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Written By StaceyPageOnline / Sports on Sunday, February 11, 2018

Geremia Brooks celebrates after winning his 132-pound semifinal by pinfall at the East Chicago Semi-State Saturday. (Photos by James Costello)

EAST CHICAGO — Regardless of the end result, Wawasee junior Geremia Brooks probably won’t look back at his East Chicago Central Semi-State championship and say he left anything on the mat.

After cruising through the 132-pound bracket at Saturday’s semi-state in East Chicago, Brooks found himself in trouble early in his third match-up with No. 2-ranked Manzona Bryant of Culver Military Academy in their finale. After a big, sweeping throw that elicited an “Oooh” from the crowd, Brooks was suddenly trailing 9-1 and fighting off his back. He continued to fight off a pinfall for over a minute, and the effort visibly exhausted him. Despite being clearly gassed, Brooks continued to show pretty good motion through the rest of the bout but ultimately fell via 14-2 major decision and had to settle for runner-up honors.

Geremia Brooks is tired during his final with CMA’s Mendoza Bryant.

You certainly couldn’t fault Brooks’ effort, but there was another way to view his championship, too.

“Why were we there? Why were we in that position?” asked Wawasee head coach Frank Bumgardner. “That’s not the way that we need to wrestle that kid. That’s the third time that we’ve seen him. We’ve been game planning knowing that a match-up with him was possible. That wasn’t our game plan though. That’s not the way we need to wrestle that kid.”

Brooks lived to wrestle another day at next weekend’s IHSAA State Finals, where a win in the first round Friday earns a trip to Saturday and a guaranteed spot on the podium. He’ll be joined by two other Warriors in freshman Jace Alexander and senior Elisha Tipping.

Tipping earned a berth in the heavyweight state brackets with his fourth-place performance Saturday, pinning Merrillville’s Anthony Atria in overtime of their opener before taking down Michigan City’s Oscar Potts midway through the third period of their quarterfinal to claim a narrow, 3-1 win and punch his ticket to the state finals.

Tipping was knocked out of the winners’ bracket in the semifinals via 2-0 decision to unbeaten, top-ranked Isiaiah McWilliams — who received his first loss of the year by 4-1 decision to Chesterton’s Eli Pokorney in the championship — and was pinned in the second period of his consolation final with Harrison’s Donnie Crider. All things considered, though, a state berth is definitely nothing to sneeze at, especially for a wrestler in just his second season in the sport.

“Elisha started wrestling when he was a junior so that’s a testament to his hard work; it’s a testament to our coaching, that what we’re doing is the right thing. It’s a great accomplishment for him,” said Bumgardner.

Eisha Tipping stops the takedown of his opponent Saturday.

After topping the podium at last weekend’s Penn Regional, Alexander was still facing a tough road through the 106-pound brackets in East Chicago. He needed just four minutes to record a 15-0 technical fall of Lafayette Central Catholic’s Dominic Skees in the opener, then collected a first period pinfall win over Indianamat.com’s second-ranked Martin Cruz of Merrillville in the ticket round. He was quickly cradled by Frontier’s Colin Reagan in the semifinals, however, then lost 5-2 to top-ranked Portage junior Jacob Moran in their console match.

Bumgardner wasn’t surprised by his second-round pinfall of the state’s second-round wrestler to make the state cut.

“Jace has high aspirations. He’s wrestled a long, long time so it’s not a surprise that he’s at this level,” he said. “Coming in pinning the number two guy in the state, that was a huge win for him. He wrestled two really tough kids in the last two rounds there. The semis I think he kind of had a little hangover from that big match, but then in the last round he had the number one ranked kid in the state, wrestled him to a close match the whole time, so we know where he’s at.”

While Jace made state, older brother Braxton fell heartbreakingly short of his second straight state finals berth in an unfortunate turn of events Saturday.

Leading eventual champion Colin Poynter of Portage 6-5 midway through the third period of their 126-pound ticket match, Braxton was penalized a point for locking hands, then tilted up and dumped on his head with around 49 seconds to wrestle. The slam ostensibly left Braxton unconscious for several moments, and although the on-site athletic trainer eventually deemed the junior fit to wrestle, the concussion protocol exhausted all of Braxton’s injury time, and he was eliminated by injury default at the 5:11 mark of the match.

