Johnson County wrestlers put on another impressive show during Friday’s opening round of the IHSAA Wrestling State Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Eight of 10 wrestlers from the county advanced to today’s quarterfinals. Center Grove, Franklin, Greenwood and Indian Creek will have a wrestler place somewhere.
Franklin led the way with all five state qualifers moving on. Juniors D.J. Smith (106 pounds), Skyler Lykins (132) and Conner Tolley (220), and seniors Luke Kriech (160) and Garett Fentz (170) gave the Grizzly Cubs a perfect night.
Center Grove had junior Tyler Fleener move on at 126, as did Greenwood junior Bailey Schober. Indian Creek’s lone representative, three-time state qualifier Tyler Hupp, advanced at 138.
Smith (39-5) started things out with a convincing 9-1 win against Mike Garza of Merrillville at 106.
Smith, who said he wasn’t pleased with the tough opening draw, dominated from beginning to end and now reaches the quarterfinals where he will face Garrett’s Hayden Lee (37-1).
“(The score) was a little surprising because he’s a good kid,” Smith said. “But I knew if I got after it I could do great things and that’s what happened.”
More dominance ensued as Fleener won 11-2 and Lykins 13-0, but without a doubt the most exciting and unexpected win for county wrestlers was Schober’s. He was down 3-2 with two seconds left when he grabbed sixth-ranked Blake Denton of Twin Lakes and took him down for the win at the buzzer.
Denton had entered the match at 44-1.
“I studied him on film, and my goal was to keep this match close to the end,” Schober said. “Being the underdog motivated me. After he took me down the first time, I was able to watch his moves and after that he couldn’t get anywhere near me.”
Even more ecstatic was Greenwood coach Chris Campbell.
“(Bailey) stayed in the match and kept it close and pulled something great out at the end,” Campbell said. “Awesome job, and oh am I thrilled.”
Hupp, a senior, will finally secure a placing in the state finals after three ties.
From the beginning there was never any doubt the ninth-ranked Hupp would win as he scored seven takedowns to easily beat New Palestine’s Gordon Wagner 13-3.
Hupp (40-1) will now face Evan Leo (44-3) of Peru.
“I really wanted this. I just went out there and had to get it done,” Hupp said. “I took the shots, and it worked. I kept my elbows in and took him out of his match.”
Franklin’s middle and heavier weight trio of Kriech, Fentz and Tolley were all impressive in their victories.
Kriech, who had a relatively easy time by pinning New Haven’s Rashad Jackson-Tatum in only 50 seconds, is trying to make it back to the state championship match, where he was runner-up at 152 last year.
Failing to advance was Greenwood’s Jonah Thompson (138) and Center Grove’s Drew Ponder (285). Both are seniors.
Thompson’s loss was perhaps the most painful as he lost in nearly the same way teammate Schober won.
Thompson was up 6-4 on Lawrence North’s Juwan Bartlett with seconds to go, but Bartlett caught Thompson in a headlock and threw him to the mat for a takedown and scored a two-point nearfall at the buzzer for a come-from-behind 8-6 win.
The quarterfinals begin at 9:30 a.m. today, with the consolations following at 5 p.m. The championship matches begin at 7:30 p.m.