TACOMA - Never this season has the Blaine Borderites wrestling team stopped fighting.
Each step of the postseason they've kept themselves in contention to win a state championship.
Blaine literally battled until the last match during Mat Classic XXVI on Saturday, Feb. 22, and Blaine heavyweight Mikey Antczak closed out the tournament by clinching the Borderites' first state championship since 1990, and the first in coach Craig Foster's long, decorated tenure.
"They are fighters, but more important they are just great kids," said Foster while battling his emotions. "They worked hard everyday. They put in the time. They earned it, and I couldn't be prouder."
The Borderites led the entire tournament until results revealed Blaine was trailing Forks by 2.5 points heading into Saturday's championship round.
Blaine had two wrestlers left in Jon Stewart (160 pounds) and Antczak, and Forks had 220-pound wrestler Joel Ward still to wrestle.
After both Stewart and Ward lost, the entire tournament rested on Antczak's 285-pound championship with Chewelah's Dustin Olson.
Blaine needed Antczak's four points, and the heavyweight delivered with a 5-1 decision, sealing a state title for himself and one for the Borderites at the same time.
Foster and Antzcak shared a long embrace, as the rest of the Borderites stood pressed against the railing during their heavyweight's final match
The tears began flowing as the Borderites realized what they had just accomplished.
"I still can't believe I just won state," Antczak said. "I've never felt that before, that feeling. It's crazy.
Antczak's win gave Blaine 110.5 points, Forks finished with 109 and Warden placed third with 92.
The final-match win epitomized Blaine's never-say-die attitude in many ways. They overcame a difficult stretch in the medal rounds, braved some questionable officiating, didn't give up after Stewart's lose and rode Antczak's performance to one weekend Blaine's 14 state wrestlers will surely never soon forget.
"It was just a lot of pressure on Mikey to go out there and win that match," teammate Anthony Frey said, "and for him to do that was big for us. It put us back in first place to win the whole title. It feels great."
Foster said he's coached 10 or 11 state champions during his 20-plus seasons at Blaine, but given what was riding on Antczak's match, he said his senior's match was one of the best he's ever been a part of.
"You can count this right up there as the best one, because it won the state title for us as a team," Foster said.
Antczak brought the title home, but it couldn't have been done with strong wrestling from all Blaine's state participants.
Senior Kyle Gonzales finished 3-3 and, like many of the Blaine wrestlers, broke through into the medal rounds not wrestling past day one last year.
Gonzales opened day two with a 6-4 win over Lakeside's Joe Adams, but then lost back-to-back matches to earn a sixth-place medal.
"I was hoping for something better, but this is my first time in four years medaling, so I can't be too disappointed," he said.
Freshman Riley Fritsch (126) put together a strong showing in his first career Mat Classic. He won late on day one and, like Gonzales, earned a win in his first match on Saturday before dropping his next two to finish the tournament, taking home 6th place.
Fritsch won 4-2 in the medal rounds before losing 6-4 in overtime and 4-1 during his fifth-place match.
Anthony Frey entered the medal rounds with the hope he'd be wrestling for a state title, but he suffered a semifinal defeat and followed that with a tough 2-1 loss to Forks' Nanito Sanchez.
He finished his tournament with a fifth-place medal after scoring a 16-1 technical fall over Kalama's Jacob Posey.
Many Borderites didn't place as high as they wished, but 152-pound senior Christian Sharp was truly served a dose of hard-luck.
Sharp finished his Mat Classic with a 4-2 record and both losses came on questionable one-point losses.
But Sharp didn't give in. He came back to score a huge final win after losing his chance to wrestle for third place to take home a fifth-place medal.
"It didn't come out how I wanted it to," he said. "Sometimes you work as hard as you possibly can and you get shot down time after time, with what seems unbelievable."
Despite Sharp not winning a title or getting the chance to win a title, he said he'd much rather see his team succeed.
"I'd rather see one next to the team than my own name, for sure," Sharp said. "That's all I really wanted."
Sophomore Caleb Frey (138) was Blaine's only wrestler to compete in a third-place match.
He lost in a 4-0 decision and finished the tournament 3-3. But taking a medal back to Blaine, he said, was a major accomplishment.
Tristan Hunter (170) put together a strong day one, setting himself up in the semifinal round and eventually settled for a sixth-place medal.
Foster said Hunter getting to the medal rounds was a great accomplishment, considering he wasn't one of the Borderites' top wrestlers entering the season.
Others wrestling at state for Blaine, who contributed to the team win but did not place were Stuey Rasar (106), Colton Economy (113), Billy Dodd (120), Gage Lott (126) and Tanner Anthony (182)
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2826. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.