Seven BHS grapplers to state
It was a second-place regional tournament finish for the Baldwin High School wrestling team at Burlington Saturday, although it should have been first. Regardless, the Bulldogs qualified a record-breaking seven grapplers for the Class 4A State Tournament in Wichita.
Officially, Abilene won the Class 4A regional with 151 points to Baldwin High's 144. But coach Kit Harris learned from the tournament director Monday that an Abilene wrestler got in a fight in one of his matches and should have been disqualified. That didn't happen, so BHS wound up second.
But, more importantly, the Bulldogs qualified a record seven wrestlers for the state tourney Friday and Saturday. The old record was six, set in 1987 and duplicated in 1989.
It's state that Harris and his squad have their sights set firmly on now.
"We're not satisfied with anything yet," said Harris. "We're determined to see how we can do in Wichita. We'll accept our finish wherever it is because I know these young warriors will compete hard and that is the only thing that can ever be asked of a high school athlete. These kids are winners and I'm proud to be a part of their team."
BHS claimed three championship matches at regionals, too senior Witt Hinton at 275 pounds, junior Dan Hamilton at 215 and sophomore Kyle Flory at 171. Senior Adam Halford qualified with a third-place finish at 160. Finishing fourth were freshmen Joe Bonner at 103, sophomore Derek Lang at 140 and junior Seth Halford at 189.
"I think that sending seven to state and breaking a school record was an awesome thing to be a part of," said Hinton. "I've enjoyed this whole season with all my wins and losses alike. I hope to accomplish the absolute best I can at state. And win or lose, I'll be happy either way if I can walk off my last year knowing I did everything I could."
It was Hinton's second regional title and he did it with a pair of pins and a 14-2 decision in the championship match.
Hamilton pinned his way through a tough bracket which included two state-ranked wrestlers and a defending state placer. Along the way, Hamilton tied the school record for pins in a season with 23, set by Luke Lang in 1999.
"Dan is a pinning machine," said Harris. "He's getting more confident the more success he had. He and Witt really work hard in the practice room. During technique sessions they think their way through technique problems they may be having and seek out answers. They strive to improve. And when it comes to live sessions, they flat out get after it and really push each other."
Flory was dominating with a 19-3 win over his Fort Scott opponent, ranked second in the state, on his way to the title. Flory improve his record-breaking season mark to 39-4 with the win. The old record for wins was held jointly by Jay Harris (34-0 in 1987) and Hinton (34-10 in 2001). He has also broken the record for match points set by Jay Harris in '87.
"Kyle is looking very tough right now," said coach Harris. "If he continues his relentless style of wrestling, I think he can do well at the state tournament."
A. Halford's third-place showing was a highlight for Harris, who lauded him for picking up some all-important team points with his pin in the consolation finals on the way to the second-place team finish.
"I was very happy to see Adam qualify for Wichita because he came so close last year and he really trained for it this year. He put in a lot of off-season time," said Harris. "He gave a championship performance this weekend, hitting moves hard and looking sharp from every position. He has been a tremendous team leader for us."
Harris was also pleased with his fourth-place finishers. Bonner defeated Spring Hill's Max Hudgins 9-4 to advance to the state qualifying round. Hudgins had beaten Bonner three times this season.
"That shows how hard he has worked throughout the year at improving," said Harris. "Joe took it to him. I think he turned him three times. Coach (Steve) Pierce has worked a lot with Joe this year and has helped his positioning. Joe is an exciting freshman to watch wrestler. He's a go-getter."
"My Spring Hill opponent had beaten me three previous times, so I stepped up my game and came out victorious when it really counted," said Bonner.
Lang's effort was also a highlight for Harris. Lang scored a second-period fall over a returning state place and the No. 3 ranked wrestler in the state in Matt Shields from Chanute to qualify for state.
"That was a huge win against a big favorite to place high at state," he said. "Derek is a pretty laid-back kid and that was definitely as excited as I have ever seen him after he won that match. I'm really happy for him because he worked very hard to drop a weight class to accomplish his goal."
S. Halford also gained the coach's praise for his surprising finish. He came into regionals unseeded with a 9-27 record and proceeded to knock off the No. 8, 5 and 3 seeded wrestlers to qualify for state.
"Seth has had a frustrating year. Every meet we went to he had tough brackets, which explains his record," said Harris. "But he just kept on plugging away. We told him to just 'keep on keepin' on.' When an athlete shows perseverance, more often than not things tend to fall in their favor. This is a prime example of that."
"I didn't expect to make it this far, but now that I have I'm really excited about going to state," said S. Halford. "This is my first year going to state and I'm thankful for all my coaches, especially coach (Bobby) Bovaird for helping me in practice every day."
Now the record-setting Bulldogs will focus on the next step. The top BHS team finish was 11th in 1987 when Jay Harris finished first and Russell Lawrence finished fourth.
"We will simply do what we always do: compete, have a good time and see where we end up," said coach Harris. "If we give it the best 'we' that we've got, then wherever we finish is probably about where we belong.
"This tournament is a very exciting high school sporting event and I am happy to take seven young BHS student-athletes down to be a part of it," he said.
The state tournament starts with opening ceremonies at 8:40 a.m. Friday. That's followed by the first round at 9 a.m., championship quarterfinals at 2:30 p.m. and championship semi-finals and first-round consolation at 6:30 p.m.
The tourney picks up at 9 a.m. Saturday with the consolation cross-bracket round; the consolation quarter finals at 11:30 a.m.; consolation semi-finals at 1 p.m.; fifth-place matches at 2:30 p.m.; consolation finals at 3:10 p.m.; parade of champions (all top six placers) at 6:10 p.m.; and the championship finals at 6:30 p.m.