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Written By Ink Free News / Sports on Sunday, February 16, 2020

Garrett Stuckman’s hand is raised in victory after winning the 152-pound championship match at the East Chicago Semi-State Saturday. (Photos by James Costello)

EAST CHICAGO — After three years of futility at the East Chicago Semi-state, Wawasee senior Garrett Stuckman finally had a breakthrough in his fourth go-round there Saturday.

Not only did the 152-pounder — who spent most of the regular season sidelined with injury — finally make it through the ticket round — he went ahead and won the whole thing.

Stuckman’s teammate Jace Alexander earned Wawasee a second state qualification, Warsaw’s Jacob Linky also advanced, and after eking his way through both the ticket round and the semis, Stuckman put an exclamation point on his day with a second-period pinfall of Hobart’s Tyler Turley in the championship round.

“It feels great, honestly. There’s no feeling like it. We just had a plan, and we just had to stick to it,” said an emotional Stuckman after his championship.

“I just want to give all Glory to God. And I’m just thankful for my coaches.”

“This is a prime example of doing it right. He’s done it right his whole career, and it paid off,” said Wawasee head coach Frank Bumgardner. “Super proud of him for what he’s been able to accomplish here. Fantastic career.”

Stuckman started his day with a third period fall of LaPorte’s Jerome Tra Anderson. He was tied up at 2-2 with Portage’s Isaac Hegwood after two periods of action in the ticket round and moved up a point when Hegwood cut him loose at the start of the third. He narrowly survived a takedown attempt near the edge of the circle but then secured his own takedown when the wrestlers were reset at center mat. Hegwood managed an escape with just 15 seconds to go, but Stuckman held him off for a guaranteed spot at next weekend’s state meet in Indianapolis.

His semifinal match with Lowell’s Shawn Hollis was equally thrilling as he fell behind a point before a quick escape early in the second period knotted it up at 2-all. A late takedown and flurry of action ahead of the horn pushed him out to a 7-5 advantage after two periods. Stuckman opted to cut Hollis loose about halfway through the final frame and the pair were stalemated out with just 42 seconds to go. Stuckman continued to push the action and held on for a narrow, 7-6 win.

Those narrow decisions echoed a 5-4 regional championship win last weekend.

“In the room, your gas tank is always the biggest key and then work on your technique as well. I trust my coaches with that,” said Stuckman. “When they talk to me, I listen. Everything they say I take to heart.”

Earlier in the day, Alexander earned his third straight state qual in as many years en route to a third-place finish at 126 pounds.

Jace Alexander trips his opponent during quarterfinal action at 126 pounds.

He opened the day with a 42-second pinfall of Highland’s Julian Gray, then pinned Lake Central’s Josh Daniels in just 1:31 in the ticket round. He actually led Chesterton’s Aidan Torres 4-0 late in the second period of their semifinal but got himself caught in a bad position and a late reversal and pinfall by Torres cost him his chance at a semi-state title. Alexander bounced back well in his consolation final with Mishawaka’s Brendon Mark, however, jumping out to a 5-1 advantage before Mark scored his first offensive points with just 36 seconds left. A late escape and one last takedown gave Alexander a convincing 8-3 win.

“In the semis, he had a rematch from the Al Smith tournament in that Chesterton kid, and, unfortunately, it was a very similar result,” explained Bumgardner. “He’s wrestling outstanding right now. It’s a very tough kid, it’s a tough match to lose, but with that being said, the performance today was very, very good. We’re proud of the way he bounced back obviously, but just the way he performed through many different circumstances and situations today.”

Like Alexander, Warsaw’s Linky was knocked out of the championship bracket in the semis only to cruise to a third-place finish in his 160-pound console.

The former child slave from Ghana — whose story can be seen here — got off to a relatively slow start with a 5-2 decision over Michigan City’s Kamare Dunlap, then survived a close call with Andrean’s Robert Stanley in the ticket round, 10-9. Linky actually trailed that match 9-7 in the third before an escape and a sweep with just 11 seconds left to wrestle gave him the lead and the junior’s first state berth. Linky lost a 15-10 decision to eventual champion Noah Hollendonner in an action-packed semifinal but managed a reverse out of a near-spladle and a pinfall of Chesterton’s Nick Winland 40 seconds into their place match.

“The Crown Point opponent that I had, he said that he’d see me next Friday and Saturday. It’s really cool. It’s a lot of fun because it’s like 16,000 people that will be there,” said Linkey through sign language interpreter Rebecca Black. “So I’m excited. And I’ve never been to Indianapolis for wrestling before.”

Jacob Linky controls his opponent during Saturday’s 160-pound ticket round.

