one of the tougher draws in the tournament when he lost on a 1:31 pin to Levi Schroeder of Bozeman. Schroeder, an Iowa commit, later strung his fourth state championship, the 36th Montana to win four state titles.
Sullivan was in a close match at 160, falling to Brendon Lockart of Great Falls High, 7-4. He was defeated 15-2 in the semifinals by eventual champion Thomas Klepps of Billings Senior.
Kameron Moreno was in nothing but star-studded matches Saturday in a meat-grinder of a weight class. He lost a 3-1 grinder in the 205-pound semifinals to Great Falls High’s Elijah Davis in a duel of returning champions. Moreno was the defending champ at 205 and Davis won the title at 182 last year. After edging Moreno, Davis went on to win this year’s 205-pound crown Saturday evening. Moreno, after dropping into the consolation bracket, then met McCade O’Reilly of Bozeman, whom Moreno beat last year for his 205-pound title. In Saturday’s meeting, Moreno scored a takedown with 5 seconds left in the match to yank out a 6-5 win and move onto the third-place bout. There, he lost on a 6-2 decision to Brenner Bushfield of Billings Senior. Bushfield was the 2019 runner-up to Davis at 182.
Whitlock captured fifth place with a 4-2 win over Holden Howe of Billings Senior.
Raiha, Scown and McClernan all punched out huge pins in the consolation quarterfinals to guarantee themselves place-winnings. McClernan got his while erasing a 5-4 deficit.
Connor Konda, at 132 pounds, and freshman heavyweight Zach Tierney nearly gave the Bulldogs two more place-winners, but lost close bouts in the consolation quarterfinals. Konda at 1-0 lead, then gave it up in trying for a takedown or more advantageous pinning situation. However, he was taken down in the waning seconds and lost 3-1 to Carter Johnson of Missoula Big Sky. Tierney was tied at 2-all with Zac Malcolm of Billings West before getting snagged in a head-and-arm, losing on a fall.
“We had some young kids place,” Johnston said. “We could’ve had more. We’re going to push hard now that the summer wrestling program pays off. The more wrestling we’ll do, the better we’ll be. We placed fifth this year and that’s what we are. You get what you put into it.”
“We have to keep building.”
The Butte area did produce two champions with Dillon senior Cooper Hoffman winning at 170 pounds in the state Class A tournament and Anaconda freshman Nate Blodnick ruling the Class B-C field at 103. Hoffman wound up with a 44-1 record for the season, Dillon head coach T.J. Nelson said. Whitehall fared the best of Butte-area teams, placing fourth in the Class B-C field.
Both the Class A and B-C tournaments were held in conjunction with the Class AA meet. Such has been the format since 1989, except in 2011 when the state championships were held at three different locations due to repairs being made to The Metra because of tornado damage.
A much-anticipated championship match in Class A saw Cooper Birdwell of Lewistown win his third straight title by denying Jake Bibler of Frenchtown his fourth. Birdwell earned a 15-2 major decision in their final at 126 pounds to finish the season with a 27-0 record.
Others with 20 or matches recorded this year to go undefeated on their campaigns were Hunter Ketchem of Skyview, Jett Jones of Sidney and Isaiah Allik of St. Ignatius/Charlo.