BHS wrestles way to first league title
In a busy two-day stretch, the Baldwin High School wrestling team captured its first ever Frontier League dual title and also finished third in the 10-team league tournament.
On Thursday, BHS hosted its final duals of the season, a league triangular with Paola and Eudora. BHS went into the duals with a perfect 7-0 record in league, hoping to win both matches and acquire the first-ever-outright league title.
It wasn't going to be easy for the Bulldogs as they squared off with perennial league power Paola in their first match. Paola had won the league title for the past five years and had shared the title with BHS in 2003. The Bulldogs had lost to the Panthers that year and were looking for redemption.
The match had gone back and forth throughout the various weight classes, but fittingly on Senior Night, BHS called on its all-time wins leader to permanently turn the tide in the Bulldog's favor.
In a battle of two of Kansas's top wrestlers, BHS senior Kyle Flory, last year's state champion at 171 pounds in Class 4A, went up against Class 5A's two-time defending state champion, senior standout Nathan Payne. Payne held on to a one-point advantage until 30 seconds left in the match, when Flory scored a two-point maneuver to secure the win, 3-2.
From there, the momentum was in the Bulldogs favor, and once Paola could only win on a decision at 189 pounds, the victory was clinched for BHS. The final count was 33-28.
"It was an exciting feeling to finally get them," coach Kit Harris said. "And to do it in front of our home crowd on Senior Night added to that."
Certainly the match was especially sweet for seniors Flory, Derek Lang, Adam Canterbury and Kepler Robbins who wrestled for their final time on the Baldwin home mats. Senior managers Nichole Charles, Julie Eddy and Leah Hoelscher were also acknowledged in the ceremony.
BHS had to quickly put aside the emotion of finally beating Paola and turn its attention to Eudora. If BHS did not dispatch the young, but tough Cardinals, BHS would have to share their league title with Spring Hill.
"We wanted to make sure we didn't overlook them," Harris said. "In sports, any athlete will tell you that if you get over confident, that is when it is easy to fall flat on your face."
That didn't happen. The lure of an outright league title was too much for BHS. The Bulldogs quickly disposed of Eudora 63-15 to take the title, go 9-0 in league duals, and improve their overall dual record to 15-5.
But BHS didn't have too much time to rejoice in its championship. On Saturday, the Bulldogs traveled to Gardner to take part in the league tournament.
BHS fared well as the Bulldogs had two individual champions, Lang at 160 pounds, and Flory, who again edged Payne, in the 171-pound weight class. The Bulldogs also had two second-place finishers, sophomore Mark Jehle (103) and junior Joe Bonner (119); three third-place finishers, sophomore Matt James (125), junior Josh Kohn (130), and Canterbury (275); and two fourth-place finishers, sophomore Josiah Mason (145) and junior Brandon Cone (215).
Unfortunately for BHS, that was not enough to match the success of its dual results and the Bulldogs took third in the tournament. This time, BHS was beaten by Paola as the Panthers took this title with 195.5 points. They were followed in the scoring by Spring Hill (184.5), Baldwin (160.5), Osawatomie (147), Anderson County (110), Gardner-Edgerton (104), Louisburg (93.5), Prairie View (75), Eudora (71), and Wellsville (37).
Harris explained why his team's results varied so much in the two different competitive formats.
"We perform consistently in most all aspects of competition. But in tournaments about 5-7 'All-Stars' are needed to score finals points, and that is what wins a tournament," he said. "We have typically only had about one to two of those type of kids every year. In a tournament, an 'all star' can be worth 25 points, in a dual, he can only be worth six."
So what is the official league title, the duals or the tournament?
"The Frontier League recognizes the dual champion as the official champion currently," Harris said.
Although that is good for BHS, this will be the last year of the duals crowing the champion. With the addition of at least three extra teams, the Frontier League Champion will be decided at the league tournament, which is bad news for the Bulldogs.
"That is the best thing to do scheduling-wise, but it does not benefit us," Harris said. "We are a better dual team because of our depth and overall team lineup strength top to bottom."
The Frontier League Champion Bulldogs will next be at Hiawatha Friday and Saturday for regional action. The top four in each weight class will then qualify for state.