Powered by another title from the senior Jared Branch, two other champions (junior Colton Lampe at 126 pounds and junior Zeph Ragsdale at 285) and several strong performances in the wrestlebacks, the Tigers won their fourth straight Third Region team title during Saturday’s 13-team, 105-competitor tournament at Bullitt East High School.
“We’ve had some rough patches this year, but I think we’ve came together at the right time and we’re starting to finally become a family and more and more we’re wrestling to our full potential,” Branch said.
The region will send 54 wrestlers — the top four finishers in each of the 14 weight classes — to the KHSAA State Wrestling Championships from Feb. 17-18 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. Fern Creek (188 points), the region’s highest-ranked team by KentuckyWrestling.com at 20th, will be represented by 10 of those grapplers.
“We’ve got a good program and we’re down a little bit and with our expectations, we want to wrestle with the best in the state and we’re not able to do that this year,” Fern Creek coach Mark Hitchings said. “But we’re really proud of a regional championship because we had seven kids place higher than their seed here at region and that’s quite an accomplishment. It was a team effort.”
Runner-up Bullitt East (163.5 points) didn’t have a champion, but the Chargers, who entered ranked sixth in the region and 63rd in the state, will still send 10 grapplers to Lexington.
“At one point I think we dropped down to fifth as a team, but we came back in the end and had some great third-place and fourth-place placers that won a lot of matches for us and got our team score back up,” Bullitt East coach Adam Ritter said.
Unranked DeSales, which has seven wrestlers going to state, was a surprise third-place finisher with 162.5 points. Sophomore Dylan Harkins, the 120-pound champ, was 1-of-3 Colts to advance to the finals.
The fourth-place and 38th-ranked Valley Vikings (154 points) are sending seven to state and had three champions in 170-pound junior Kaine Garner, 182-pound junior Caleb Lane and 220-pound sophomore Patrick Dumire. The fifth-place and 41st-ranked Doss Dragons (126.5 points) will have six in Lexington and had a tournament-best five champions in 106-pound freshman Simon Powell, 113-pound senior Derek Ringlen, 138-pound senior Quentin Neal, 152-pound junior Keaon Taylor and 195-pound senior Steven Brown.
The sixth-place and 39th-ranked Pleasure Ridge Park Panthers (114 points) will have six in Lexington, led by a pair of champions in 132-pound junior Blake Evans and 145-pound senior Jalen Huff.
The finals started off with a a battle between top-20 ranked wrestlers at 106 pounds as the top-seeded Powell (33-4), ranked ninth, earned an 8-5 decision over Fairdale sophomore Jake Moseley (30-14), who was ranked 20th.
A year after finishing second at 106, the top-seeded and 17th-ranked Ringlen (27-5) went out with a bang with a 12-8 decision against second-seeded and 18th-ranked North Bullitt senior David Ashley (11-2), who was fourth last year.
In the finals’ first upset, the second-seeded Harkins (24-9) earned a stunning pin in 3:33 over top-seeded Bullitt East senior Logan Henry (39-7). Harkins, who entered the postseason unranked, was third at 113 in 2016. Henry, who was ranked 17th, was third in 2016 at 120.
In the first of two matches of the tournament between top-10 ranked grapplers, Lampe (37-4) technically “upset” top-seeded Bullitt Central senior Nick Curtis (45-5) with a late pin at the 6:00 mark in the 126 final. The rankings suggest it was not an upset, though, as Lampe, last year’s 113 champ, was fifth and Curtis was ninth. Curtis, who is his school’s only state qualifier, was the 120 regional champ in 2016.
Making it three seed upsets in a row, the second-seeded Evans (38-3) earned a 10-8 decision over top-seeded Valley senior Desmond Lewis (48-6). Evans, last year’s region runner-up at 126, was ranked fifth in the state. Lewis, who was third in the region in 2017 at 138, was ranked fourth.
The fourth-seeded senior Neal (27-7) made Doss 3-for-3 in title matches with a 6-3 decision against third-seeded Bullitt East sophomore James Nash (38-10). The KWCA rankings didn’t have it as an upset, with Neal rated 17th and Nash unranked.
In a battle of two unranked foes, the top-seeded Huff (38-8) pinned second-seeded Valley junior Isander Santiago-Reyes in 5:30. Santiago-Reyes was third in the region in 2016 at 145.
A year after taking fourth in the region at 138, top-seeded and 12th-ranked Taylor (28-7) continued his improvement with a 7-6 decision over second-seeded and 13th-ranked Pleasure Ridge Park senior Donald Evans (22-5) to win the 152 title.
The fourth-ranked and top-seeded Branch (55-2) rolled to a 15-0 win over second-seeded and 21st-ranked Valley junior Tyjeric Williams (44-8) in the 160 weight class.
Branch, who also won region titles as a freshman and as a junior and missed the postseason as a sophomore because of an injury, was voted Most Outstanding Wrestler by the head coaches.
“It’s real big because I’ve been wrestling my butt off all year,” said Branch, who earned his only MOW award this season despite winning every individual tournament he’s been in with both losses coming in duals. “I’ve been working for it.”
