Save best for last: Escanaba erases 24-0 deficit to run past Marquette Redmen in finals of MHSAA Division 2 team wrestling district tournament
“There was no panic. We knew what we had left and what was coming.” — Jeff Wright, Escanaba wrestling head coach, after falling behind early in the Division 2 district finals
MARQUETTE — MHSAA team wrestling district tournaments kicked off across the state on Wednesday night and a Division 2 tilt between Escanaba and Marquette surely didn’t disappoint.
After the Redmen steamrolled Sault Ste. Marie 66-18 in the semifinal, the hosts were ready to take on an awaiting Eskymos team that sat patiently with a bye.
MSHS went up 24-0 early, but it was all Esky after that, winning the final 10 matches to claim a 51-24 victory and its second consecutive district championship.
The Eskymos now cross the Mackinac Bridge to take on 2018 state runner-up Gaylord in the Division 2 regional semifinals. The Blue Devils shut out Petoskey 78-0 Wednesday night in their district.
Asked about repeating as district champs, Escanaba head coach Jeff Wright said it’s been a primary goal for his team all season.
“It feels great and there’s just not much to say about it,” he said. “It’s what we work for. We wrestle all season to get to February and then we wrestle our best in February.”
After falling into the early deficit, Wright didn’t panic as he knew his best wrestlers were still waiting to go.
“Wrestling is a unique sport where you can be down but you know what’s coming ahead,” he said. “There was no panic. We knew what we had left and what was coming. You don’t like looking at the scoreboard and seeing that, but in this sport, you know it can turn quick.”
The turning point for the Eskymos came in the 140- and 145-pound weight classes, with each match going to a one-minute overtime session after being tied at 4-4. At 140, Esky’s Tyler Lawson topped Wyatt Kuhlman by decision while at 145, Hunter Larson did the same to Marquette’s Griffin Moore. The Eskymos earned three team points with each win to knot the score at 24-24.
Esky’s Brody Bevins defeated Desmond Mullen 11-4 shortly after that at 152, accounting for another three points on the scoreboard and putting the Eskymos into the lead for good.
Marquette head coach Tony Gentz agreed that those three matches were the ultimate momentum shifters.
“There were a lot of good matches in there,” he said. “Between 140 and 145 with Wyatt Kuhlman and Tyler Lawson and then Griffin Moore and Hunter Larson. After that, it seemed like we kind of fell apart.
“Desmond Mullen did his job and kept it to a decision instead of a major decision and only gave up three points. On paper, we were exactly where we needed to be. Credit to Escanaba, they brought it in the last four or five weight classes. They got the momentum and ran with it.”
The Redmen built their 24-0 lead thanks to two pins and two forfeits. The championship round started at 285 between Marquette’s Chris Ricker and Esky’s Nicholas Carlson. Ricker pinned Carlson at 3:10 to give MSHS its first six points.
Lars Anderson followed with a pin of his own just 52 seconds in, downing the Eskymos’ Reid Pruitt at 103 to make it 12-0. Hunter Brugman (112) and Payton Holmstrom (119) then picked up forfeit wins.
After Esky went up 27-24, it wasted no time pulling away, earning pins in the final four matches of the night for 24 more points.
Noah Weaver got the party started by pinning Marquette’s Jacob Schlemm at 3:02 at 160. Dayton Miron followed that up at 171 by pinning Gideon Bell at 2:19.
It was Kahler Geyer at 189 winning by a pin over the Redmen’s Shawn Mahan at 2:51 before Scott Pendergraft finished off the night with a fall over Brendon Bell-Bouschor at 1:35.
Despite Marquette’s team season coming to a close, Gentz and company still have something to look forward to with the Division 2 individual district tournament taking place this weekend in Gaylord.
“We still have Saturday,” he said. “Our season isn’t done, we still have individuals, so that’s something we can try to look toward a positive. We’re prepared.”
Meanwhile, Wright and his team know they have a tall task ahead with Gaylord at the team regionals.
“They’re one of the top teams in the state,” he said. “We’re going to practice hard this week and next week, give them our best shot and see what we can do.”
Email Ryan Spitza at email@example.com.