Flathead halts Bulldog run in Duals title match

Flathead halts Bulldog run in Duals title match
Butte High's Kip Pumnea works toward a pin of Missoula Big Sky's Laydence RunningCrane in 132-pound match Saturday morning at the Butte Civic Center. (Bill Foley photo)

By Bruce Sayler 

 A good portion of Montana’s high school wrestling history involves competitions between Butte High ad Kalispell that helped boost the sport into the state spotlight in the 1980s and ‘90s. 

Saturday was a revisit. 

Butte High squared off against Flathead of Kalispell in the championship match of the two-day, 28-team Mining City Street Family Duals tournament completed Saturday night in the Butte Civic Center. Defending state Class AA champion Flathead won, 42-27, for the Braves’ third crown in the tourney, their first since 2009. 

It also marked Butte High’s first appearance in the championship dual meet since 2003. The Bulldogs last won the tourney title in 2002. 

Both teams employ enough youth on their rosters to continue at the top of the game for some time to come. Poise is attached. Butte High gave the championship try a good effort, but the Bulldogs’ drama resources might’ve peaked in the semifinals where they nipped Billings Senior 36-35 at the buzzer. 

Flathead’s win broke a two-year hold of the Duals throne by Great Falls High. 

 “I knew It would be a grind,” Butte High head coach Cory Johnston said about the seven dual meets, all against Class AA varsities, the Bulldogs wrestled.  

Butte High’s No. 2 team competed in the tourney also, and wrestled five Class AA varsities over the two days, reaching the winners’ bracket, but was unable to place. Billings Senior defeated Billings West 48-27 for third place. Even though the two Butte High teams wrestled only Class AA varsity opposition in the tourney, they had no common opponents. 

“The first weekend, we have to kind of shake the cobwebs off,” Johnston continued. “It was trial by fire and I liked it. We knew we had depth, but we also proved we have a lot of top-tier talent, too. The kids competed so hard.  

“No matter the score, we’re looking to pin, looking to score, looking to be on top, looking to turn an opponent to the mat.” 

Aggressiveness has been a point of emphasis, the coach said, for his team. 

“There’s an old adage in wrestling,” he said. “The kid who takes the first takedown wins the match 80 to 85 per cent of the time. The best way to take the first takedown is to take the first shot.” 

So, the Bulldogs have upped their intensity in being aggressive and physical. 

Bouts started at 113 pounds in the title tilt with Flathead, and the Bulldogs built an early 21-6 lead as all-tourney honoree Kyler Raiha won a 4-2 decision at 120 pounds, brothers Karson and Kip Pumnea scored pins at 126 and 132, and Maverick McEwen posted a fall at 138. 

The Braves got a forfeit to stop the string, then suffered an 8-4 loss to Connor Konda in a grueling match at 152 pounds. Gabe Lake and Anders Thompson chained pins for Flathead to tie the score, then the Braves went ahead on a pin by Noah Poe-Hatten at 182. Mason Christian, the star of Butte High’s narrow semifinal win over Billings Senior, followed up with a 7-2 decision at 205 to keep the Bulldogs’ hopes alive in the final match. 

However, the Braves closed with pins by Chase Youso at 285 and Davin Naldret at 103 to clinch the title. 

“I thought it was an amazing weekend,” Johnston said. “I really liked the fight in our kids. But, you don’t want the first weekend to be your best weekend.” 

The Bulldogs almost didn’t attain the chance to wrestle the Braves for the tournament title. They were behind Billings Senior 35-30 going into the last bout of their semifinal dual meet. It was at 182 pounds. Christian owned a 2-1 edge over the Broncs’ Damien Lave after one period. Lave escaped from the down starting position to tie the score in the second and tallied a takedown for a 4-2 lead. Christian matched him with a reversal, and caught him in a bear hug, stilling him flat on his back long enough to record the pin and the six points needed to pass Billings Senior. 

The Bulldogs’ other pins in the dual were by Reid Whitlock at 103 pounds, Trey Whitlock at 113 and Raiha at 126. Their string of pins pulled Butte High out of a 12-0 deficit. 

Butte High’s early winners’ bracket win over Glacier, 52-15, saw the Bulldogs chalk up pins by Kade Schleeman at the 285-pound limit, Reid Whitlock at 103, Raiha at 120, Karson Pumnea at 126 in a high-scoring match, and Konda at 145. Christian notched a technical fall, 19-4. 

The Bulldogs walloped Missoula Big Sky 61-12 in their first Saturday dual meet as Morgan McClernan, Downey, Christian, both Whitlocks, both Pumneas and Trey Hansen all won by pins. 

The Butte High No. 2 squad collided with a couple of formidable AA varsities.  

The Bulldog seconds lost 45-20 to Billings Skyview after falling 51-24 to Belgrade. Pin winners for Butte versus Skyview were Canyon Mullaney at 113 pounds, Will Stepan at 126 and Bryton Hardesty at 145. The Butte second-unit contestants who scored falls against Belgrade were Stepan at 126 pounds and Cole Worley at 138. 

Johnston said the Bulldogs endured the weekend without, fortunately, suffering any major injuries. 

“Some little things, there’s always something,” he said, noting the fast-approaching holiday break will be good for healing up the wounded. 

Raiha was honored as the 120-pounder on the all-tournament team chosen by a selection committee. Belt buckles were presented by Butte Sports Hall of Fame and legendary wrestling coach Jim Street. Raiha was joined on the honors team by Zach Morse of Billings West at 103 pounds, Keyan Hernandez of Billings West at 113, Carter Schmidt of Belgrade at 126, Idren Peak of Billings Senior at 132, Jesse Aarness of Billings West at 138, Irish Furthmyre of Great Falls High at 145, Gavin McLean of Frenchtown at 152, Drake Rhodes of Billings West at 160, Paolo Salminen of Billings Skyview at 170, Noah Poe-Hatten of Flathead at 182, Brendan Lockart of Great Falls High at 205 and Raven Hensley of Great Falls High at 285. 

Butte High will be at home Tuesday night for a non-conference Class AA dual meet against Belgrade,  then will travel to Gillette, Wyoming, next weekend. Johnston said the Bulldogs are guaranteed 10 dual meets in Gillette. A second Bulldog team, and the Butte High girls’ team, will both be in Great Falls next weekend to compete in the CMR Holiday Classic tournament. 

Mining City Duals complete results can be found at trackwrestling.com.

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