By Bruce Sayler
BILLINGS — The brrrrr factor invaded Billings Saturday with subzero temperatures and frosty winds. It wasn’t a friendly welcome to state high school wrestling tournament fans.
Still, they saw the 2019 version of an always a good show at The Metra.
For Butte High, it was a day of plummets and leaps in its Class AA endeavors. A wreckage of a semifinal and consolation round in the morning left the Bulldogs’ trophy hopes piled in a heap, but there was still the shine to bask in of a state champion individual and four other place-winners. (Brackets)
Junior Kameron Moreno won the 205-pound championship to cap what turned out to be a sixth-place finish by the Butte High team. Senior 160-pounder Carl Anderson wound up a runner-up. Both improved on their state tournament finishes of a year ago when Anderson battled through the consolation bracket for a third-place medal and Moreno took a sixth.
Bozeman won this year’s team title with 260 ½ points, easily ahead of second-place Great Falls HIgh, which scored 197 ½. The third-place trophy wound up in the hands of Billings Senior, 179 points. Butte High was sixth with 130, in back of Missoula Big Sky’s fourth-place 143 and fifth-place Billings West’s 135. Two-time defending champion had 116 points for seventh place while being unseated.
Five Bulldogs earned placings — sophomore 103-pounder Keagan Gransbery a third while seniors Wil Queer at 113 pounds and Kole McGrath at 182 both placed fourth. The team suffered some near-misses with junior 103-pounder Christian Sherman, junior 126-pounder Scout Allen, junior 170-pounder Quinn Sullivan and senior 285-pound limit contestant Kyle Harding each coming up just a win short of reaching the podium.
“We lost a lot of close matches, close matches we never were able to turn into wins,” Butte High head coach Cory Johnston said. “In the state tournament, you have to come ready for both days.”
The morning round saw Butte High go 2-3 in the semifinal round and 0-4 in the loser-out wrestlebacks. The top-seeded Gransbery fell 11-3 to Colton Martello of Great Falls C.M. Russell, then Queer lost a 9-2 decision to defending champion Alejandro Madrid of Billings Senior.
Anderson and Big Sky’s Jeff Rebish were tied 1-all through two periods and most of the third before Anderson scored a takedown with two ticks left on the clock to snare his berth in the championship round.
Brenner Bushfield of Billings Skyview grabbed a 2-0 lead on McGrath and went on to score a pin in 2:54. Moreno also endured a rugged test, having to hold off a surging Zane McCormick of Helena High 7-5 while feeling his energy tank empty.
Both Madrid and Bushfield wound up with seconds in the field, and Martello prevailed at 103 for the championship.
Gransbery, Queer and McGrath rebounded well, coming back for wins in the consolation semifinals.
“The kids responded well,” Johnston said. “This is a stepping stone for next year, I hope. It’s all in the process of development.”
So, it wasn’t until Moreno’s victory for championship that the team’s smiles actually returned.
“It was a good finish,” Johnston said. “It wasn’t the day we wanted, but it was a good finish for him.”
Moreno needed the win to maybe stay out of his coaches’ doghouse. He used a non-preferred move.
Moreno went to Plan B to spin behind McCade O’Reilly and grab a takedown and 2-0 lead after the Bozeman wrestler repeatedly blocked the Bulldog’s signature double. O’Reilly got an escape and it was a 2-1 Moreno lead after one period. Moreno started from the down position in the second period and scored the reversal on a move he got away with leading to a pinning combination and victory in 2:44.
“My coaches call it the fatman roll and I’ve been doing it my whole life,” Moreno said. “They don’t want me doing it. But, that’s what I do.”
The risky move exposes the wrestler’s back to the mat and leaves him susceptible to self-pinning or seemingly invites a counter that would put him in pinning position.
Moreno, finishing a 35-4 season, said he wasn’t familiar with the strengths and tendencies of O’Reilly, who had wrestled only eight bouts before the state tournament. However, like in the bout with McCormick, Moreno had to combat the blocking of his regular takedown.
“I’d been doing it all year and I couldn’t get into it the last couple of days,” Moreno said. “I need to set it up a lot better.”
Moreno’s twin brother, Kobe, was a place-winner at State last year, but missed this season recovering from an ACL injury suffered in the season-opening football game last fall.
Kameron Moreno said he’s anxious for the brothers act to reappear in Butte High athletics next year.
“It sucks that Kobe didn’t get to wrestle this year,” he said.
The Moreno win helped, a little anyway, soothe the heartbreak of Anderson’s loss. Anderson had been wrestling as well as any Bulldog through the tournament, but was caught off the whistle by Helena High standout Devin Crawford. The takedown was registered in 17 seconds and Crawford used the position to roll Anderson over onto his back, then applied pressure from a side-by-side spot for a 59-second pin.
“I wasn’t prepared,” a dejected Anderson said after accepting his runner-up medal. “He’s a good wrestler. He was more prepared and he’s a better competitor than me.”
Admitting disappointment, Anderson also credited Crawford for Helenan’s victory while accepting the blame for the loss himself. He said he allowed himself to be distracted, too.
“All the lights and people got to be a little bit,” he said. “I was not as focused as I should have been.”
Anderson said he has received some preliminary college about his wrestling potential.
“I’ll just have to see if it takes hold,” he said.
Johnston and Moreno both said work on next year’s team will begin immediately.
“We will lose some standouts and leadership (with the seniors’ graduation),” Johnston said. “But, we have a great foundation. We’ll get a couple guys back from injuries next year and we have some good middle school prospects coming up to fill in the holes.”
He again paid tribute to the Butte High fans.
“Thanks again to the fans who drove down,” he said. “Our fan section was dramatically bigger than anyone’s. They rose to the rafters. Sixth place is not what we wanted, but we’re working on getting some gold trophies here real soon.”
Defending team champions in the other enrollment classes repeated with Sidney winning in Class A, Colstrip in B and Circle in C. Sidney scored a Class A record 310 ½ points to dominate the A as Havre was second with 170. Dillon wrestlers Cooper Hoffman, 160 pounds, and Noah Huffaker, 103, both placed second. Luke Huffaker, 126, placed fifth.
Connor Johnson of Whitehall won the state title at 132 pounds in Class B-C. Leo Anderson of Boulder was fourth at 113, and Mike Wilkinson of Whitehall fifth at 132.