BLAINE - Borderites coach Craig Foster admitted there's far too many variables at Mat Classic to determine whether or not Blaine will win a Class 1A state title next weekend, but Foster's group ensured they'll at least be a contender thanks to another strong postseason performance.
Blaine's state title journey was put in motion last week with a dominant sub-regional tournament win. With the chance to qualify as many wrestlers as possible for state, in front of their home crowd, the Borderites again didn't disappoint.
Billy Dodd (120 pounds), Anthony Frey (132), Caleb Frey (138) and Jon Stewart (160) each won individual regional titles, nine Borderites wrestled in championship matches, 14 wrestlers placed fourth or better to qualify for next week's Mat Classic and Blaine earned a regional championship for the second straight season.
"I feel like it was about as well as we could wrestle," Foster said. "Throughout the tournament, pressure matches, matches to go to state, matches to get better seeds at state, we basically won every single match. I can never remember a tournament where we did that."
Blaine scored 256.5 points, Forks finished second with 228, Elma scored 132, Montesano had 121 and Mount Baker rounded out the top five with 119.5 points. Nooksack Valley finished ninth with 45 points and Meridian went scoreless.
Baker, headlined by Travis Lindsey's 170-pound title, advanced five wrestlers to state and Nooksack Valley qualified two.
Foster said earning a state title will come down to winning hard-fought, close matches. No one exemplified that ability Saturday more than Stewart during his championship bout with Montesano's Kylar Prante.
Stewart needed three overtime periods, prematurely celebrated following OT No. 2, but eventually scored a last-second escape to earn a dramatic 4-3 decision.
The Blaine senior said it was easily the most exciting match of his career.
"It just felt amazing," Stewart said. "I thought I won before, but it didn't matter. I knew just to keep wrestling, no matter what it was. I got a win, and I was just proud I wrestled as hard as I could."
Stewart's only regulation point was earned from a Montesano illegal hold, and he did an incredible job late in the first overtime to prevent a two-point takedown by scrambling with at least two full 360 degree spins.
He trailed 2-1 with 20 seconds left in the second overtime after Prante escaped Stewart's top control, but from the neutral position the Blaine senior found a crease to shoot and earned a two-point takedown at the mat's edge with five seconds left to go in front 3-2.
The referee then reset the match with Stewart on top needing to prevent an escape. Blaine's 160-pounder thought he'd held off Prante's escaped attempt long enough and celebrated his win before realizing the Montesano wrestler was awarded one point, sending the epic match into another OT period.
With 30 seconds set on the clock, battling from the bottom position, Stewart earned an escape with 6 seconds left to seal the victory. He threw his hands up in the air as the buzzer sounded, receiving a loud ovation from the home crowd.
""No. 1, it was definitely the best," said Stewart of where the match ranked on his career-best list. "I couldn't get takedowns early in the match. He got tired, broke down, and I got that takedown right at the edge of the mat."
Another neat moment for Blaine was the Frey brothers' championship matches. Wrestling side-by-side on the two title mats at the same time, Caleb held on to beat Nooksack Valley's Taylor Gardner 4-3 minutes before Anthony scored a 5-2 decision against Montesano's Austin Cain.
Caleb worked his way over to watch the conclusion of Anthony's match and the brothers shared a congratulatory embrace after Anthony signed off on his win.
"As a family we can win together and as a team we can win together," Anthony said. "We don't get along, necessarily, when we wrestle, but we make each other stronger and it gets us a little better."
Besides Blaine's champions, Kyle Gonzales (106), Stuey Rasar (106), Colton Economy (113), Derek Camba (120), Riley Fritsch (126), Gage Lott (126), Christian Sharp (152), Tristan Hunter (170), Tanner Anthony (182) and Mikey Antczak (285) each claimed a spot at the Mat Classic, which will take place Friday-Saturday, Feb. 21-22, at the Tacoma Dome.
Lott battled back to earn his spot after losing his first match in what Foster said was the most talent-filled weight class, and Rasar also won two straight matches after dropping his first to punch his state ticket.
And Foster and Stewart raved about how excited they were Tanner Anthony qualified for state, given his hard-luck wrestling career.
Joining Lindsey at state will be Baker teammates Alex Tyska (160), Alex Ray (182), JT Keeney (195) and Max Martinson (195).
"A little better than I expected," said Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper on how Baker fared at regionals. "At the beginning of the day, I thought it could be six (to advance). We ended up with five, so it's a pretty good day."
Nooksack Valley's Taylor Gardner (138) and Paul Newell (126) each advanced to state. Gardner placed second and Newell finished in fourth.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.
BLAINE 256.5, FORKS 228, ELMA 132, MONTESANO 121, MOUNT BAKER 119.5, HOQUIAM 110.5, SOUTH WHIDBEY 68, ROCHESTER 55.5, NOOKSACK VALLEY 45, TENINO 27, FRIDAY HARBOR 0, MERIDIAN 0, RAINIER 0
106: Sebastian Morales (Forks) dec. Kyle Gonzales (Blaine) 6-2. 113: Jacob Ellefson (Montesano) dec. Alvaro Ortiz (Forks) 10-4. 120: Billy Dodd (Blaine) dec. Jesse Velez (Hoquiam) 7-2. 126: Tanner Sample (Elma) dec. Riley Fritsch (Blaine) 3-2. 132: Anthony Frey (Blaine) dec. Austin Cain (Montesano) 5-2. 138: Caleb Frey (Blaine) dec. Taylor Gardner (Nooksack Valley) 4-3. 145: Tyson Dick (Elma) dec. Javier Contreras (Forks) 15-0. 152: Lucas Eastman (Rochester) dec. Christian Sharp (Blaine) 20-5. 160: Jon Stewart (Blaine) dec. Kylar Prante (Montesano) 4-3 (3OT). 170: Travis Lindsey (Mount Baker) pin Tristan Hunter (Blaine). 182: Kenny Huffman (Hoquiam) pin Alex Ray (Mount Baker). 195: Dom Nakano (Tenino) dec. Taylor Rupe (Montesano) 4-0. 220: Brek McGaughy (Elma) dec. Joel Ward (Forks) 5-4. 285: Miguel Morales (Forks) dec. 6-2.
Kyle Gonzales 106
Stuey Rasar 106
Colton Economy 113
Billy Dodd 120
Derek Camba 120
Riley Fritsch 126
Gage Lott 126
Anthony Frey 132
Caleb Frey 138
Christian Sharp 152
Jon Stewart 160
Tristan Hunter 170
Tanner Anthony 182
Mikey Antczak 285
MOUNT BAKER Wt.
Alex Tyska 160
Travis Lindsey 170
Alex Ray 182
JT Keeney 195
Max Martinson 195
NOOKSACK VALLEY Wt.
Paul Newell 126
Taylor Gardner 138
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.