For the Franklin Community High School wrestling team, the second time was the charm.
Last year, the Grizzly Cubs took second in the inaugural Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association Dual Meet State Championships. But on Saturday, they took the top spot in the Class 3A field at Westfield High School.
Fourth-ranked Franklin entered the tournament seeded fourth but proceeded to beat, in order, No. 5 Warren Central, 41-21; No. 1 seed and top-ranked previously unbeaten Perry Meridian, 27-26; and previously unbeaten No. 2 seed and second-ranked Evansville Mater Dei, 30-27, in a championship match thriller.
Senior D.J. Smith, ranked No. 1 at 113 pounds, sealed the win for Franklin with a dominating 15-4 major decision win over Evansville Mater Dei freshman Kyle Luigs in the final match of the championship round — the third come-from-behind win of the day for the Cubs.
With the victory, the Cubs firmly established themselves frontrunners for the IHSAA team state championship, which will be determined by individual tallies at next month’s IHSAA State Meet.
“We’re a pretty tough bunch,” Franklin coach Bob Hasseman. “The kids wrestled great throughout the day and competed. (Saturday) was our day after coming so close so many times.
“Did we really do this?”
In light of how the Cubs did it, it’s easy to understand Hasseman’s near disbelief. The Cubs had to come from behind three times, and not from just small deficits, but double-figure deficits.
Franklin (14-0) fell behind early to Warren Central by 10 points and trailed Perry Meridian by 11 and Mater Dei by a staggering 21 points, 24-3.
Thanks to the Cubs’ top-heavy lineup and some timely pins, they were able to overcome all three deficits, including the championship final against Mater Dei.
Junior Jake Stevenson, ranked No. 3 at 170 pounds, got it started with a major decision 19-9 win over Bennet Kemp. Up next was senior Mike Petrole, No. 8 at 182, who also benefited from a major decision win.
Franklin then won three more straight matches, including pins from senior Connor Tolley (No. 3 at 220) and heavyweight sophomore Quinn York to give the Cubs a 26-24 lead.
Both pins were crowd-pleasers.
“You always try for a pin, but I really wanted this one as it would help the team,” Tolley said. “I had to get this one.”
Mater Dei took its final lead in the next match, but it was temporary. Smith, in the final match, made sure of it.
Smith, who admitted being a little nervous before the match, settled down quickly and took control with a takedown in the first 10 seconds in a showdown he wound up dominating in a 15-4 major decision.
“It was nerve-wracking fun,” Smith said. “I was (nervous) a little bit, but I knew I was ready and excited, too. It’s an awesome feeling for me and the guys to win this. I’ve never been on a team that has won the title.”
Hasseman never doubted Smith would deliver.
“I knew he was going to do it,” Hasseman said. “It was just a thrilling day for all of us, but really Evansville Mater Dei gave us all we could handle. They were good, and we have to get better come tournament time or we’re not going to have some people advance.”
The win was not only sweet for the Cubs as far as their first team title, but they gained a measure of revenge, in the process.
Last year, Perry Meridian routed the Cubs for the team title last year. And last week, Franklin was runner-up to Mater Dei at the Mater Dei Tournament.
“This was huge for us, as they won last week,” Hasseman said. “We’re going to enjoy this win for a few days, then get back to work for the rest of the season.”