Havre Daily News sports editor
BILLINGS - Saturday morning didn't go very well for the Havre High wrestling team at the all-class wrestling tournament in Billings. The Blue Ponies lost six out of their 10 semifinal matches, which ended any chances of Havre capturing a Class A championship.
But on Saturday night, HHS juniors Evan Hinebauch and Matt Schnittgen made sure that all was not lost, or forgotten. Both wrestlers breezed into Saturday night's championship round, and when the dust settled both were able to call themselves two-time state champions.
Hinebauch's state tournament was a blur up until the final. He pinned his first three opponents in a total of 3:58.
If you blinked you would have missed it.
But Hinebauch was on a mission of greater importance than just dominating the field and scoring maximum points for his team.
Hinebauch's dream of an undefeated season went by the wayside three weeks ago in Lewistown when he lost a 6-5 decision to Libby's Jake Spencer at the Class A Duals. So, on Saturday night, there was only one wrestler Hinebauch wanted to see across the mat from him in the 171-pound final.
“He is a big, strong 171-pounder,” Hinebauch said. “It was tough to swallow that loss to him in Lewistown. But I was confident tonight and I wanted to win this for my team and for myself.”
Although it wasn't easy, Hinebauch did everything he set out to do against Spencer in the finals. The score was tied at 2-2 heading into the third period. Hinebauch then pulled ahead with an escape and an emphatic takedown with 1:22 remaining in the match. But Spencer fought back and took Hinebauch down to pull within one point with 33 seconds left.
To make matters even more tense, the powerful Spencer rolled Hinebauch onto his back, coming amazingly close to earning a pinfall that would have ended Hinebauch's run. But the equally strong Hinebauch never let either shoulder touch the mat, which meant no back points were awarded to Spencer and eventually time ran out.
“I had to fight and squirm like I never have before,” Hinebauch said. “I just did anything I could to keep my shoulders from touching the mat until I finally got out of it.”
The 5-4 win was widely considered one of the most exciting matches of the night, not just in Class A but in the entire tournament.
“Those were two great wrestlers just going at it,” HHS head coach Scott Filius said. “Evan has been so solid all season and Jake Spencer is a very good wrestler. But Evan is as mentally tough as anyone I have ever been around and he found a way to get it done. It was amazing to watch and he is a very special wrestler.”
Said Hinebauch: “This was very special. I was out to get some revenge, but I was also wanted to do this for my whole team. We have worked so hard this season and with what happened to us in the semifinals, I just wanted to go out and get this win for our whole team.”
Not long after Hinebauch and Spencer wowed the Metra crowd of just over 9,000, Schnittgen put the finishing touches on a season of dominance that few have equaled.
Like Hinebauch, Schnittgen breezed into the finals with two easy pins. In the heavyweight championship against Polson's Andy Jones, Schnittgen erased any doubt about who the top heavyweight in Montana has been over the last two seasons.
Jones managed to stay out of Schnittgen's grasp for the first period, but just seconds into the second frame, Schnittgen dropped Jones on his back and finished his season off in the only way befitting a wrestler of his caliber - with a pin.
The win was Schnittgen's second straight at 275 pounds and it capped off a rare perfect season. What makes Schnittgen's season even more impressive is the fact that he was not taken down all season.
“Matt is the hardest-working big guy I have ever coached,” Filius said. “He is one of those guys who just has a strong desire to get better no matter how well he is already wrestling.
“He just had a season that most people won't understand how great it truly was,” he added. “To go up against some of the big guys he did this year and to not get taken taken down even once, that is pretty special. I am just really happy for both Matt and Evan. They both went out and earned everything this year and nothing was handed to them.”