To put it mildly, it was a tough pill to swallow.

“They called us for stalling as we get hand control underneath. That’s a very tick tacky call to call us for stalling there,” said Bumgardner. “And then the series of events where we end up getting dumped on our head, I don’t agree with the official call at all. I talked to the official, we’re very much going to disagree on that one. I thought that was a situation where we need to protect the kid, and we didn’t do that. I don’t think the kid from Portage intentionally tried to hurt Braxton whatsoever. It was good, hard wrestling; it was a great match before that. But with that being said, I’m just not going to agree with that call ever.

Braxton Alexander is checked out by medical staff after being dumped on his head during semifinal action at 126 pounds.

“We wrestled phenomenal. We wrestled a great match, and to have it taken out of his hands like that, that’s what is really heart-breaking. Luckily he’s OK. He’s pretty sore right now, but he’s OK. That’s what is most important.”

Another Wawasee junior, Alex Castro, was also right in the hunt for a state berth at 182 pounds but fell just a little short.

Following a 4-1 decision over Crown Point’s Ethan Potosky in his opening match, Castro’s quarterfinal with Hammond Gavit’s Jamari Washington was marred by start-and-stop action due to persistent bleeding. After a full six blood stoppages, Castro collected an escape to bring the score within 3-2 with 58 seconds to wrestle. But Washington held him off to end the Warrior junior’s season.

“There was blood time everywhere so that kind of choppy action makes for a kind of tough situation because you can’t get going; it’s hard to build momentum. That was a really weird match, but with that being said, that’s a very winnable match for us,” Bumgardner said. “It comes down to you just have to be able to win matches, and that’s not one that he won today. We know he’s there; he’s capable of being a state level, state-qualifying kid. We’ve just got to get better.”

Four other Wawasee wrestlers made the trip to East Chicago but closed out strong seasons Saturday.

Junior Chris Schuller fell to Twin Lakes senior Kavyn Watts via 12-2 major decision in their 120-pound opener, sophomore Garrett Stuckman lost 5-2 to Merrillville’s Ahzsur Ursery in their opening-round title at 138 pounds, Isaiah Faurote suffered a 16-1 pinfall to top-ranked, eventual champion 145er Kasper McIntosh of Portage, and Damien Rodriguez fell to Hebron’s Ewan Donovan by 16-2 major decision in the first round of 195-pound wrestling.

“To bring nine is a good step. It’s a good showing at the semi state,” said Bumgardner. “To put six of them in the ticket round and get three of them through, for where we’re currently at that’s a good day. More importantly than results, anything like that is how we competed. Everybody knows the region up here is really tough wrestling, it’s physical wrestling. Our kids competed very hard today, and that’s what we’re proud of.”

Meanwhile at East Chicago, Warsaw sophomore Isiah Owens was pinned in the first period of his first round match with eventual runner-up Reagan of Frontier, while Triton 170-pounder closed out his junior year with a 9-5 loss to Crown Point’s Mario Traficanti.

Bo Snyder grabs a drink of water while Triton coaches Ron Brown and Matt Arvesen talk to him during his 170-pound match in East Chicago.

“The kid gets a really good athlete from a program that has a great room full of wrestlers that he gets to practice with, and he gets great competition all the way down,” began Triton coach Ron Brown. “We prepared the best that we could. Bo was battling illness throughout the week so we didn’t even really get to practice until Friday, and we had a session early this morning. Bo did what he could. Hopefully sometime we’ll get to get to the end of a season — whether it’s the fall or wrestling season — where he’s totally healthy to see what he can do.”

Down the road in Fort Wayne, NorthWood sophomore Jake Lone earned himself a New Haven Semi-State championship berth opposite Peru’s Jordan Rader at 170 pounds. He ultimately lost a 13-3 decision but advanced to next weekend’s state finals. Teammate Jake Chupp closed his high school wrestling career with a 7-3 loss to Rochester’s Haydn Prater in their 145-pound opener in Fort Wayne.

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