The top-seeded Garner (23-3) ended the Vikings’ finals futility by pinning second-seeded Fairdale junior LaQuantae Jackson (7-3) in 3:40 in the 170 final. Before Garner’s win, the Vikings were 0-3 in title matches.
But just a few minutes later, the third-seeded and 14th-ranked Lane (35-10) pinned unranked fifth-seeded DeSales sophomore Adam Nauert in just 25 seconds to defend the 182 crown he first won last season. Not only did the win end Nauert’s Cinderella run, but it pleased Bullitt East because a Nauert victory would have allowed the Colts to jump the Chargers for runner-up.
After finishing second at 195 last year, the top-seeded and 14th-ranked Brown (29-7) earned a methodical 13-1 win over unranked sixth-seeded DeSales freshman Colby Stratman (12-9) to make the Dragons 5-for-5 in title matches.
The top-seeded and 17th-ranked Dumire (38-8) gave the Vikings their third title of the day with an 11-8 decision against unranked second-seeded Southern sophomore Tyler Edwards (13-6), the Trojans’ lone state qualifier, to claim the 220 title.
The top-seeded and 11th-ranked Ragsdale (43-6), who was fourth at heavyweight last year, closed the night by making the Tigers 3-for-3 in title matches with a pin in 3:22 against unranked second-seeded Fairdale senior Gavin Thomas (29-10) in the 285 final.
REGION THREE WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Saturday at Bullitt East High School
Top four finishers in each weight class advance to KHSAA State Tournament
Team scores: 1. Fern Creek, 188 points; 2. Bullitt East, 163.5; 3. DeSales, 162.5; 4. Valley, 154; 5. Doss, 126.5; 6. Pleasure Ridge Park, 114; 7. Fairdale, 74; 8. North Bullitt, 67; 9. Iroquois, 46.5; 10. Western, 30; 11. Bullitt Central, 28.5; 12. Southern, 28; 13. Holy Cross, 17.
Most Outstanding Wrestler: Jared Branch, Fern Creek
106 pounds: 1st—Simon Powell (Doss) def. Jake Moseley (Fairdale), 8-5; 3rd—Jalen Polin (DeSales) def. Aubrey Burke (Holy Cross), 1:33.
113: 1st—Derek Ringlen (Doss) def. David Ashley (North Bullitt), 12-8; 3rd—Evan Allen (DeSales) def. Donovan Evans (Pleasure Ridge Park), 7-2.
120: 1st—Dylan Harkins (DeSales) def. Logan Henry (Bullitt East), 3:33; 3rd—Anthony Carter (Iroquois) def. Trevor McWilliams (Doss), 3:24.
126: 1st—Colton Lampe (Fern Creek) def. Nick Curtis (Bullitt Central), 6:00.; 3rd—Tucker Wells (Bullitt East) def. Nicholas Rudolph (DeSales), 3:11.
132: 1st—Blake Evans (PRP) def. Desmond Lewis (Valley), 10-8; 3rd—Leondre Duncan (Fern Creek) def. Kody Duerk (Bullitt East), 10-6.
138: 1st—Quentin Neal (Doss) def. James Nash (Bullitt East), 6-3; 3rd—Nikeem Avent (Fern Creek) def. Andrew Shelton (Pleasure Ridge Park), 5:39.
145: 1st—Jalen Huff (PRP) def. Isander Santiago-Reyes (Valley), 5:30; 3rd—Tyree Wilson (Fern Creek) def. Kentrail Shobe (Western), 14-8.
152: 1st—Keaon Taylor (Doss) def. Donald Evans (PRP), 7-6; 3rd—Devon Henley (Bullitt East) def. Montaye Keltee (Fern Creek), 2:18.
160: 1st—Jared Branch (Fern Creek) def. Tyjeric Williams (Valley), 15-0; 3rd—Graham Davis (Pleasure Ridge Park) def. Jordan Matherly (North Bullitt), 3:40.
170: 1st—Kaine Garner (Valley) def. LaQuantae Jackson (Fairdale), 3:40; 3rd—Justin Defler (Bullitt East) def. Matthew Quiggins (Fern Creek), 6-5.
182: 1st—Caleb Lane (Valley) def. Adam Nauert (DeSales), 0:25; 3rd—Devaughn Richardson (Fern Creek) def. Patrick Netherton (Bullitt East), 14-10.
195: 1st—Steven Brown (Doss) def. Colby Stratman (DeSales), 13-1; 3rd—Jeffery Covington (Valley) def. Austin Smith (Bullitt East), 14-6.
220: 1st—Patrick Dumire (Valley) def. Tyler Edwards (Southern), 11-8; 3rd—Gage Gray (Fern Creek) def. Austin Miller (Bullitt East), 6-3.
285: 1st—Zeph Ragsdale (Fern Creek) def. Gavin Thomas (Fairdale), 3:22; 3rd—Dejaun Watkins (DeSales) def. Bartum Mentee (Iroquois), 4:27.