BATTLE CREEK – With a state title on the line, Lee Grabowski didn’t want it to be him.
The Brighton sophomore 112-pounder would just as soon start Saturday’s all-county Division 1 state final against Hartland, and not end it. Grabowski didn’t want anything to do with being on the mat with a championship hanging in the balance.
But that’s how it played out.
With Brighton (29-1) clinging to a 28-25 lead going into the final match, Grabowski avenged two losses from earlier in the season to Hartland’s Garnet Potter, clinching a 31-25 victory and the Bulldogs’ first state championship at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.
“I mean, things weren’t going our way in the middle of it,” said Grabowski, tears streaming down his face. “We had some tough losses we should have won. I knew it was going to be really close and I didn’t want it to come down to (Potter), who beat me twice. I just had to go out there and do it.
“I didn’t want it to fall on me to win it, because I didn’t want to let my team down.”
Had Grabowski lost, Hartland (31-4) would have tied the dual at 28 and gone on to its first state title by criteria, based on a team point taken away from Brighton for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Instead, the Eagles finish as runners-up for the fifth time under coach Todd Cheney. It was Hartland’s first appearance in a state final since finishing as runners-up for four straight years from 2004-07.
“I told (Grabowski) earlier that he’s a great wrestler,” Brighton coach Tony Greathouse said, “and great wrestlers are really hard to beat three times in a row.
“He’s a kid who’s been in big matches his whole life. He just kept his cool and kept his composure.”
Grant Morrison started the dual with an overtime win at 119, and the Bulldogs jumped out to an early 12-0 lead with wins and bonus points from Jackson Renicker (125) and Kyle Bohnsack (130).
Hartland turned momentum in its favor when Reece Hughes pinned late in the third period at 135. Sage Castillo (140) and Logan Vish (145) then followed by winning critical swing matches to give the Eagles their first lead, 13-12.
At 152, Hartland senior Jacob Gorial won by first-period fall — the 222nd win of his career, tying the school record — and Lucas Laforge won another big swing match at 160 as the Eagles built a 10-point lead, 22-12, with six matches remaining.
“We almost had it,” Gorial said. “We did what most felt we couldn’t do. We made it to the finals when others thought we weren’t supposed to make it here. We kept our heads up and battled. We can’t be ashamed of anything we did.
“We wrestled awesome. We just came up a little short. They’ll take it home next year.”
Beau Mourer won by technical fall at 171 and Hartland voided to Nick Brish at 189 as the Bulldogs went back in front, 23-22.
Eric Conquest won by decision at 215, but Hartland senior Jake Economou — pinned twice this season by top-ranked Luke Ready — held the Brighton junior to a decision at heavyweight. At this point, Brighton led 29-22 with two matches to go, but were docked a team point for unsportsmanlike conduct for a wrestler throwing his headgear.
“That was a huge turn for us, because we’ve pinned that kid twice this year,” Greathouse said. “To go out and decision him and give up a team point, that was a two-point win instead of a six-point win.”
Hartland had momentum, and the advantage — at least on paper — going into the final two matches before Grabowski’s late heroics.
“Incredible,” Cheney said. “It is what it is. Oh, well. We won some big matches, lost some big matches. It was a great dual. Came down to the last match.”
Ultimately, it was a win symbolic of Brighton’s team — and its season.
“It’s very rare to get 14 guys wrestling their best all on one day,” Greathouse said. “We didn’t really do it all year and we didn’t do it today. But, other guys picked them up and chipped in and got us over the hump and won us a state title.”
HOW CLOSE WAS IT?
If Saturday’s match had ended in a tie, Hartland would have won the crown due to a point deducted from Brighton for unsportsmanlike conduct earlier in the match. Instead, Brighton became the second county team to win a championship: Fowlerville won the Class B title in 1994.