EAST PEORIA — Washington now needs its toes to count its Mid-Illini Conference wrestling titles.
The Panthers captured their 11th consecutive league championship Saturday by putting 10 in championship matches, winning seven titles and scoring 227 points — 98 more than second-place Pekin. East Peoria was third (119.5)
Four of Washington’s individual championships came via technical fall or pin, including three in a row in the heart of its lineup.
“We work super hard all year just for this end of the year stuff,” Washington senior Zeke Hulet said. “This is all our big finale to actually see what we’re made of. Eleven years in a row is just showing the program took what the people before us gave us and are just running with it.”
Hulet (28-9) had the closest call of the Panther three-time champs, winning by a 5-2 decision over Canton’s Dylan Grigsby (28-3) in a spirited 138-pound title bout. The match was tied at 2-2, before Hulet got an escape to start the third period, then recorded a takedown in the final seconds to secure the win.
“That kid actually beat me early in the year, so I was ready and I knew what I had to do,” Hulet said. “I knew he was a good, solid kid, so (it was) just going out there and wrestling through my positions and getting everything done I needed to get done.”
Freshman Kannon Webster (36-0) got Washington rolling with a pin in just 1:43 against Morton’s Connor Kidd in the 106 title bout.
Then came three consecutive technical fall wins for Washington from three-time league champs Abe Hinrichsen at 120 (15-0 against EP’s Jaxon Miller), Joey Cape at 126 (23-8 against Morton’s Jamison Almasy) and Brody Norman at 132 (15-0 against Canton’s Andrew Hedges).
Washington’s other firsts came from two-timer Donnie Hidden at 152 (11-2 major decision against Pekin’s Devin Tovrea) and Tyler Casey at 170 (3-2 over Morton’s Tristan Parker).
“Guys wrestled well today, (but) not perfect,” Miller said. “We’re not where we want to be yet, but that’s OK. We got some individual matchups that I think revealed some things we need to work on and we’ll try to fix those the next couple weeks and get ready to go.”
Pekin received championships from Ryan Haynes at 145 (6-5 sudden victory over East Peoria’s Tristen Westbay), two-time champ Jared Dowell (31-1) at 182 (5:23 pin of EP’s Jonah Zeigler-Harris) and Tyler Haynes (5:47 pin of Metamora’s Payton Cardin).
Westbay (27-3), a returning champion, sent the match into extra time tied 5-5 with an escape with 19 seconds left. Haynes grabbed his first league title in sudden victory when Westbay was penalized for having his shoelaces untied. Haynes was given choice of start up and chose down, getting an escape for a 6-5 victory.
“It felt good to get to the finals and finally get one,” said Haynes, who had finished second the previous three years to Washington wrestlers before knocking off Panthers' No. 1 seed Cole Watkins in the semifinals. “I’ve been wrestling hard all week, been wrestling matches at the end of practice getting ready for a match like this.”
Another close call came at 160, where Metamora’s Brayden Smith defended his title with a 1-0 decision against Washington’s Jacob Sollberger. Sollberger nearly scored a winning reversal in the final seconds.
“He almost got two on me,” Smith said. “I panicked a little bit and he got some space, then I did a blast double to keep him down.”
The quickest pin of the finals came from two-time champ Jacob Waskow, who pinned Morton’s Ethan Gray in 42 seconds. Other champions were Cory Hoyle (30-4) of Morton at 113 (20-4 tech fall over Washington’s Josh Biagini) and Caleb Collins (26-3) of East Peoria at 285 (3-1 over defending champ Dylan Cooper of Washington).
Stan Morris can be reached at 686-3214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @stanmorrispjs