By Bruce Sayler
The overhead lights seemed stuck on high beam to cast a celebratory glow on a Butte High wrestling team that was saying goodbye to the home fans this season.
The 54-17 dual meet win over Dillon on Thursday night was the Bulldogs’ last home appearance in their Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gym. Some will wrestle Friday evening at the Butte Central mixer in the Maroon Activities Center. Otherwise, the next competition for the team will b February 2 in the Eastern AA Conference seeding tournament at Bozeman.
So, fans lingered. Wrestlers stuck around, and the scene was spackled with smiles, pats on the back and eager handshakes.
Kole McGrath was one of the Butte High senior wrestlers recognized with his parents in the pre-match announcements that bade farewell to the Bulldog matmen, Class of ‘19. After his pin of Dillon’s Ash Norris at a minute and 3 seconds of their 170-pound bout, he wondered where all the time went — overall.
“Definitely, my senior year went fast, compared to any other year,” the poised, easy conversing young man said. “From my freshman year, the program has come on in a big way. I would say so.”
McGrath’s fellow senior honorees were Billy Cunneen, Wil Queer, Dale Kent, Carl Anderson, Austin Endy, Kyle Harding Gabbie Parini and manager Gabby Haberman.
Head coach Cory Johnston said the class will remain special to him.
“They’re my first class, here,” he said. “This was an important night and not a night I was looking forward to. When I came here, they were the freshmen.”
“Senior Night came fast.”
The pin winners were for Butte High on the night were Queer at 113 pounds, sophomore Anthony Liva at 132, Kent at 138, Anderson at 152 and junior Kameron Moreno at 205, in addition to McGrath. Endy, Harding and junior Wyatt Queer were winners by forfeit at 182, heavyweight and 120, respectively.
“They bought in from Day One,” Johnston continued to appreciate his wrestlers. “These guys have been the leaders since they were freshmen. They’re starting to see success.”
The betterment, Johnston indicated, can be traced to the attitude in the team’s leadership. He cited this season that has been pocked some by frustrating injuries and weakened a bit by sickness. To compensate, different Bulldogs have had to muscle up or drop pounds to fit into different weight classes, at least to do so better.
“The kids never complained,” Johnston said. “They never batted an eye.”
McGrath said that in his career, he’s wrestled at 120, 138, 145 and 182 pounds, with a a couple weeks earlier this season spent at 170. He’s gone to the state tournament as a freshman and a junior, and is looking to book a trip to this year’s soon.
“There’s no better team to be with,” McGrath said. “I was dreading it at the beginning of the year, but there’s no better feeling than after practice (or competing).”
Dillon won four of the bouts — two on the only two decisions of the night, one on a technical fall and one on a pin.
“We have some scrappy kids and they’re coming along,” T.J. Nelson, veteran head coach of the Beavers said. “But, we’re awfully young.”
The quickest pin of the night was by Liva, in 39 seconds. The closest bout was Noah Huffacker’s grueling 2-1 decision over badgerish Butte High 103-pounder Christian Sherman.
“We wanted to get some tough matches for some of other guys to get us ready (for postseason),” Johnston said. “Keagan (Gransbery, No. 1in the state AA rankings at 103) gave up the bout so Christian could wrestle it. Keagan’s already wrestled plenty of tough bouts this year.”
Johnston said the goal from here, now, is to win a state championship.
“That’s always the goal,” he said, with a gleam.
The state tournament will be the weekend after the seeding meet.
McGrath figures he hasn’t gotten near enough to the end of his career to look back on special moments.
“That’s a really hard question,” he said, after some minutes mulling on how to answer the career highlight question from the interviewer. Best part? Getting to see the team succeed, or placing at tournaments I hadn’t placed at before.
“Hopefully, the best part hasn’t come yet.”
Butte High 54, Dillon 17
103 — Noah Huffacker, Dillon, dec. Christian Sherman 2-1. 113 — Wil Queer, Butte, pinned Tate Hanson 1:47. 120 — Wyatt Queer, Butte, won by forfeit. 126 — Luke Huffacker tech fall Gavin Vetter, 4:16 (16-0). 132 — Anthony Liva, Butte, pinned Teron Morrison :39. 138 — Dale Kent, Butte, pinned Eli Carlos :45. 145 — Pete Gibson, Dillon, dec. Dylan Averyt 7-1. 152 — Carl Anderson, Butte, pinned Tristin Lowell 1:56. 160 — Cooper Hoffman, Dillon, pinned Billy Cunneen 3:37. 170 — Kole McGrath, Butte, pinned Ash Norris 1:03. 182 — Austin Endy, Butte, won by forfeit. 205 — Kameron Moreno, Butte, pinned Preston Hales 3:02. 285 — Kyle Harding, Butte won by forfeit.