By Mike Deak
INDIANAPOLIS – A trip to the hospital isn’t how someone wants to finish their high school athletic career.
That’s where Wawasee’s Jace Alexander ended up after suffering an injury in his semi-final match at the IHSAA Wrestling State Finals on Saturday. Alexander, who was already balky Friday night after a tough match over Floyd Central’s Gavinn Alstott, saw his health deteriorate Saturday in a quarterfinal against Oak Hill’s Brody Arthur.
The 138-pound match saw Alexander take an 11-4 lead, but Arthur quickly scored an escape, takedown and near fall to pull within one at 11-10. Two seconds after the near fall call, Alexander reversed into control for two points, then got a three-point near fall for a 16-10 lead. Arthur would score a late reversal and near fall, but the clock ran out with Alexander up 16-14.
The road for Alexander came to an end in the semis, where Bloomington South’s Delaney Ruhlman recorded a takedown, and with it, Alexander didn’t move as his injuries came to a head. Ruhlman would get the pin at 28 seconds, advancing to the finals while Alexander’s season came to a close, forced to take an injury default in the third-place match to Evansville Mater Dei’s Blake Boarman.
Alexander, a four-time state finalist, took the fourth place as his best-ever state finish after taking sixth as a sophomore. The senior would conclude his season 26-3.
Crown Point’s Jesse Mendez would win his third straight IHSAA state championship with a one-minute pin of Ruhlman in the 138 final.
On the other end of the spectrum, Warsaw’s Brandon Estepp was playing with house money. In his quarterfinal match against Southmont’s Riley Woodall in the 182-pound bracket, Estepp had led 4-2, but quickly found himself down in the third period, 5-4, after Woodall opened the period with an escape and takedown. Estepp would wriggle out of the hold and gain a point to tie the score at five. The two would spar, looking for the two and the win, and Estepp would find it with five seconds left, getting a takedown and a 7-5 decision.
In the semis, Estepp ran into Center Grove’s Drake Buchanan, who was square at 4-4 until Buchanan blitzed Estepp for an escape, takedown and near fall three in the final 11 seconds of the first period to take a 10-4 lead. After a takedown in the second, Buchanan worked Estepp into a hold and a pin at 39 seconds, ending the Tiger’s improbable run to the finals.
Estepp, who didn’t win a weight class title through the entire state tournament, would lose to Perry Meridian’s Aiden Warren, 14-3, in the third-place match. Warren took a 7-1 lead after two periods, then scored three straight takedowns to put the match out of reach. Estepp’s season ended with a 21-9 mark.
Evansville Mater Dei’s Gabriel Sollars would top Buchanan, 9-4, in the 182 championship match.
Other area wrestlers competing for placement at the IHSAA State Finals were Goshen’s Nick Olson, who took eighth at 126 and Matteo Varga of Penn finishing fifth in the same bracket. Fellow Kingsmen 170-pounder Pate Eastin was seventh, Northridge 195-pounder Ibrahim Khaoucha was sixth and Eli Pack of Culver Academy was third in the same bracket.