All season long the Havre High wrestling program was picked as second best. The Belgrade Panthers almost dethroned the Blue Ponies a year ago, and it was thought that it was finally their time to shine in the Central A.
But the Havre High grapplers had different plans.
Saturday at the Havre High gymnasium in Havre, the Ponies pushed their Central A championship streak to nine straight. And on the backs of seven individual champions, the Ponies big-time names stepped up in big time matches.
HHS earned 280.5 points and the Central A title. The Panthers finished second with 263.
Havre had eight wrestlers earn their way into the championship round. Freshman Nate Kennelley (105) finished in second place, but the Ponies earned a total of seven No. 1 finishers on Saturday. The seven individual titles were key in the Ponies' team win as well, as they trailed Belgrade by 20 at one point in the afternoon.
Sophomore Gilbert Bara (112), senior Duell Stadel (119), junior Dillon Seely (135), junior Eli Hinebauch (145), junior Kameron Pribyl (152), junior Casey Schaub (171) and senior Josh Salapich (215) all emerged as Central A champions this weekend.
“I am still just trying to grasp that it’s a reality right now,” Salapich said. “Winning that was the best feeling ever, hearing the crowd go wild, I really don’t even know how to explain it.”
Salapich had an outstanding tournament. He went 3-0 on his way to a title and was the only grappler to finish with three pins. Salapich pinned Livingston’s Sam Bennin in 36 seconds, Havre’s Dustin Odegard in 2:36 and Belgrade's Austin Reyher in 3:16. Salapich also earned the tournament's quick pin award.
Facing Reyher in the championship round, Salapich fell behind early 4-2. And trailing 7-3 late in the second period, Salapich overcame a near fall with a reversal and fall of his own.
“Salapich had a great tournament,” Havre High head coach Scott Filius said. “He wrestled that kid (Reyher), I want to say four times and we’ve never beat him. He has been getting closer and this time he really kept the heat on, but Josh (Salapich) handled it and that was the difference.”
Bara, Stadel, Hinebauch and Schaub were all in smaller brackets, but shined when they finally got the chance to wrestle.
Bara had a first round bye, but dominated Lewistown’s Trei Bulluck with a 16-0 technical fall in the championships. And Stadel, he too got a first round bye, but then earned an 8-4 decision in the final against Belgrade defending state champ Bryce Weatherston.
And Hinebauch defeated Lewistown’s Jacob Stanford with a fall in the first round, and later defeated one of the better wrestlers in the state in Lewistown’s Rex Martin in the championships. Hinebauch fell behind 2-0 early, but chipped away at Martin. Hinebauch grabbed one point escape at the end of the first period and grabbed another in the third to tie the match at 2-2. And with 1:18 left in the match, Hinebauch earned a point for Martin stalling, and was able to hold on for the win.
Schaub first defeated Lewistown’s Bill Thompson with a fall in 1:21, and then defeated Belgrade’s Justin Ricker with another fall. This time Schaub earned the win in just 54 seconds.
Seely and Pribyl both went 3-0 as they grabbed individual titles.
Seely earned a first round bye but ran into a tough Dylan Kelly from Lewistown in the semifinals. Seely came away victorious, earning a fall in 3:10 and advanced to the finals. And in the finals, Seely earned a 13-6 decision over Belgrade’s Keaton Sterling. Sterling took a 4-1 lead, but Seely turned the tables heading into the second round. After a reversal, Seely trailed 4-3, but in the second round he quickly took the 5-4 lead with another reversal. From there on, Seely gained some separation with two near falls, an escape and a take down.
Pribyl took down Havre freshman Jacob Williams in the first round with a fall and later dismantled Livingston's Jordan Tillett with a 10-1 major decision. And in the championship round, Pribyl pinned Belgrade’s Colter Devers in 1:28. Pribyl started the match with a takedown and that was all it took.
For Salapich and Stadel, the individual championships, as well as the team title may have meant just a bit more. Both are senior wrestlers and have had a career filled with accomplishments. And being a part of the Ponies' ninth straight Central A title meant their fourth straight.
“Four years in a row,” Salapich said. “You can’t really do any better than that. It’s just the perfect ending to a career and the best feeling right now.”
Having eight wrestlers in the finals and grabbing seven individual championships was huge for the Ponies. They have sort of fallen in the Panthers shadows this season, but proved they are still the Ponies of old and can’t be written off just yet. And though HHS will also send 17 total kids to the state tournament, they know they still have some work to do before grabbing their fifth straight Class A state championship.
“I think we are sitting in really good position (for state),” Hinebauch said. “Especially after a big win like this. But we still have to go back to work; it’s not over until the end.”
The Ponies will travel to Butte this weekend where they will compete in the Class A state wrestling tournament Friday and Saturday.