Park Rapids wrestlers take different routes to reach state tourney
Park Rapids' Forrest Drury, Brandon Ritter and Ben Baumgartner took different paths to reach the state Class AA wrestling tournament.
Drury entered the Section 8AA tournament at Fergus Falls as the No. 1 seed at 170 pounds, Ritter was the No. 2 seed at 220 and Baumgartner was the No. 3 seed at 120.
All three lived up to or exceeded their rankings to qualify for state.
During last Saturday's finals, Drury capped off his senior season by advancing to his first state meet as a section champion, Ritter capped off his senior season by earning his second trip to state as a section runner-up and Baumgartner also earned his first state berth by winning a section title to cap off his freshman season.
Those three wrestlers were looking to advance to the state finals, which will be held today (Saturday) at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Drury backs up No. 1 seed
Drury entered his final section meet confident of qualifying for his first state tournament.
The Park Rapids senior, who lost a true-second match at 160 at last year's Section 8A tournament, coasted to last Saturday's finals.
Drury received a first-round bye before pinning East Grand Forks' Eli Deziel in 1:55 and defeating Thief River Falls' Logan Alten 10-4. A first-period takedown, an escape and takedown in the second period, and a reversal, escape and takedown in the third period led Drury to the finals.
In the championship match, Drury opened with a takedown in the first period and sealed the section title with a nearfall in the second period and a reversal in the third period for a 6-0 decision over No. 3-seeded Blake Olson of Fosston/Bagley. Drury edged Olson 8-6 in the regular-season finale when Olson was rated No. 5 in the state.
"I was pretty confident going in. I had beat everybody in the section and I was pretty confident I could beat everybody again," said Drury. "(Against Olson) I just wanted to go out and do the best I can and see what happens. After I got the first takedown, I felt that decided the match."
Winning the section title provided plenty of momentum for Drury, who carried a 35-6 record into his state debut.
"It's been a really good year. Getting to state was definitely a big goal of mine," said Drury. "My next goal is to place down there. I just want to wrestle the best I can and see what happens. If all goes right, it's a possibility that I can come out with a medal."
Ritter returns to state
Ritter was also confident that he would earn a trip to state.
After claiming runner-up honors at 285 at last year's Section 8A meet, Ritter moved down to 220 and received the No. 2 seed behind Perham's Cody Nylander, who entered the section tournament as the top-rated Class AA wrestler in the state at that weight.
With only six wrestlers in that bracket, Ritter received two byes before facing Thief River Falls' Jon Erickson in the semifinals.
"I thought there was a slim chance I wouldn't make it, but I was pretty sure I'd make it," said Ritter. "Everybody bumped up to heavyweight, so the six-man bracket made my chances a lot easier."
In the semifinals, Ritter and Erickson battled through a scoreless first period before two penalty points and a takedown gave Ritter a 4-3 lead. Ritter opened the second period with a reversal for a 6-3 lead before Erickson countered with an escape and two takedowns for an 8-7 advantage. An escape tied the match before a takedown in the final 20 seconds sent Ritter to the championship match with a 10-8 decision.
"It was extremely important to get back to state. I didn't want to miss out my senior year after going my junior year," said Ritter, who defeated Erickson 3-1 in overtime during the regular season. "There was a lot of urgency. I was down a point with a minute to go. I was angry at myself for letting it be that close. I needed to give it all I had. I was not going to let him beat me."
That win sent Ritter to the finals against Nylander. The two battled through a scoreless first period before Ritter used an escape and takedown to claim a 3-0 lead. But Nylander responded with an escape and takedown to tie the match before winning the section title with an escape and takedown in the third period for a 6-3 victory.
"I had him. I was up 3-0, but he tied it and then took the lead," said Ritter. "I had to get a takedown in the third period to win it, but he got it instead of me."
Despite that loss, Ritter entered the state tournament with a 25-2 record and plenty of confidence.
"I feel pretty confident. I wrestled well against Nylander and he's the No. 1-ranked wrestler. If I can wrestle that well against him, I should do pretty good down there," said Ritter, who lost his only match at state last season. "I think it's a pretty realistic goal to place this year. I'm going to wrestle with confidence and hopefully go all the way. The way I look at it, I need to win four more matches to be a state champion."
Baumgartner avenges losses
Baumgartner knew he had a tough challenge ahead of him in order to qualify for state.
The Park Rapids freshman entered the section meet seeded behind Staples-Motley junior Blake Miller and Fergus Falls junior Tyler Giza. Miller edged Baumgartner 8-7 in the finals of the Mid-State Conference tournament while Giza defeated Baumgartner 6-2 during the section team tournament.
"I already lost to both of them, so I felt like I had nothing to lose," said Baumgartner, who finished third at 103 in 2010 and third at 112 last year at the Section 8A meet. "I was not happy when I lost to Giza and Miller the first time. I figured if they beat me this year that they would beat me next year too and I would have to wait until I was a junior to get to state. It was pretty important for me to get to state this year."
Baumgartner put himself in position to advance to state by pinning East Grand Forks' Stanley Peltier in 1:00 and defeating Perham's Chase Curtis 10-3. Baumgartner used a pair of takedowns in both the first and second periods and a takedown in the third period to advance to the semifinals.
In the semifinal match against Giza, Baumgartner used an escape and takedown in the second period to claim a 3-2 lead before Giza used an escape and takedown for a 5-3 advantage early in the third period. Baumgartner responded with an escape, takedown and nearfall for a 10-5 advantage. Giza suffered a concussion during the takedown and had to default the match, sending Baumgartner to the finals.
"Giza was up 5-3 in the third. I kept shooting and kept shooting and I brought him to the mat," said Baumgartner. "I figured if I kept shooting I'd wear him out and I would end up winning the match."
That pitted Baumgartner against Miller in the finals. Two takedowns in the first period and an escape in the second period gave Baumgartner a 5-2 lead. Miller used an escape and takedown to tie the match at 5-5 after regulation before Baumgartner's takedown in overtime led to the win and a state berth.
"I felt pretty motivated. I felt all the pressure was on him to defend his seed while I had nothing to lose," said Baumgartner. "I was ahead, but he caught me for a takedown. In overtime, he went for another takedown, but I caught him. I was pretty tired. I had a hard time breathing, but I was pretty excited."
Avenging those two losses provided Baumgartner with plenty of motivation entering his first state tournament.
"I hope to place in the top six," said Baumgartner. "I'm shooting for some hardware."