EAST CHICAGO — Most wrestlers were happy just to make it out of Saturday’s East Chicago Semi-State. Not Wawasee wrestlers Braxton Alexander and Geremia Brooks, however.
After cruising through the ticket round in East Chicago, the top five-ranked cousins were on a mission to show they were the best in the field. Mission accomplished.
Alexander and Brooks collected championships at 138 and 132 pounds, respectively, while Braxton’s younger brother Jace earned himself a third-place result at 120 pounds as Wawasee qualified three for next weekend’s state finals in Indianapolis.
“We came in with the mentality of not just making it to state but the mentality of winning. Achieving that goal was a big step, so it’s a pretty great feeling,” said Brooks.
“With these two guys, it was a very different mindset. It wasn’t ‘Let’s be state qualifiers.’ It was ‘This is another tournament, let’s go win it,’” echoed Wawasee coach Frank Bumgardner. “They put up big points all day. I don’t know how many points exactly ‘Mia put up, but I’m guessing it was about 60 points. At the semi-state in four matches, that’s a ton of points. And Braxton was extremely dominant all day. He kind of got a little banged up last week at the regional and a little slow start to the day, but after that he just started rolling. It’s pretty special to have them being in the middle of the resurgence of the program and leading the charge.”
Brooks in fact put up a grand total of 74 points throughout Saturday’s semi-state tilt, tech falling his first two opponents by margins of 22-7 and 20-3, then earning a 20-6 major decision over Portage’s Ricky Hegedus in the semifinal round. The senior 32-pounder survived an early slam by Hammond Morton’s Reese Rodriguez in the finals, then turned it on en route to a 12-6 decision and the championship.
“I started out fine, got into a shot real quick, and I wasn’t expecting him to sit out but he sat out. I thought we went out of bounds, but I guess we didn’t and he lifted me and slammed me on my head, which bothered me because I don’t like getting slammed,” recalled Brooks of his championship match. “Then I sort of went into attack mode, and I just stayed pressuring on him like I’ve been doing all day. Just high-scoring points like crazy, and it gets the job done.”
Braxton got the job done a little differently at 138 pounds, out-pointing two of his opponents but sticking two others on the way to the title.
He got off to a bit of a slow start with a 5-0 decision in the opening round, then qualified for state with a 3:35 pinfall of Portage’s Tyler Herring. That alone was redemption for Braxton, who took a nasty spill on his head and was injury-timed out of last year’s ticket round opposite another Portage wrestler, Colin Poynter. Braxton rolled after Saturday’s quarterfinal, tech falling Lafayette Jeff’s Cameron Worley to make the finals, then pinning West Lafayette’s A.J. Poindexter in the first period of their title bout.
“There was a mental block in my ticket round. It was on the same mat, same area, same school that I was wrestling. After my match, I just felt really good to get past that, and I felt like some weight was lifted off my shoulders,” explained Braxton.
“It feels great. I think I really set myself up good for the state draw, and that’s what I came here to do.”
While Braxton earned himself a trip back to state after his first go-round in 2017, younger brother Jace earned his second straight state berth Saturday.
After bumping up from 106 as a freshman to 120 pounds this year, the Wawasee sophomore needed an adjustment period to get used to his new weight but has come on strong at the right time. On Saturday he punched his ticket to state via 6-2 decision over McCutcheon’s Tyler Brubaker in the quarterfinals before losing a major decision to eventual East Chicago champ Riley Bettich of Crown Point, then bouncing back with an early second-period reversal of Portage’s Ty Haskins in the consolation final, sticking him on his back at the 2:05 mark.
“I cannot be more proud of the way Jace has progressed throughout this season,” Bumgardner said. “He was sick — had pneumonia — at the beginning of the year, and it showed in a couple matches and a lot of performances. He’s starting to get healthy now. I think the weight was a little bit of an adjustment, but it was more of an adjustment to his body continuing to grow — what works at this weight, what doesn’t. But just the way he’s continually progressed and in the mindset where he’s not getting flustered — he takes a loss as an opportunity to get better — it really is phenomenal for a sophomore. There hasn’t been a lot of additional coaching in that. It’s a lot of that internal composure that he has, and it’s a lot of maturity for a young kid.”
