By Pat Ryan
BILLINGS – Butte High placed three wrestlers in the semifinal round, as the Montana All-Class State Wrestling Tournament got under way Friday at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark in Billings.
Junior 103-pounder Tyler Casey, 132-pound senior Braxton Henningsen and sophomore heavyweight Jeff Queer are each two wins away from an individual Class AA State title.
That was the good news for the Bulldogs, who suffered through two disappointing consolation rounds. After the smoke settled, Butte High was left with just three more wrestlers alive in the loser-out brackets – 126-pound junior Ty Vetter, 145-pound senior Kaleb Ferriter and 170-pound senior Kadon Queer.
Butte High started the day with 15 wrestlers.
Butte Central is left with just one of its original three State wrestlers, as freshman 126-pounder Clay Fisher went 2-1 Friday to remain alive to wrestle in the consolation quarterfinals.
Billings Senior leads the Class AA team standings with 106 points, while Missoula Sentinel is second at 98.5 and Missoula Big Sky is third with 81. Havre is atop the Class A standings with 90 points, Polson is second at 78.5 and Columbia Falls is third with 70. Colstrip is outpacing the Class B/C race with 99.5 points, while Eureka is second with 69.5 and Shepherd is third with 54.
Butte High had a nerve-wracking first round where the Bulldogs went 7-8, including four close losses and a pair of close wins.
“They were tough matches,” Butte High head coach Cory Johnston said. “Sometimes you end up on the wrong end of the score.”
But sometimes you come out on the right end, as showcased by Casey, Henningsen and Queer.
Casey raced to a first-period pin against Capital’s Nolan Dulaney and followed up with a tight 6-4 win over Helena High’s Isaac Romero. It was Casey’s third win over Romero this season in matches that have gotten closer and closer. That sets up a semifinal match against Bozeman’s Chance McLane.
Henningsen dispatched his opponents in quick fashion Friday, rolling to a first-period pin of Flathead’s Miles Terry and a second-period pin of Hellgate’s Asa Hoerner. He will now face top-ranked Jake Hegel of Missoula Sentinel. Henningsen and Hegel have met twice this season, with Butte winning the first and Sentinel the second.
“That’s a match we’ve been preparing for all week,” Johnston said. “One thing I like about Ax is that it doesn’t matter if it’s a first-year wrestler or a veteran. He approaches every match the same way. This moment won’t be too big for him.”
Queer didn’t make the viewing easy for Butte fans or coaches, as he went into double overtime against his seventh-seeded opponent in Eli Horn of Glacier, then pinned third-seeded Cody Howe of Flathead in the second period. He’ll take on Missoula Sentinel’s Jake Rebish in the semis.
“Sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to get with Jeff,” Johnston said with a laugh. “But he sure wins a lot more often than not.”
Tyler Vetter won convincingly to open, then fell to top-seeded Caleb Jones of Bozeman. A 9-3 win over Billings Skyview’s Danny Maciel led Vetter to the consolation quarterfinals, where he will face Lee Lambrecht of Helena Capital.
Kaleb Ferriter’s first-round 145-pound match was against Capital’s Travis Schulte, who has defeated Ferriter twice this year. The Butte senior took advantage of a good game plan devised with coaches and won a last-second 7-6 decision to move on.
“Kaleb executed the plan really well,” Johnston said. “That was a huge win and it put Kaleb in a great position to place.”
Ferriter lost to top-ranked Jordan Komac, but stayed alive with a second-period pin of Helena’s J.T. Nygaard. Ferriter faces CMR’s Tanner Farren in a match to determine who will have a spot on the podium.
Butte’s only other wrestler still in the fray is 170-pound senior Kadon Queer. After a first-round victory by pin, Queer suffered a fall at the hands of Walker Ferda of Great Falls. He responded with a 16-0 thrashing of Billings Senior’s Will Lorash and will next face Anthony Wright of Flathead in the consolation quarters.
Butte suffered some tough losses Friday, but none more devastating than Quinn Cunneen’s loss by fall to Payton O’Reilly of Bozeman. Cunneen was leading the bigger wrestler 11-0 late in the match when he got stuck underneath and was pinned.
“That’s one that rips your heart out,” Johnston said. “We practice that situation, and he knew what to do, but he got in a spot in the heat of battle where he just kept wrestling, just like we told him. He’s become a pretty good wrestler and he’s an amazing kid. I wish we had him for another three years.”
The season also came to an end for Butte senior Kelly Merrick, who came back just last week from what was thought to be a season-ending injury. Merrick lost a very tight first-round match against the second-seeded wrestler from the Western AA, then scored a quick pin. His career ended on a tough 11-5 loss to Hellgate’s Hoerner.
Butte senior Taran Bennett also finished his high school career, posting an 8-1 win over Hellgate’s Zach Baker to go with a pair of losses Friday.
The season also ended for Willie Anderson, Carl Anderson, Kole McGrath, Bryson Henningsen, Kadin Schonsberg and Bryce Gallagher, though all have at least one more season.
Butte Central saw Fisher perform very well in his first state meet. The freshman 126-pounder came out with a very strong win over Brandon Rockwell of Belgrade, then suffer a tough loss to Dillon standout senior Kohltin Starkel. Fisher came back with an 8-6 quarterfinal win over Anthony James of Glendive to set up a consolation quarterfinal match with Jace Winter of Sidney.
“One more weigh-in and one more win and Clay’s on the podium,” said Butte Central head coach Robin Moodry. “That’s great for a freshman. We’re pretty proud of him.”
Central’s other two wrestlers, 103-pound sophomore Roy Russell and 170-pound sophomore Colter Stillwagon, both lost two straight, but both showed excellent fight, especially in their second matches of the day.
“I think they might have left a little out there,” Moodry said. “But they’re sophomores, and they’ll remember this next year. They’ve got a couple years to improve and fix the mistakes.”
Wrestling action is slated to resume at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday.