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NORTH VERNON — Columbus East wrestling coach Chris Cooper knew his team would need some falls Saturday to win the Jennings County Sectional Meet.
What he got was an avalanche.
The Olympians won the team championship against the host Panthers by placing seven of their wrestlers in the finals and coming up with six champions. East scored 240 team points, while Jennings County had 211 and Columbus North finished third in the 10-team event with 177.
Two of East’s champs, 126-pounder Dalton Noblitt and 132-pounder Mitch Gilbert, took titles after head-to-head matches with Jennings County wrestlers.
“The team is always on my mind,” said Noblitt, who started East’s parade of champions with a 14-1 victory against the Panthers’ Marshall Holwager. “The team comes first.”
Noblitt made sure the team came first by taking care of his individual business. He only had a 2-1 lead after the first period, but was in total control with a 7-1 lead after two. He closed out the victory, and the Olympians were on their way.
Gilbert followed with a 10-7 victory against Jennings County’s Ethan Herrin. Gilbert’s match was one of the most exciting of the finals. When he scored a one-point escape for a 3-0 lead in the second period, Herrin caught him off-balance with a throw right to his back. He was in deep trouble for several seconds and, after the five-point move, he was behind 5-3. By the end of the period he had the lead back at 6-5. The third period was tight all the way until Gilbert scored a takedown with 9.9 seconds remaining for the 10-7 final.
“We knew Jennings County was close to us, and we knew we needed to get more wins than them in the finals,” Gilbert said.
But there he was, on his back in the second period. “Things were going well, I was up 3-0, and I didn’t get in my stance right.”
Thrown to his back, and with the referee peering in closely, Gilbert finally fought back to his stomach. “You’ve just got to fight like you are dying,” he said. “Once I got off my back, I got back into control.”
The victory put East in control. East’s Mike Wayant downed Seymour’s Matthew Ruddick 12-6 at 145, Kyle Stillinger won the 152-pound title with a 13-8 victory against Madison’s Jordan Partee, Jimmy Fisher was crowned 170-pound champ after beating North’s Armando Cordova 8-0 and 285-pounder Rob McKee notched a championship with a 2-1 overtime win against Seymour’s Adam Wolka.
“Coming out of here with that many championships, that is outstanding,” Cooper said. “We’ve talked all year about getting better through the season, but we took it to heart and we got better every day.”
Wayant won his third consecutive match against Ruddick, but each match gets closer. “Winning an individual title and a team title means so much being a senior,” Wayant said. “This gives our young wrestlers a chance to be champions, too.”
Of course, being an individual champ carries an additional bonus. “It feels great that my name will be on the banner in our wrestling room,” he said.
Stillinger handled Partee, who was 42-1 coming into the match. He scored four takedowns against Partee to take control of the match.
“My high single,” Stillinger said of his move that worked. “I’ve been working on it for three years. If I get it, I’m going to finish.”
Fisher dominated his match and never allowed Cordova to have an opening. “I knew my talent, experience and hard work would pay off,” he said.
McKee’s win was the closest of the finals (there were no pins although Madison’s Mitchell Sandlin won the 195-pound class by injury default over Brown County’s Brett Cline). McKee scored the only point of overtime with a second-period escape.
Jennings County had six wrestlers reach the finals with three champions.
Gary Engelking started the Panthers out well with an 8-1 victory in the 120-pound title bout against Madison’s Trenton Dempler. Engelking led just 1-0 going into the third period, but he dominated the final round.
Gabe Wilson won the 160-pound championship for the Panthers with a 5-4 victory against Madison’s Tanner Young, and Colton Castetter pinned North’s Brandon Woods in 5:21 to win the 220-pound championship.
North’s Evan Speaker started the finals with a 4-0 victory against East’s Will Conner. “Right now it means a lot to me,” Speaker said of his first sectional title. “But it won’t be long before I have to focus on the regional.”
Brown County’s Austin Ely looked very impressive in his 9-0 title win at 113-pounds against Greensburg’s Brandon Butz. “This means a lot to me,” Ely said. “I have been working for this for three years.”
Southestern’s Austin Spray won an 11-4 decision against Madison’s Chris Tingle for the 138-pound championship.
Luke Teague gave North its second champion of the meet with a 4-0 win against Jennings County’s Dakota Bott at 182. “I was hoping to get that first (sectional title),” he said. “I set that expectation for myself. I woke up (Saturday) morning and it was the best I’ve felt all year. It’s tournament time.”
Rounding out the standings were Madison (fourth at 131), Greensburg (125), Brown County (98), Seymour (91), Scottsburg (60), Southwestern-Hanover (37) and Switzerland County (13).
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