Division 1’s top two heavyweights are on a collision course — literally — after each secured semifinal wins Friday evening at The Palace to move through the bracket of the MHSAA Individual Wrestling Finals.
East Lansing’s Brian Darios will get a second shot at defending state runner-up Parker Tillman of Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, who beat Darios in double overtime in the regional final. It’s the junior’s only loss this season (40-1).
“I’d like to see Tillman again, it was a great match when I saw him before,” Darios said after beating Grand Haven’s Chase VanHoef, 3-1 with a late takedown in the semifinal. “He’s a good wrestler and I’m expecting an exciting match between us.
“He’s a great wrestler, I just got him there near the end there,” Darios said of VanHoef. “He’s done his homework from the last time we wrestled.”
Holt will be represented in the 119 finals by Martin Rodriguez, an 18-7 major decision winner over Noah Gonser of Grand Blanc in another semifinal. But defending 103 champ Benny Gomez of Holt was upset in the 112-pound match vs. Davison’s Max Johnson, who recorded three near fails in the 12-6 triumph. Gomez was wrestling with two fingers and his right wrist each heavily wrapped in tape.
St. Johns’ Zac Hall in Division 2 is one of numerous undefeated wrestlers this season (51-0), but he stands out with three state championships on his resume and is one match away from a fourth. If successful, Hall will be the 18th wrestler in Michigan history to earn the quad. He defeated Jake Klingaman of Jackson Northwest, 6-1 in the 140-pound semifinal.
“I don’t think I’ve hit the pressure stage yet,” he said early Friday about thinking of four titles. “I’m sure at the semis, and especially if I get to the finals, I’ll be feeling probably a little pressure. Right now I’m just trying to have fun, live in the moment. It’s something I’ll look at years from now and be really proud about, so for now I’m just trying to have as much fun as I can.”
St. Johns, the 2014 team runner-up to Lowell after a tie last weekend was settled on the fifth-level criteria, is having a solid showing once again at the individual tournament. Also wrestling later today for state championships will be: Mark Bozzo at 145, plus defending champs Logan Massa at 152 and Angus Arthur at 189.
Arthur is undefeated at 46-0, and said Friday afternoon: “You can’t look ahead to any match. Really get focused on who you have next, you can’t look to the finals. When I was younger I made that mistake a couple times and that costs you. I learned my lesson.”
Eaton Rapids’ Jaedin Sklapsky won his semifinal at 130 over Darek Bullock-Mills of Niles, 9-2, but he wasn’t thrilled with how he got the win.
“That match I could have done a lot better,” he said. “I was just focusing on utilizing my neutral game, but my bottom I wasn’t good at all; definitely something to improve for tomorrow. My offense is good, but I’ve got to get lighter on my toes because I know (final round opponent) Austin Thompson (of Marysville) is dynamic on his feet, so I just have to be smart and keep my hands low.”
DeWitt sophomore Austin Melton is in the hunt for the 135 pound title after a 6-4 semifinal win over Jordan Hall of team state champ Lowell.
Dalton Roberts of Fowlerville will represent the Gladiators in the 103-pound final after a 4-2 decision over Michael Higley of Edwardsburg.
Leslie’s Storr brothers — Kanen and Zehlin — each will each try to defend their titles from last year, this time at 119 and 140 pounds, respectively.