In total, Wawasee brought nine wrestlers to Saturday’s semi-state tournament, but only the Alexanders and Brooks advanced to the final round of the state series next Friday and Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Damien Rodriguez and Isiah Faurote both lost their openers at 195 and 152, respectively, while Dylan Tom (106), Garrett Stuckman (145), Alex Castro (182) and Hagaen Slusher (285) all made it to the tourney’s ticket round before coming up a little short. Castro’s quarterfinal loss was an especially bitter pill as he led LaPorte’s Noah Perez by a 3-1 margin in the final period before a scramble left him on his back and gave Perez the pinfall with just 35 seconds remaining in the match.
“That was a war. That was a very physical match,” said Bumgardner of Castro’s quarterfinal. “A lot of physicality on their feet. If you see him right now, he’s all banged up, his face is black and blue and everything. I give credit to the LaPorte kid. He really wrestled hard from underneath and just kept going and going and going until he got us in a bad spot. I thought Alex did a great job of holding his composure in that match with the physicality. He’s had an extremely tough schedule this year. The guys that he’s wrestled, he’s got — I don’t know — 10 losses or something, and 10 of them are to top 10 guys. He’s wrestled an extremely tough schedule, and everyone he wrestled was extremely tough. I thought he was good enough to get to the state level and be at least a qualifier if not a placer. But we give credit to that kid, too. He wrestled hard; he deserves the opportunity to go. Sometimes we just don’t get what’s coming to us — we don’t get what we earned.”
Also at East Chicago, a trio of Warsaw wrestlers closed out their seasons Saturday.
Brandon Estepp lost his 160-pound opener with Lowell’s Abel Verbeek, while Jacob Bass and Jose Grimmett both lost in the quarterfinals. Grimmet was pinned by Chesterton 52-pounder Brock Ellis midway through the second period, while Bass hung tough with tournament 1 seed Jake Burford of Crown Point but succumbed via 13-4 major decision.
For Tippecanoe Valley, Drake Montelongo lost on a last-second pinfall to Lake Station’s Andres Russi in their 113-pound opening match, while Branson McBrier — a late injury replacement — lost by tech fall to McCutcheon’s Evan Burge in the first round at 126.
Triton’s James Snyder won his 95-pound opener via forfeit but suffered a 5-2 decision loss to Crown Point’s Ethan Potosky in the quarterfinals, meanwhile.
“We felt like we prepared very well this past week for him to make another strong run at winning a semi-state title. In the end, one mistake midway through the match gave his opponent four points, and that ultimately cost James,” explained Triton coach Matt Arvesen. “At that level, in that caliber of a match, you can’t afford to give up a major error like that. I’m truly proud of him for his efforts and growth this season. He was able to make some outstanding strides in his wrestling techniques and his ability to listen to his coaches for guidance. I can only hope that I have a few more wrestlers like James in the future.”
While three Wawasee wrestlers survived at East Chicago, NorthWood’s Jake Lone punched his ticket to the state finals a second straight year with a runner-up finish at the New Haven Semi-State Saturday.
Lone collected an 18-3 tech fall over Fort Wayne Snider’s Vertis Hawkins in his opener at 182 pounds, earned a narrow 5-2 decision over Mississinewa’s Kyler Funk in the quarterfinals and shut out Garrett’s Austin Leech via 13-0 major decision to make the championship opposite Jay County’s Mason Winner. Lone lost a 3-2 heartbreaker to Winner in the final but survives to wrestle another day.
Lone’s teammates Tyler Becker and Jaden Miller both lost their openers by pinfall at 160 and 170 pounds, respectively, to close out the year.