“He wrestled better in the semis and in the placement match than he did in the first two matches of the day. He was a little bit sluggish early, wasn’t feeling 100 percent and then kind of transitioned that over,” explained Warsaw coach Kris Hueber. “I don’t know if that was just the weight of ‘Hey, I made it through,’ but he definitely wrestled better matches the last two matches. The things that he can do, his ability to find space, he’s never really out of a match even if he’s down on points. Got himself in on a pretty decent shot but then kind of hung out (in the consoles). The kid started to hit a spladle and Jacob found head position and turned it into a headlock of his own.”

While Linky, Alexander and Stuckman all earned the right to advance to the IHSAA State Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday — where winners of the openers advance to Saturday’s second day — both Wawasee and Warsaw experienced some heartbreak in the ticket round at semi-state.

Warsaw senior Brock Hogenson earned a third-period pinfall win over Rensselaer Central’s Coby Johns in their opener at 132 pounds but ran into a buzz saw in the quarterfinal round in the form of No. 1-ranked — and last year’s 126-pound state champion — Jesse Mendez of Crown Point, who pinned Hogenson in 2:48.

“The kid is world class, and he went out and attacked. He got in on a pretty decent shot, got staled out in a scramble. Almost had a takedown later on,” recalled Hueber. “That’s something where you can watch it and say ‘Hey, we made him feel pressure.’ He’s going to watch that kid at the next level and at the world level and know that he has that story to tell.”

Hueber’s son, also named Brock experienced perhaps an even more devastating loss in his ticket match at 195. He won his opener with Merrillville’s Jevonte Williams via 10-15 decision to advance opposite Lafayette Harrison’s Luke Bakeis in the quarters. After a scoreless first period, Hueber opened the second on bottom and was caught in a cradle for a near fall midway through the period. He managed to get to his stomach with around 30 seconds to go and was awarded a pair of points for stalling in the third but it wasn’t enough to overcome his deficit, and he closed his high school career with a frustrating, 3-2 loss.

“It’s tough as dad and coach trying to separate the two out. We knew that that possibility was there, but we also felt once we beat a number one early, OK, we’re playing with house money now,” explained Kris Hueber. “Going in we felt OK. He just wasn’t able to generate offense, and it’s a matter of at this level, one little mistake can cost you. The kid scored one near fall the entire match. Brock we thought was the aggressor on offense. We got a couple stalling calls but couldn’t quite get the score, and he lost 3-2. He had eight losses this year. Everyone of them is a semi-stater or better. Most of them are ticket round or better, and there are three kids that he’s beaten this year that are going on to state.”

Stuckman’s younger brother, Logan, experienced a similar heartbreak in his ticket round at 106 pounds.

After cruising to a 7-2 decision in his opening match with Rensselaer’s Mason Stanley, Logan drew into Lake Central’s Johnny Cortez in the quarters. He led Cortez 4-3 in the third but a late escape by the Lake Central wrestler sent the match into sudden victory, where Cortez secured a takedown at the 44-second mark to advance. Logan closed out a stellar freshman season at 37-3.

“We’ve talked to all of our underclassmen through this process that you don’t know if there is another chance. Nothing is guaranteed. So we don’t look at that match and say that there was a bad call or say that there was a tactical error. It was one of those things where it was a phenomenal wrestling match, and we got beat,” said Bumgardner. “It’s absolutely gut-wrenching. That kid has really matured a lot through this season. He’s really improved throughout this season. He deserved to be a state-qualifier, but unfortunately he didn’t win that match.

“We’re really, really proud of the way that he’s progressed throughout his freshman year, but that one is going to hurt for awhile. And rightfully so. But we’ll come back.”

Crown Point collected 180.5 points with five champions and two runners-up for the team title ahead of Chesterton’s 143 points on the day. Wawasee finished in ninth place with 45 points. Warsaw placed 18th with 19 points.

The state finals open Friday beginning at 6 p.m. Winners from Friday’s first round advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals, scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Jake Lone won a thrilling sudden victory match for the 182-pound championship at the Allen County War Memorial Colliseum in Fort Wayne, but unfortunately for NorthWood, his was the only state berth Saturday.

Lone pinned his way into the semis, then collected an 11-2 major decision over Norwell’s Sam Walker only to go into overtime with Jay County’s Mason Winner in the championship round. Lone pulled out a 3-1 sudden victory for his second straight state berth. Saturday’s championship showdown was a reprisal of last year’s 82-pound title match at New Haven, when Lone lost a 3-2 decision to Winner.

While Lone advanced, teammate Jaden Miller came up on the wrong side of a 3-1 sudden victory decision in his ticket round match with Fort Wayne Carroll’s Matt Lepper at 195 pounds. Isaac Benjamin suffered a first-period pinfall loss to New Haven’s Tristen Martz in their 220-pound ticket match, and Blake Herr lost a 14-5 major decision to Carroll’s Reeve Muncie in the heavyweight quarters. Jake’s younger brother Kaden fell 8-3 to Adams Central’s Alex Currie in their 145-pound ticket match.

Western won the team title with 72 points ahead of Bellmont’s 65. NorthWood placed eighth with a score of 41.

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