WARRIORS ADVANCE SEVEN TO DAY TWO OF PRESTIGIOUS AL SMITH

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Written By StaceyPageOnline / Sports on Saturday, December 29, 2018

Braxton Alexander wrestles Penn’s Alex Slates during day one of the Al Smith Invitational at Mishawaka High School Friday. (Photos by James Costello)

MISHAWAKA — After being out of the Al Smith Invitational for roughly a decade, Wawasee made up for lost time in its first foray back into the prestigious tournament Friday.

The Warriors advanced half of their roster to the second day of the tilt at Mishawaka High School and put up 98 points to finish day one in eighth place, just one point shy of seventh-place Center Grove.

“So far we’re pretty happy with where we’re at getting half the team through, considering that Wawasee was removed from that field for quite a stretch of time. We’re pretty happy with where we’re at right now, but with that being said obviously we’ve got to finish it off,” said Wawasee coach Frank Bumgardner. “Being top 10, that’s phenomenal. Hopefully we can put these matches away and really finish strong and maintain if not climb a little bit.”

Braxton Alexander and Geremia Brooks each went 3-0 Friday, at 138 and 132, respectively, to remain in the championship brackets of their divisions. Alexander was slated to wrestle Jimtown’s Conner Gimson in Saturday’s semifinals, while Brooks drew Indianapolis Cathedral’s Logan Bailey in the semis.

“Up to this point, they’ve done what they should as far as holding their seeds, getting to the semis,” Bumgardner said of the duo. “Now we have two guys that I believe are ranked number two in the semifinals, one being from Cathedral, the other from Jimtown. We’re fairly familiar with both of them. We feel good about our guys; they’re wrestling really well. We’re going to let it air out tomorrow and see where we end up.”

Damien Rodriguez sizes up Penn’s Rockne Hurley.

The Warriors lost several close decisions in the quarterfinals. Alex Castro fell to Mishawaka’s Jacob LaPlace in the 182-pound quarterfinals, while Jace Alexander, Garrett Stuckman and Damien Rodriguez all fell via razor-thin decisions in the quarters. At 120 pounds, Jace came up short in a 3-2 heartbreaker to Penn’s Vince Sparrow. At 145, Stuckman fell via another heartbreaker, 2-1, to Cathedral’s Alex Mosconi. And at 195, Rodriguez ran out of time in his quarterfinal bout with undefeated Penn wrestler Rockne Hurley via a down-to-the-wire 7-6 decision that saw the two wrestlers exhausted and expressing their respect for one another afterward. That match echoed a showdown between the two in a dual meet last week, as Rodriguez held on to Hurley a bit too long in their rematch and couldn’t find the takedown in the match’s waning seconds to put him over the top.

“For five and a half minutes we dominated the action, and we control everything. It was a carbon copy of what happened the other night in the dual, where we know this kid’s really good on top, he wants to be on top, it fits perfectly into what we do, and we just hung out in that position too long. We didn’t need to be there at that juncture. We needed to stay on the offense, get to a leg, get another takedown, put that match away. That’s just not what we did,” said Bumgardner of Rodriguez’s quarterfinal thriller.

“They’re kind of kryptonite for each other. We dominate the action, and he wins the match both times. We’ve got to be able to put six minutes together.”

Along with the aforementioned six wrestlers, Wawasee’s Raymon Torres also advanced to the second day of the invite.

NorthWood’s Jake Lone controls his opponent in 182-pound action Friday.

NorthWood got a pair of wrestlers through at 170 and 182, meanwhile. Jaden Miller went 2-1 at 70 but lost his quarterfinal with unbeaten Columbus East wrestler Nick South. Jake Lone remained in the championship bracket at 3-0 and was scheduled to wrestle Chesterton’s Evan Bates in Saturday’s semifinals.

While NorthWood was in 26th place with 45 points after day one of the action, Warsaw finished 29th with 33 points. The Tigers were solid in several weight classes but failed to qualify anyone to the second day of action at the Al Smith.

Jose Grimmett led the Tigers going 3-2. The 52-pounder dropped a close decision in overtime of the opening round, then charged back through the consoles but lost his final match of the evening, a win away from placement.

Andrew Ross and Brock Hueber both went 2-2, meanwhile. At 120 pounds, Ross won his opening match by pin, then picked up a 5-4 decision in the consoles following his second-round loss. At 195, Hueber took a first round forfeit and earned a pinfall in the consoles between two scrappy losses.

Other Warsaw wrestlers that picked up wins were Brandon Estepp, Jose Martinez, Isaiah Owens, Jacob Bass and Kyler Denney.

“I was disappointed with what I thought was a slow start. There were some matches that I thought we could have wrestled better in. Whether it’s win or loss, we didn’t wrestle very clean early, and in a tournament like this it really sets you up for a long day if you don’t wrestle well right out of the gate. That said, even in a lot of our losses, we battled,” said Warsaw coach Kris Hueber.

“Part of the reason we love having this on our schedule is the early part of the season we start developing who we are and learn how to wrestle. We hit this tournament and we start figuring out where we really are. Our kids get exposed to some really high level wrestlers. That’ll be a little bit of a wake-up call as we prepare for the end of the season.”

Warsaw’s Jose Grimmett battles in a 152-pound wrestleback.

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