By Bruce Sayler
Truly a clash of champions took place Saturday night in the Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gym at Butte High School. Havre and Kalispell Flathead squared off for the championship of the 30th annual Mining City Duals Jim Street Classic high school wrestling tournament.
Havre, the five-time defending champion of the Montana Class A wrestling, pulled off a late blitz to rally for a 31-28 win over Flathead, which is the reigning state champion in Class AA.
The Blue Ponies’ win also marked their fifth straight title and their eighth overall in the Butte showcase tourney. All have come with Scott Filius as the head coach.
The Braves led Havre 25-9 with only five bouts left to wrestle. The Blue Ponies began their comeback with a pin by Cameron Pleninger over 2016 state runner=up Bryce Shaffer at 113 pounds. Shaffer built a 4-0 lead through two periods before Pleninger caught him for the pin.
Flathead interrupted the rally with a 3-1 win by Dominic Battello over reigning state A champ Qhin Reno.
So, the Blue Ponies faced a 28-15 deficit with three bouts left. They swept with big wins — two pins and a major decision. Marc Ramirez was dominant for Havre at 126 pounds and finished off his day with a 3:28 fall. It brought Havre back to within 28-21.
The 132-plound bout was all Ryan Stewart. He took a 2-0 lead on a takedown in the first period and enlarged it to 5-0 in the second before scoring the 3:35 pin that squeezed the margin down to 28-27.
Flathead had the one-point edge going into the meet’s last match, the 138-pound tussle. Lane Paulson scored a takedown and held the grip to work into a 3-point near-fall and a 5-0 command through the opening frame. He escaped off the bottom and nailed another takedown to advance the lead to 8-0 after two periods. He added a third-period takedown. A.J. Ekanger broke from Stewart’s control late, but it was too latel. The last ticks blinked from the clock to the 10-1 Stewart win as the Blue Ponies triumphed.
The Braves built their early advantage on a pin by Garrett Rieke at 160 pounds, decisions by Payton Hume at 170 and Tucker Nadeau at 205, a major decision by heavyweight Alex Paull and on a Havre forfeit at 182.