TACOMA - Odds are, Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper couldn't have selected a more deserving wrestler to earn center stage during Washington's pinnacle wrestling event.
Mount Baker 182-pound wrestler Tyrel Cronk earned a compliment from Lepper that doesn't come easy following his state title bout against defending state champion Cruz Del Angel of Kiona-Benton.
"He's always been a good leader, but these last few weeks he's been maybe as good as we've ever had - as good as I've ever been around," Lepper said.
But no amount of team inspiration and guidance could have helped Cronk during his uphill battle with his powerhouse state title-bout counterpart.
Cronk did everything in his power to squeeze points out of his match, but ultimately Del Angel proved too difficult to overcome, as Cronk lost in an 8-3 decision Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Tacoma Dome during Mat Classic XXV.
Del Angel earned pins inside two minutes against his previous three opponents before Cronk, but the Mount Baker 182-pounder made him work, taking Del Angel three periods.
"I just thought Tyrel came to wrestle the last match of his career as hard as he could," Lepper said. "He tried his move a couple times. It didn't work, but that's OK. He didn't sit back. He came out and tried to wrestle, and that kid is very good. As time will go on, he'll look back at the accomplishment of getting to the finals. That's pretty special."
It's even more special given Cronk, who placed seventh last year, had a goal of merely reaching the semifinals.
"It feels good," Cronk said of his second-place finish. "I knew he was a stud, and obviously it showed, but like I said my goal was to just make it to the semis. Obviously, it sucks, but it's great to make it to the state finals with all these people here and all that good stuff."
One year removed from watching former teammate and friend Alec Postlewait wrestle for a state title in front of hundreds on the Tacoma Dome floor, it was Cronk's turn Saturday.
"The first time I saw the single mat out there it kind of hits you. 'Oh, wow, it's just me out there.' It's definitely cool to be out there in front of everyone, I just wish I would have won," Cronk said.
Cronk finished his tournament with a 3-1 record that included two pins and a dominating 6-0 decision.
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.