EAST CHICAGO — Bankers Life Fieldhouse is the promised land for Indiana high school wrestlers in February.
La Porte’s Noah Perez and New Prairie’s Grant Johnson earned the cherished spot in the field of 224 with top-four finishes in Saturday’s E.C. Central Semistate at the John A. Baratto Center.
"I wrestled the best I could have, staying aggressive, keeping pressure on people," Perez said after earning third place by virtue of an injury default from Penn's Noah Brown at 182 pounds. "I couldn't ask for a better outcome. It means a lot. Since my freshman year, I've been trying to go down and win a medal. It's all I've dreamed of."
Perez (38-7) punched his ticket with a quarterfinal pin (5:25) of Wawasee’s Alex Castro before losing in the semifinals 10-3 to one-loss freshman Andrew Donahue of Culver Academies.
“We probably would’ve seen (Donahue) at their tournament, but we weren’t able to go due to the weather,” L.P. coach Louie Kuzdas said. “It’s one of those things where that probably would have benefited us. We can count about all of Noah’s losses to kids we’ve seen all season. We’re at the point where it was nice to see some fresh faces. For Noah to qualify for state and reach victories in his career, he’s writing his own chapter. You look at the beginning of the season, everything you prepared for comes down to this day. Let’s get another week and see what we can do.”
Johnson (44-5) advanced to state with a quarterfinal fall at 2:46 against Hobart’s Bobby Babcock.
“It feels great. It’s been something that’s been working for a long time,” Johnson said after the win. “I’m really elated. I was really excited with my draw. I felt I had a really good chance to punch my ticket. I just went out and wrestled my match.”
“It’s very exciting for him, his family and his teammates,” Cougars coach Bobby Whitenack said. “He’s worked really hard to be where he’s at and he’s very deserving. He’s got goals and there’s more to do.”
Ethan Potosky of Crown Point blanked Johnson 10-0 in the semis, sending Johnston into the third-place match.
"I was a little anxious. I wasn't patient with a few of my shots and I didn't finish on the edge," Johnson said. "If I can control that stuff better, the outcome could be different."
Johnson's day ended with a second straight loss, a 40-second fall by Hebron's Ewan Donovan, who also beat Johnson in the regional semifinals.
"I didn't wrestle bad. I just got caught. That happens. I have to work on my scrambles," Johnson said. "We're in a tough semistate. I'm not too disappointed in how I wrestled. (At regionals), I didn't wrestle well at all. I cleaned a lot of stuff up. There's always stuff I can keep getting better on. Whoever I draw (at state), I'll wrestle the same. I'll be ready to give it my all. If I do that, I don't feel there's anybody I can't beat."
La Porte’s Tyson Nisley (37-5) fell one match shy of a state berth, losing 10-2 to Lafayette Jefferson’s Cameron Worley in the quarterfinals.
The other six La Porte County qualifiers bowed out in the first round.
Slicer Matt Neff was the surprise in the group, the Crown Point Regional champion losing to Penn’s Michael Garcia, 7-4. Skyler Querry was pinned in 3:18 by Griffith’s Cole Cervantes. Neff had beaten Garcia previously at Mishawaka’s Al Smith tournament.
“(Penn)’s Brad (Harper) is a great coach. You know he’s going to coach them up,” Kuzdas said. “We knew we were going to see a different guy or a different style. (Garcia) did exactly what he needed to do. With (Neff and Nisley), the silver lining is both of them are juniors.”
Three of New Prairie’s four entrants were eliminated in the opening session. Brayden Ruiz fell to Lafayette Central Catholic’s Isaac Switzer 8-5 at 132 in a match he led until the last minute. Luke Lenig (170) was pinned in 4:52 by West Lafayette’s Connor Barket, while 285 freshman Hunter Whitenack lost by fall in 2:58 to McCutcheon’s Nathaniel Duncan.
“We had four and our goal was to get all four (to state),” coach Whitenack said. “For the seniors (Ruiz and Lenig), it’s the end of their careers. They’re hard-working kids and we’re proud of them. (Hunter) is a freshman, so if he puts the work in, he can come back and have a better experience.”
John Wilcher, Michigan City’s sole participant, lasted just 21 seconds against South Bend Adams’ Jonathan Thomas Jr.
