Section 7AA Finals: Chisago Lakes 40, Milaca 23 It’s a story line that would be considered too fanciful to be made into a Hollywood movie.
Dan Sargeant’s first win as a high school wrestler clinched a win over Milaca in the Section 7AA championship match, sending the Wildcat team to the state wrestling tournament for the first time in nearly 30 years. Sargeant, wrestling in the 220 pound class, defeated Zach Peterson of Milaca 4-3 in triple overtime to give the Wildcats an insurmountable 34-23 lead.
The Chisago Lakes half of the Pine City gym erupted when the buzzer sounded at the end of Sargeant’s match, guaranteeing the Wildcats’ trip to state. Putting icing on the cake, Jonah Westbury (285) pinned Brandon Merten of Milaca to make the final score Chisago Lakes 40, Milaca 23. The Wildcats will wrestle Simley, ranked second in the state in Class AA, in the quarterfinals next Thursday, February 28 at 9 a.m. at the Xcel Energy Center. There was drama throughout the evening of Friday, February 15 as the two teams battled to decide who was going to state and who was going to have to console themselves with the individual section tournament this weekend at Hibbing.
The first match of the evening, which pitted the Wildcat freshman Aaron Sistrunk (106) against Jonathan Hall of Milaca, proved to be pivotal. In the first period, Sistrunk took down Hall at 43 seconds to take a 2-0 lead. Hall reversed Sistrunk 14 seconds later and put Sistrunk on his back, nearly pinning him. Sistrunk fought off the pin and the wrestlers slid out of bounds. Hall was awarded three points for a near fall to take a 5-2 lead. Sistrunk started on top in the second period. He let Hall up at 2:26 to make the score 6-2. Sistrunk took Hall down at 3:10 to cut the deficit to 6-4. He let Hall up at 3:20 and, in the same motion, took Hall down again and put him in a vulnerable position. Sistrunk aggressively finished off the pin at 3:35. So instead of trailing 6-0, as they would have if Hall had finished off his pin of Sistrunk in the first period, the Wildcats were ahead 6-0. The 12 point swing got the Wildcats off to a rip-roaring start. Wildcat head coach Shawn Frederixon said “It could have been a completely different match had Aaron not fought off his back there in the first period. It completely energized the whole team when Aaron came flying off the mat after the pin. It kind of let the other guys know that this thing is going to be okay.”
Milaca’s regular 120 pounder was injured and unable to wrestle. So their 113 pounder, Ray Hoffman, moved up to 120 and Milaca didn’t send out anyone to wrestle at 113. That meant Wildcat freshman Kyle Schoenecker, who has been to the state tournament as an individual the past two years and is currently ranked seventh in the state in Class AA, won by forfeit to put the Wildcats up 12-0. At 120, Hoffman was matched up against the Wildcats’ A.J. Harrington. Hoffman scored the only two points of the first period on a takedown. The wrestlers started up in the second period. Hoffman took Harrington down at 2:16 and pinned Harrington at 2:26, cutting the Wildcat lead to 12-6.
Wildcat sophomore Dylan Connell (126), ranked fifth in the state at 120, took a 2-0 lead over Mike Hoffman of Milaca just 15 seconds into their match. He let Hoffman escape a few second later. Connell scored another takedown at 1:23 and led 4-1 at the end of the first period. Connell started on the bottom in the second period. He nearly escaped at 2:40, but Hoffman hauled him back down to the mat. Connell reversed Hoffman at 3:04 to push the lead to 6-1. He let Hoffman escape a few seconds later and led 6-2 at the end of two. Connell started on top in the third period and let Hoffman escape. Still leading 6-3 with 30 seconds left in the period, Connell was penalized one point for stalling to cut his lead to 6-4. That was the end of the scoring. The referee called a stalemate very late in the period and Connell had a win six seconds later, increasing the Wildcat lead to 15-6.
Wildcat freshman Mike Bliskowski had a tough match against Joey Curtis of Milaca. With two takedowns and two near falls, Curtis built to a 10-1 lead with 15 seconds left in the first period. He pinned Bliskowski with one second left to cut the Wildcat lead to 15-12.
Wildcat senior Quade Zupko is ranked fifth in the state at 138 and has been to the state tournament the past three years, finishing sixth in 2012. He’s the Wildcats’ sole captain this season and led by example against Milaca as he took on Logan Sahlstrom. In a very active first period, Zupko scored five takedowns and picked up a couple of points for stalling by Sahlstrom. He let Sahlstrom escape four times. Zupko was awarded a two point near fall at the end of the period and led 14-5 after one. Zupko kept up the same pattern in the second period. He took down Sahlstrom and let him up three times to build a 20-7 lead at 2:55. At 3:14, Zupko took down Sahlstrom one last time for two points and a 22-7 lead, winning the match with a five point technical fall. The Wildcats now led 20-12.
