BELLINGHAM - Mount Baker wrestling coach Ron Lepper wasn't the only one surprised when the Class 1A Sub Regional Tournament final team results were read over the loudspeaker at Squalicum High School.
Fans in attendance were stunned once Blaine was announced the second-place finisher.
"That was not what was expected coming into the weekend," Lepper said.
And for good reason.
Blaine beat Mount Baker by more than 80 points at the Northwest Conference Tournament three weeks ago. Blaine also beat the Mountaineers 40-22 in a dual meet on Jan. 16.
"We had a week and a half stretch in January when things didn't go so well for us," Lepper said," so we made a choice and gave them a day off from practice and said 'Let's come back recharged a little bit and get ready for the postseason.' That's what we've been focused on these last two weeks, and it paid off."
Shelby Miles (113 pounds), Joey Walton (132), Zach Larson (145), Alex Tyska (152), Travis Lindsey (170), Tyrel Cronk (182) and Sterling Honeycutt (220) each won individual titles as the Mountaineers pulled off an unexpected win, scoring 317 points to take first at the sub regional tournament Saturday, Feb. 2.
Blaine finished second with 310.5 points, Nooksack Valley placed third with 178 points, South Whidbey finished fourth with 131, Meridian was fifth with 92.5 and Friday Harbor placed sixth with 65 points.
Blaine's Kyle Gonzales (106), Gage Lott (120), Jon Stewart (160), Caleb Johnson (195) and Mikey Antczak (285) each won their respective weight classes, and Nooksack Valley's Taylor Gardner (126) and Christian Palma (138) each won individual titles.
The Mount Baker win gives the Mountaineers a boost of confidence moving forward, but the goal Saturday was to advance as many wrestlers as possible to next weekend's regional tournament.
The top four placers in each weight class earned the right to move on. Mount Baker had 15 wrestlers place in the top four, Blaine advanced 14, Nooksack Valley qualified eight and Meridian will have six wrestlers vying for a state spot next weekend.
"I think we are doing really good today," said Miles after pinning Blaine's Billy Dodd in the 113-pound championship match.
Miles is one of many Mountaineers who won key "toss-up" matches for Baker in the finals.
"Shelby Miles for the first time has been down to weight this year," Lepper said. "Zach (Larson) was a toss-up match. At 170, both our guys got (to the finals). Alex Ray got behind in his semifinal match but got that taken care of to get into the finals. Tyska gets behind five-nothing in his match at (1)52 and comes back to win. Those are the things that make me happy. They battled back."
The end result may have shocked Lepper, but he said sub districts is the first time this year he's been able to put his best squad on the mat. Due to injury, sickness or academic issues, Lepper's best team hasn't been able to compete.
Though Blaine fell short of winning a team tournament title, several Borderite wrestlers turned in fine performances.
"Gage Lott wrestled a great match," said Blaine coach Craig Foster of his 120-pound standout. Lott earned a 7-2 decision over Mount Baker's Hunter Schenk in the finals. "He did some things I've never seen him do before and was just real solid. He's just a real quiet, hard-working kid. He never gives up anything."
Stewart earned a 4-2 decision against Nooksack Valley's Jesse O'Bryan in the 160-pound final. Foster said Stewart was battling an illness, which caused him to throw up several times before matches, both Friday and Saturday.
Nooksack Valley's Gardner expertly navigated through a gauntlet of opponents in his 126-pound weight class. The Pioneer senior pinned South Whidbey's Stephen Lutsock in the quarterfinals, and pinned Meridian's Tomas Alvarado in the semifinals before beating Blaine's Anthony Frey with a 16-3 decision in the finals.
"Today I had a lot of tough opponents," Gardner said. "Anthony Frey, Jeremiah Cronk, Tomas Alvarado - they are all very tough opponents. I wrestled them earlier in the year, and I just tried to keep up my intensity."
Next up is the Class 1A Regional Tournament, where Mount Baker, Blaine, Nooksack Valley and Meridian will look to advance wrestlers to the state tournament. Regionals start at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, in Hoquiam.
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
CLASS 1A SUB REGIONAL TOURNAMENT
At Squalicum High School
MOUNT BAKER 317, BLAINE 310.5, NOOKSACK VALLEY 178, SOUTH WHIDBEY 131, MERIDIAN 92.5, FRIDAY HARBOR 65
106: Kyle Gonzales (Blaine) injury default. 113: Shelby Miles (Mount Baker) pin Billy Dodd (Blaine). 120: Gage Lott (Blaine) dec. Hunter Schenk (Mount Baker) 7-2. 126: Taylor Gardner (Nooksack Valley) dec. Anthony Frey (Blaine) 16-3. 132: Joey Walton (Mount Baker) pin Jack Hallmark (Meridian). 138: Christian Palma (Nooksack Valley) dec. Eddie Fontes (Blaine) 10-7. 145: Zach Larson (Mount Baker) dec. Justin Belding (Blaine) 7-3. 152: Alex Tyska (Mount Baker) pin Tate Brumsickle (Friday Harbor). 160: Jon Stewart (Blaine) dec. Jesse O'Bryan (Nooksack Valley) 4-2. 170: Travis Lindsey (Mount Baker) pin Alex Ray (Mount Baker). 182: Tyrel Cronk (Mount Baker) pin Dwayne Ortega (Blaine). 195: Caleb Johnson (Blaine) pin Israel Hernandez (Blaine). 220: Sterling Honeycutt (Mount Baker) dec. Patrick Monell (South Whidbey) 7-2. 285: Mikey Antczak (Blaine) pin Jake Larsen (Mount Baker).
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.