E.C. Central Semistate
Local State Qualifiers
Noah Perez (La Porte, 182)
Grant Johnson (New Prairie, 195)
IHSAA SEMISTATE WRESTLING TOURNAMENT
At East Chicago
TOP 20 TEAM SCORES: Crown Point 87, Portage 81 ½, Merrillville 71 ½, Culver Academies 67 ½, Wawasee 55, Mishawaka 45, Penn 44, Chesterton 42, Harrison (West Lafayette) 25, Calumet 24, Wheeler 24, Attica 23, Plymouth 21, LaVille 20, Hammond Morton 16, La Porte 13, Hebron 11, West Lafayette 11, Valparaiso 10, Griffith 9, Lowell 9.
STATE QUALIFIERS: Crown Point 7, Merrillville 5, Portage 5, Culver Academies 4, Penn 4, Mishawaka 3, Wawasee 3, Chesterton 2, Harrison (Lafayette) 2, Wheeler 2, Attica 1, Calumet 1, Griffith 1, Hammond Gavit 1, Hammond Morton 1, Hebron 1, Lafayette Central Catholic 1, Lafayette Jeff 1, Lake Central 1, La Porte 1, LaVille 1, Lowell 1, McCutcheon 1, New Prairie 1, Plymouth 1, Rensselaer Central 1, Valparaiso 1, West Lafayette 1, Winamac 1.
106: Brennen Cernus (Culver Academies) dec. Malik Hall (Merrillville), 7-3.
113: Jacob Moran (Portage) maj. dec. Martin Cruz (Merrillville), 13-3.
120: Riley Bettich (Crown Pt.) dec. William Finnearty (Culver Academies), 3-0.
126: Jesse Mendez (Crown Pt.) pinned Brendon Mark (Mishawaka), 1:29.
132: Geremia Brooks (Wawasee) dec. Reese Rodriguez (Hammond Morton), 12-6.
138: Braxton Alexander (Wawasee) pinned AJ Poindexter (Harrison-Lafayette), 1:39.
145: Jorden Douglass (Attica) maj. dec. Jacob Maldonado, 9-1.
152: Brock Ellis (Chesterton) dec. Isaiah Mohmed (Wheeler), 6-0.
160: Donnell Washington (Portage) maj. dec. Braden Welch (Culver Academies), 17-4.
170: Graham Calhoun (Plymouth) dec. Joseph Walker (Mishawaka), 5-4.
182: Evan Bates (Chesterton) dec. Andrew Donahue (Culver Academies), 5-4.
195: Rockne Hurley (Penn) dec. Ethan Potosky (Crown Pt.), 5-3.
220: Arthur A Fowler (Calumet) pinned Drew Bailey (Merrillville), 1:02.
285: Alex Cartwright (LaVille) dec. Yehezquel Devault (Penn), 11-6.
For 3rd place
106: Stephen Roberson (Crown Pt.) dec. Dominic Skees (Lafayette Central Catholic), 8-0.
113: Giovanni Diaz (Wheeler) maj. dec. Jake Armstrong (Winamac), 11-0.
120: Jace Alexander (Wawasee) pinned Ty Haskins (Portage), 2:05.
126: Brock Peele (Portage) dec. Evan Burge (McCutcheon), 7-1.
132: Ricky Hegedus (Portage) dec. Elijah Hickman (Rensselaer Central), 7-3.
138: Gabriel Weeks (Mishawaka) dec. Cameron Worley (Lafayette Jeff), 11-6.
145: Jake Burford (Crown Pt.) dec. Jeffrey Harper (Penn), 7-6.
152: Cole Cervantes (Griffith) dec. Noah Hollendonner (Crown Pt.), 10-6.
160: Abel Verbeek (Lowell) dec. Jaymiere Johnson (Hammond Gavit), 7-3.
170: Colin Kwiatkowski (Valparaiso) maj. dec. Jason Streck (Merrillville), 14-2.
182: Noah Perez (La Porte) won by forfeit (injury) over Noah Brown (Penn).
195: Evan Donovan (Hebron) pinned Grant Johnson (New Prairie), 0:40.
220: Joey Kidwell (West Lafayette) dec. Damari Dancy (Portage), 3-2.
285: Will Crider (Harrison-Lafayette) dec. Anthony Atria (Merrillville), 6-4.
NOTE: Top four finishers in each weight class advance to IHSAA state finals on Friday, Feb, 15.