Wildcat junior Carson Velaski, the first of three Wildcats in a row recently returned from an injury, put up a heck of a fight against Jack Barsody of Milaca at 145. Velaski took a 1-0 lead at 39 seconds after Barsody was warned for the second time about grabbing Velaski’s headgear. Barsody scored a takedown at 55 seconds to lead 2-1. Velaski nearly escaped with about 30 seconds left in the period, but both wrestlers slid out of bounds. Velaski started on the bottom in the second period. He got a reversal at 2:47 and Barsody scored a reversal at 3:10, so Barsody led 4-3 after two. Velaski started on top in the third period and immediately let Barsody up for an escape. Velaski nearly had a takedown at 4:30 and finally completed it at 5:05 to tie things up at 5-5. He immediately let Barsody up, now trailing 6-5, and went for another takedown. It looked like Velaski had a takedown with 13 seconds left, but the referee ruled that the wrestlers were out of bounds before the takedown was complete and Velaski still trailed by a point. Velaski went right back to work and had nearly completed a takedown when the final buzzer went off. Velaski pounded the mat as the referee raised Barsody’s hand. The 6-5 win for Barsody cut the Wildcat lead to 20-15. “Carson wrestled really well,” said Frederixon, “he just ran out of time as he was trying to finish the kid off. It was a good match. Barsody beat Carson 4-0 the last time they wrestled and for him to put himself in position to win was excellent.”
Wildcat junior Mark Sontag (152) gutted it out in his match with Aaron Moscho of Milaca. The first period, uneventful except for a stalling warning given to Moscho at 41 seconds, ended 0-0. Sontag started on the bottom in the second period and immediately got a reversal to take a 2-0 lead. Sontag was hit with a stall warning later in the period, which ended with Sontag still in the lead. Sontag started on top in the third period and let Moscho escape, cutting Sontag’s lead to 2-1. The wrestlers chased each other all over the mat the rest of the period, with Sontag doing most of the chasing. The clock was stopped seven times when the wrestlers went out of bounds. Sontag was awarded a takedown at the final buzzer to make it a 4-1 win. The Wildcats now led 23-15.
At 160, Wildcat junior Sean Hoyt was matched up against Jorgen Erickson of Milaca. Erickson took Hoyt down at 1:12 to go up 2-0. About ten seconds later, Hoyt tried to reverse Erickson and appeared to have Erickson flat on his back. But, despite protests from the Wildcat bench, the referee ruled otherwise. He called a stalemate and the scored stayed at 2-0. Hoyt started on the bottom in the second period and stayed there, so neither wrestler scored in the period. A tired-looking Hoyt started on top in the third period and let Erickson up right away. Erickson had a takedown at 4:48 and a near fall with 28 seconds left to go up 8-0. Erickson picked up a stalling point a few seconds later to make the final score 9-0. Milaca had cut the lead to 23-19.
Wildcat sophomore Joe Virga, ranked seventh in the state at 160, took on Josh Otten of Milaca in the 170 pound match and dominated from the beginning. He took Otten down at 45 seconds and nearly pinned him a few seconds later. He was awarded a three point near fall and led 5-0. Virga started on the bottom in the second period and reversed at 2:17 to increase his lead to 7-0. It looked like some bonus points were in the offing for Virga. He let Otten escape, took him down again and let him escape again to make the score 9-2 with a minute left in the second period. Virga appeared to complete a takedown at the end of the second period, but the referee ruled him out of bounds and the score remained 9-2. Virga started on top in the third period and let Otten up right away to make the score 9-3. Virga worked on a takedown against the taller Otten throughout the period. He nearly had a takedown with 20 seconds remaining but the wrestlers were ruled out of bounds. Just before the final buzzer, Virga appeared to have completed another takedown. The referee held up two fingers to indicate the takedown, but quickly reversed himself. The Wildcat bench erupted and Virga appeared angry, but the match ended 9-3 – Otten had staved off a major decision. The Wildcats led 26-19. Frederixon said “The second ref was pointing at the Milaca kid, who still had an arm hooked around Joe. So they didn’t award takedown at that point and that’s why he waved it off. We just had to live with it.”
Wildcat junior Mike Sampson (182) matched up against Austin Weidner of Milaca. Weidner’s takedown of Sampson resulted in the only two points of the first period. Sampson started on the bottom in the second period. Weidner was awarded three point near falls twice as Sampson worked hard to stave off pins and Weidner led 8-0 after two. Sampson nearly completed a reversal at 4:15, but Weidner held it off and the score stayed the same. Sampson was assessed a penalty point for stalling at 4:40 and now trailed 9-0. Weidner let him escape, making the score 9-1. Sampson worked hard to stay out of danger the rest of the period and Weidner picked up a 9-1 major decision to cut the Wildcat lead to 26-23.
