By Bruce Sayler
Polson liked its chances with a contingent in three Pirates qualified for the championship round of the Western A Divisional high school wrestling tournament Saturday.
Both Hunter Fritsch and Logan Wenzel delivered victories and R.J. Pierre gave a needed effort, and Polson eked out a one-point win over pre-tourney favorite in the Maroon Activities Center. The Pirates finished with 221 points, Frenchtown with 220 and Columbia Falls was third with 169 ½. Fritsch Dillon placed eighth in the 11-team field with 108 points. Injuries prevented host Butte Central from having any wrestlers healthy enough to compete in the meet.
“If I had to put it in the hands of anybody, it would be the three kids in the finals,” Polson head coach Matt Owen said. “The one who didn’t win helped win it for us because of the way he went out and scrapped.”
Fritsch began the championship round on a most positive note for the Pirates as he pinned rival 170-pounder Ryan Running Crane of Browning in 36 seconds. It was one of the falls that brought Fritsch the tournament’s Jug Beck Quick Pin Award.
Pierre, at 113 pounds, took the mat against Frenchtown opponent Walker Dyer with the Broncs seeking a pin to pull ahead. Pierre was in trouble most of the bout, but toughed it out to go the distance and ended up losing a 14-1 major decision.
Wenzel nailed the title down with a 1:48 pin over Libby’s Hunter Hoover, a promising freshman, at 152 pounds. Only one match was left to finish and neither defending champion Frenchtown or Polson had anyone wrestling in it.
Owen said the team race was tight throughout the day and he and the Pirates were paying attention. So were the Frenchtown Broncs, and the fans from both teams. The trackwrestling Web site now allows for such.
“We were watching the team scores and it was back-and-forth all day long,” Owen said. “So, the intensity just kept building. Everybody knew about it match to match.”
Frenchtown challenged points when a Browning wrestler was unable to make weight and left a spot in his bracket open. The Frenchtown wrestler paired against him was unable to earn advancement or bout points because of the forfeit. Frenchtown argued that since the Browning wrestler’s absence created an eight-man field, the bracket should have been redrawn with any byes or forfeits eliminated.
A ruling from Montana High School Association headquarters was requested and the bracket stayed as was, tournament director Chad Petersen confirmed.
Frenchtown divisional championships were won by Dyer and two-time state champion Jake Bibler. One of the marquee matchups of the day pitted Bibler against Dickinson State recruit Buddy Doolin of Libby at 120 pounds. Bibler, a junior, stacked points on a takedown in the first period, an escape and takedown in the second period and a two-point near-fall to build a 7-0 command on the way to his 9-2 decision.
Both Dillon wrestlers who reached the finals captured championships. Freshman 103-pounder Noah Huffacker scored a 9-2 decision over Landen Stewart of Frenchtown, and junior 160-pounder Cooper Hoffman stuck Stevensville’s Kyler Pancake two seconds before the end of the first period.
The other weight-class championships were won by Dante Venema of Corvallis at 126 pounds, Michael Golden of Hamilton at 132, Dakota Flannery of Whitefish at 138, Trey Thompson of Libby at 145, Colten McPhee of Columbia Falls at 182, Justin May of Ronan at 205 and Wacey Zuback of Browning in the 285-pound limit class.
The top eight wrestlers in each weight class earned berths in next weekend’s state Class A tournament at The Metra arena in Billings.
“There are always spots where we want to improve,” Owen said. “But, we went out and wrestled hard today. I think we set ourselves up to make a run at State.”
The Pirates qualified 15 wrestlers for the state tourney.
“We’d like to have all 17 qualified, but 15 is a good number,” the coach said. “There were not really any surprises for us. I felt we were out there competing all day long today. The higher seeds we got are a bonus we can roll right into State and set ourselves up right.”
Complete results can be found at trackwrestling.com.