And then there were two
EAST CHICAGO — Bankers Life Fieldhouse is the promised land for Indiana high school wrestlers.
La Porte’s Noah Perez and New Prairie’s Grant Johnson earned the cherished spot in the field with top four finishes in Saturday’s E.C. Central Semistate at the John A. Baratto Center.
“It feels great. It’s been something that’s been working for a long time,” Johnson said after his quarterfinal 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.”
Johnson advanced in the 195-pound weight class with a fall at 2:46 against Hobart’s Bobby Babcock.
“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.”
Perez punched his ticket at 182 with a quarterfinal pin (5:25) of Wawasee’s Alex Castro.
“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,” L.P. coach Louie Kuzdas said. “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.”
Perez (38-7) lost in the semifinals 10-3 to one-loss freshman Andrew Donahue of Culver Academies and wrestled for third place later Saturday.
“We probably would’ve seen him at their tournament, but we weren’t able to go due to the weather,” Kuzdas said. “It’s one of those things where that probably would have benefited us.”
Ethan Potosky of Crown Point blanked Johnson (44-4) 10-0 in the 195 semis, sending Johnston into the third-place match.
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.
Six of the nine 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 8-5 to Lafayette Central Catholic’s Isaac Switzer 8-5 at 132. Luke Lenig (170) was pinned in 4:52 by West Lafayette’s Connor Barket, while 285 freshman Hunter Whitenack was pinned in 2:58 by 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
Noah Perez (182), La Porte
Grant Johnson (195), New Prairie