Team falls half point short to relinquish class A wrestling title to Corvallis
By Harvey Brock
The Blue Pony wrestling team missed winning back-to-back state championships by the slimmest of margins Saturday night. The Blue Devils of Corvallis nipped the Ponies 160.5 to 160 for Havre at the Metra Park in Billings.
The Blue Ponies led all teams at the tournament with four state champions. The Polson Pirates with 158 points joined the Blue Devils and the Ponies to provide the closest three-team race in recent history.
Beginning on Day One, those teams established that the team crown would come from one of the three. Corvallis (85.5) led Polson (82) and Havre (69) after the first day.
Following the morning rounds on Saturday, and heading in to the semi-finals, Havre and Polson held the top spot with 142 points each, with Corvallis a mere 12 points behind.
Havre coach Scott Filius said he was pleased with his team's effort and position at that point.
"We have three guys qualified for the semis and four qualified for the finals. There is a long way to go, but we should be there at the end," he said.
Polson used the semi-finals to take a 7-point lead over Corvallis and a 16-point lead over Havre prior to the finals. Polson, however, had only 98-pounder Kane Zetterberg qualified for the finals. Corvallis had two-time defending state champion Justin Davis at 119 pounds and 145-pound Chance Brawley in the finals. Havre had qualified four wrestlers: Jeff Hedges, 105 pounds; Chad Hedges, 130 pounds; K.P. Fisher, 156 pounds; and Garrett Hanson, 171 pounds. The race came down to the finals, with Polson, Corvallis, and Havre needing their finalists to all win and the others to lose matches.
Polson's lone finalist, Zetterberg, was pinned in the opening match, opening a slim door for Havre and Corvallis. Next up, Havre started taking care of what it could control when sophomore Jeff Hedges pinned Jeryd Richman of Anaconda with 22 seconds left in the match.
Hedges, who finished the year with a 35-4 record, won the Quick Pin award for the A division at state. He controlled his match from the outset.
Bidding for his first state championship, he had built a 14-2 lead after two periods. But he was thinking only about the team.
"I knew we needed the team points. If I let him up, it would be a technical fall and only 5 team points," he said. "I didn't know if I was going to get it or not. I was awful tired, but I figured it was the last match of the year and I had to give it my all."
Justin Davis of Corvallis won his third state championship of his career with a 6-3 decision over Ben Schaefer of Columbia Falls. His win at 119 pounds put more pressure on the rest of the Pony finalists.
Havre senior Chad Hedges joined his brother Jeff as a state champion, winning a 5-2 decision over Curt Coates of Hamilton. The third time was the charm for Chad, who had made it to the finals twice before Saturday's final. Hedges scored three points in the final period for the win, and finished the year with a 39-1 record. Chad felt a little extra pressure going into the finals.
"We were all a little tight heading into the finals," he said. "The team race is too close to call, and we need the team points."
Chad was pleased with his victory, and joining his brother made it all the sweeter.
"Winning a state championship is great," he said. "Having your brother win one the same year is awesome."
Corvallis' Chance Brawley's pin of Libby's Josh Erickson at 145 pounds added more pressure for a race too close to call. Battling a cut under his left eye, 152-pound Havre senior K.P Fisher won a 6-2 decision over James Byrd of Columbia Falls. Saturday night's victory culminated a career that featured four trips to the state tournament, including a runner-up finish last year. Fisher finished the year with a 39-5 record, and also joined a state champion brother. His brother, Montana State University-Northern wrestler Kyle Fisher, was a former two-time Montana state champion at Havre. After receiving his medal, all Fisher wanted to talk about was his team's effort.
"This tourney was all about guts," he said. "Our guys stayed solid through the semis, wrestlebacks and the whole tournament."
Senior 171-pound Garrett Hanson's match provided the most drama of Havre's four finalists. Trailing 3-0 at the end of the second period, Hanson remained confident.
"I knew I had to step it up for the team," he said.
Hanson rallied to score all his points in the final 15 seconds for a 4-3 decision over Lewistown's Chris Scotten. This was Hanson's third trip to the state tournament and the fourth time he and Scotten had wrestled this season, with Hanson winning all four en route to a 39-3 season record. His thoughts afterward were of the team.
"The team wrestled hard," he said. "Some guys lost some matches earlier that we could have won, but having four state champions is great."
Joining the four state champions were sophomore Kevin Velk, 98 pounds, and seniors Jacob Szudera at 130 pounds and heavyweight Mike Schnittgen, who each placed fourth at state.
After the points were totaled, Havre found that even with the team's impressive finals they came up a half point short. Filius refused to talk about what-ifs after the tournament, and focused on the kids.
"We had great individual efforts from our kids," he said. "There were a lot of matches and points that could have gone either way. Our kids wrestled hard all year long. This team has a great group of seniors. We just came up a half a point short. Corvallis did a hell of a job."