The match at 195 was probably the most important match of senior Eric Brown’s career. Brown’s opponent, Colton Sailor of Milaca, had injured his left shoulder in his matchup against Grand Rapids earlier in the evening and had to withdraw from that match, losing by injury default. Still in pain, he made it out to the mat to take on Brown. It looked like a good opportunity for Brown to pick up some bonus points. Sailor wasn’t able to do much offensively. Brown amassed five takedowns and an escape through the first two periods. Brown let Sailor escape three times and led 11-3 after two. Starting on top in the third period, Brown let Sailor escape right away, cutting his lead to 11-4. Brown took Sailor down at 4:24 and let him escape again, making the score 13-5. A critical moment in the match came at 5:00, when Sailor was assessed a stalling penalty point to make the score 14-5. Brown’s takedown at 5:07 made the score 16-5. Sailor was hit with another stalling penalty at 5:21 and Brown now led 17-5. Brown worked hard on a pin for the rest of the match. He was awarded a three point near fall at the buzzer to end the match at 20-5, completing a five point technical fall and pushing the Wildcat lead to 31-23. The Wildcats could smell the state tournament.
Sargeant (220), wrestling just his third varsity match, needed to avoid getting pinned to set up an easier task for Westbury at 285. What followed had to be seen to be believed. Sargeant and his opponent, Peterson, danced their way to a 0-0 first period. After much of the same in what turned out to be a disjointed second period, both wrestlers got stalling warnings at 3:15. Sargeant nearly took Peterson down at 3:25, but the wrestlers slid out of bounds before the takedown was complete. Peterson had three nosebleed timeouts in the period and both wrestlers ended up being penalized for stalling, making the score 1-1 after two. Sargeant started on top in the third period and let Peterson escape to go down 2-1. Sargeant looked for an opening for most of the period while Peterson just tried to hang on while avoiding another stalling penalty. With 20 seconds left, Sargeant made a move but Peterson squirmed out of a takedown. Another Peterson nosebleed timeout gave both wrestlers a breather with 13 seconds left. On the restart, Sargeant came out aggressively, grabbed Peterson and flung him down to the mat for a takedown with five seconds left to go up 3-2. He had the match won. The referee moved to the center of the mat, getting ready to hoist Sargeant’s hand to indicate the victory. But Sargeant inexplicably let Peterson escape with two seconds to go in the match, tying things up at 3-3. So the match went to overtime. Sargeant grabbed Peterson’s leg at 6:25 and had him dancing, but couldn’t quite finish the takedown. The first overtime ended with the score still 3-3. Sargeant started on the bottom in the second overtime and escaped six seconds later, at 7:06, to take a 4-3 lead. Peterson had yet another blood timeout a few seconds later. When the match resumed, both wrestlers stayed on their feet and the period ended with Sargeant on top 4-3. Sargeant, probably strongest of the 400 people then in the gym at Pine City, started on top in the third overtime. He used his strength to ride Peterson. Peterson managed to crawl out of bounds at 7:42. The Wildcats were just 18 seconds from a state tournament appearance. After the restart, Sargeant rode Peterson for 18 seconds.
When the buzzer sounded, Sargeant leaped up as the Wildcat wrestlers, coaches and fans roared: the Wildcats, now leading 34-23, had clinched a berth in that state tournament. Milaca, winners of more than a few section championships since the Wildcats last went to state in 1984, sat dejectedly. “I forgot about the escape I let him have,” said Sargeant, explaining why he let Peterson up at the end of regulation after taking him down a few seconds earlier. “So I thought the score was 1-1 before the takedown and 3-1 after the takedown. I thought I was still up 3-2 after the escape.” But Sargeant’s coach, Frederixon, was pretty understanding about the match. He said “Dan lost track of the score. I’ve seen that happen a lot over the years. In the heat of battle, the wrestler doesn’t realize the score is a little different than he thought it was. In this case, Dan was still able to come through and get it done, so that’s pretty cool.”
Westbury and Merten came out at 285 to finish off the evening before the Wildcats’ celebration could continue. After a 0-0 first period, Westbury started on the bottom and escaped right away to lead 1-0 after two. He came out aggressively in the third period. He saw an opening, took Merten down at 4:32 and pinned him at 4:38 to make the final score 40-23. Frederixon celebrated the win along with his team, but was already focused ahead 24 hours later. He said, “On Saturday, I just hung out with my kids and had kind of a calm feeling all day. But at 9:30 that night, my brain clicked in and I started wondering what our matchups were going to be at state. We know we’ll get a tough seed right away in Simley. And win or lose, we’re going to have to get ready for our next match. We don’t intend to roll over to anybody. We will wrestle tough. We have too many guys who have high expectations of themselves. We might not win it but we definitely are going to battle with teams.” Wildcat captain Quade Zupko summed up the feelings of his teammates about the big win. “It’s been really cool to do something for the first time in thirty years,” he said. “It’s a huge goal that we accomplished. It all really started with our coaches getting us prepared at practice and making us focus to get ready to get job done when we need to. And it was crazy in the gym at Pine City. We were on cloud nine. Everyone was going nuts. Some of the guys were even crying. It’s something that everyone will remember and take with them their whole lives. I know it’s something I’ll never forget.”