Feature photo courtesy of the Washington Wrestling Photos Facebook page
By JARED BELL
STERLING – When Tyler Delaware was unexpectedly pinned in mid-January and subsequently fell in the Illinois Matmen GO EARN IT Wrestling Apparel rankings, the Washington 126-pound junior didn’t get mad or feel disrespected.
What the defending state champion did feel was motivated.
“I got pinned by (Sterling’s Isaac) Figueroa earlier in the year, so I felt like I had to prove something and what I was really capable of,” said Delaware, who fell to No. 4 in the rankings – or the lowest-ranked returning state champion. “It really motivated me for the regional and the sectional.”
At Saturday’s Class 2A Sterling Sectional, Delaware proved his worth yet again.
In a loaded weight class that featured the top 4-ranked kids in the state and eight of the top 10, Delaware bested the star-studded field to win a sectional championship.
“This was pretty much state right here and shows you who the top dogs are,” Delaware said. “Winning this really helps my confidence going into next week. This bracket was stacked – it had the top four in the state – so it feels great to win.”
After Delaware won in Friday’s quarterfinals, he redeemed himself Saturday with a 5-0 decision over Figueroa in the semifinals before he earned a hard-fought 3-2 decision against Burlington Central junior Austin Macias in the title match.
“Losses are great for a kid like Tyler Delaware because he grew from it,” Washington coach Bryan Medlin said. “Unlike other kids who feel bad when they lose, he wanted to know what he did wrong. He’s not an overly emotional kid, so he kept his cool.”
In Saturday’s final, Delaware took a one-point lead late in the third period and then held control over the final 30 seconds as Macias was unable to break the hold and earn the match-tying escape.
“All that mattered to me was that I made it to state,” Macias said. “What matters is next week and who brings their A-game, and I’m going to bring my A-game.”
The first two times Morris junior Cody Baldridge and Kaneland senior Riley Vanik wrestled, their matches went to overtime and the pair split wins.
In Saturday’s 182-pound sectional final, Round 3 went to Baldridge.
In one of the night’s most-anticipated championship matches, Baldridge scored a match-changing third-period takedown and then fought off a near takedown at the buzzer to earn a thrilling 3-2 victory and a sectional title.
“That was awesome,” Baldridge said. “When we wrestled at the conference tournament, I was pretty timid, so this time I knew I had to be a little more aggressive, and it worked.”
Baldridge, ranked No. 3, and Vanik, ranked No. 2, may not be done with each other quite yet.
“I totally expect to see him again next week at state, and possibly in the state title match,” said Baldridge, who placed second last season. “I think we’re the top competitors at 182 pounds, so it could be fun.”
FOURTH TIME THE CHARM
In his first three years of high school, Pontiac 170-pound senior Jake Lanning has qualified for state three times and won three medals.
One thing missing? A sectional title.
On Saturday, he changed that as the 40-0 Indian senior – who’s ranked No. 1 at his weight – won his first career sectional title with a 3-0 decision over Manteno junior Stevie Silva, who is ranked No. 2.
“The past two years I lost to (Washington alumnus and Air Force wrestler) Randy Meneweather in the semifinals or the finals and the year before that he also won my bracket,” Lanning said. “So, to be able to come in as a senior and finally win it is different but I can get use to it.”
Defending Class 2A dual team state champion Washington flexed its muscle once again Saturday as Class 2A’s No. 1-ranked team won six weight classes and had three other wrestlers qualify for state.
“This was a great experience for us,” said Washington 120-pound senior Dack Punke, a returning state champion. “It’ll be awesome to be able to take some new kids down, but it’s also fun for us seniors. When we’re all down there as a team, it’ll be great. We’re like a family.”
In addition to Delaware’s title, 195-pound senior Jacob Warner had little problems getting through the tournament as he had three pin falls – all within the first minute – to claim a sectional title.
In fact, Warner needed just 1:53 of combined time to win all three of matches.
Punke also rolled to a sectional title as he won all three matches by technical fall.
Also winning sectional crowns for the Panthers were 138-pound junior Blaize Punke as well as 152-pound senior Kyle Goin and 106-pound freshman Christian Goin.
Many other wrestlers also excelled Saturday and won sectional titles.
Geneseo had a pair of senior champions as Zach Humphrey won the 220-pound weight class and Sam Thomas was victorious at 285 pounds.
Undefeated Morton junior Mikie Hartnett won at 138 pounds, while Bloomington junior Savion Haywood prevailed at 132 pounds.
Freeport sophomore Major Dedmond took the 160-pound weight class, while Peoria Notre Dame freshman Tristan Daugherty won the 113-pound weight class.
Jared Bell can be reached at (815) 220-6938. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.