INDIANAPOLIS — A night filled with hope for eight Hendricks County wrestlers turned into disappointment for six of those grapplers at the opening round of the 76th annual wrestling state finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday.
But for the two that made the cut, Saturday guarantees a spot on the podium and they alone determine their fates.
Cascade’s Zach Batts (145 pounds) and Avon’s Guy Henson (285) each will continue their pursuit of a state title.
Batts (46-3) fell behind 1-0 headed to the third period against Cathedral’s Ben Harvey (43-4), but made an escape and a takedown for the win in the final period. As a senior making it to state after four semi-state appearances, Batts was elated.
“It’s finally paid off, it took long enough,” Batts said with a grin. “My goal was to make it to state and everything from here on was gravy. I wanted to play dark horse, underdog and there’s not any pressure.”
Batts will start the quarterfinals by taking on Mishawaka’s Tommy Forte (25-1), last season’s state champion at 138 pounds.
Henson was tied at 1-1 with Southwood’s Jacob Smith until 17 seconds remained in the third. Henson then took Smith down and rode him out for the win.
“I’m pretty excited,” Henson said. “It’s going to be a real tough day tomorrow, but if I wrestle well, who knows what will happen.”
Henson opens the morning with No. 1-ranked Wesley Bernard (47-0) of Cathedral.
Unfortunately for the rest of the county wrestlers, things did not go their way. However, all are underclassmen and will build from the experience.
Danville’s Brock Hudkins, a two-time semi-state champion, was unable to wrestle after falling ill before his match.
Hudkins’ teammate Elliott Molloy (126), fell 5-1 to Merrillville’s Clarence Johnson, a grappler he lost to by one point earlier in the season. Molloy said next season he wanted to “to work harder and stay focused before the match” and that he was “a little nervous.”
“That’s the story of our season in a nutshell,” Danville coach Steve Pugliese said of his grapplers’ outcomes.
Avon brought the largest contingent of wrestlers to the state finals of all the county schools, but Quinn Harris (126), Evan Elmore (182) and Gunnar Larson (220) each fell short.
Harris and Larson lost by fall and Elmore, a state qualifier last season, lost by a 6-0 decision.
Brownsburg’s CJ Damler battled Crown Point’s Darden Schurg (35-2) the best he could, but fell by an 11-1 major decision.
“I prepared all week for this one match and wasn’t nervous going out at all,” Damler said. “I’m going to be going to Red Cobra wrestling club in Avon and it will take up all of the extra time I have, besides home.
“As much time as I put in this year, there is nothing that I care about more, besides family.”
Saturday’s wrestling begins at 9:30 a.m. with the quarterfinals and the semifinals to follow. Consolations begin at 5 p.m. with the finals slotted for 7 p.m.
— Follow Hendricks County Flyer sports editor Jake Thompson on Twitter @JacobEThompson.