Keaton Sterling earned a sweet bit of vindication and the Locomotives continued to roll.
Belgrade High School's Sterling capped a stellar and surprising weekend with a gutsy 14-9 win over Billings Skyview's Joe Malchuski to earn the Gallatin Valley's lone championship at the Tom LeProwse Battle in the Bridgers Invitational wrestling tournament Saturday. Laurel continued to gain momentum as the Locomotives put five wrestlers in championship matches in piling up 197 points to take home the team title.
Sterling, a 145-pound junior, vindicated his place among his peers and got a little revenge for a teammate in the process. Sterling wasn't seeded and was unattached to his team's scoring as the second Belgrade wrestler in the bracket. Teammate Bryce Akers received the No. 4 seed in the 145-pound bracket, but lost a 4-3 decision to Malchuski in the first round. Sterling, on the other hand, took advantage of a first-round bye, then won three straight matches over the two-day tournament to set up the finals match with the Skyview Falcon.
In the finals, Sterling's run looked like it might end abruptly. Malchuski took Sterling to the mat and nearly pinned him less than a minute into the final. After the first period, Malchuski held a 4-2 lead.
"(Malchuski) had a hold of my right arm, so I knew I had to get it loose and shoot my left arm and roll out of it," Sterling said.
In the second period, Sterling earned a takedown and had a slick reversal to enter the final round up 7-6.
Fifteen seconds into the final period, Sterling nearly stuck a pin himself. He wrapped Malchuski into a cradle and earned a near-fall. He couldn't get Malchuski's shoulders on the mat squarely, but he hung on for the 14-9 win nonetheless.
"When I got the cradle, I thought I had him," Sterling said. "This is my first tournament win since 2007, so this feels great."
"Keaton wrestled his tail off this weekend and I think he learned a couple of valuable lessons too," said Belgrade head coach Randy Schramm. "Valuable lessons to learn this time of year like, when you put a kid in danger, you keep him in danger and you hang on to him as long as you can. You never know what could happen."
Bozeman High School ended the first day of the tournament with a 1.5-point lead on Laurel in the team competition. The Hawks ended the tournament with nine top-six placers, but earned just one championship-round bid. Sophomore Keavon Buckley fell to Laurel's lone champ, senior Dylan Kramer, in the 171-pound final. Bozeman, the defending Class AA state champs, finished with 174.5 points to take third. Billings Skyview took home two individual championships (130-pounder Clay Cathey and 215-pounder Thomas Walsh) and two runner-up finishes to take second in the team race with 178 points.
"Obviously there's a lot of things I'd like to change, a lot of matches we didn't wrestle great in, but overall, taking third here with the teams that are here is awesome for us," said Bozeman head coach Nate Laslovich. "Hopefully, the kids figured out that they are going to have to do a lot of different things better and that we have a lot of things to work on."
The Locomotives may have gone 1-for-5 in the championship round, but the defending Class A state champs put more wrestlers in the finals than any other team. Laurel placed six in the top-four and seven in the top-six.
"Weekly, we are trying to get better than we were the week before," said Laurel head coach Ted Hill. "Last year, we were 10th here and this year we win it, so that's a good weekend for us. This is a good building block to where we want to be by the end of the year."
Belgrade's Bryce Weatherston entered the tournament as one of the favorites at 125 pounds and the junior didn't disappoint. He reached the finals, where he ran into Forsyth's Taylor French, the No. 1 wrestler at 125 in Class B.
French controlled the match from start to finish, never giving Weatherston any breathing room in earning a 3-0 win. Following the match, Weatherston referenced the fact that French usually wrestles at 130 pounds and walks around at closer to 135 pounds. Despite the loss, Weatherston knows there's still a lot of season left.
"Last year, we went 1-1 so I don't think he is going to end up cutting down again, but if he does, it should be a good match," said the Belgrade junior. "I'm still pretty happy. It's just a match. I know I'm going to have a ton more."
In the 171-pound final, Buckley encountered a controlling opponent himself. Buckley held his own before falling, 3-1, to Kramer.
"Keavon wrestled great," Laslovich said. "He is the ultimate competitor. He kept himself in good position to win the match, but he couldn't quite get there. One thing I could say about him, if everyone wrestled like that kid, wrestling would be way more fun to watch."
Laurel's team title denied Belgrade a repeat. Last January, the Panthers piled up 210.5 points to win the Battle in the Bridgers trophy.
"Last year, we put two kids in the finals and we didn't have any champions. This year, we put two kids in the finals and we got one champion, so that's an improvement," Schramm said. "Our kids wrestled a lot of really difficult matches this weekend and we found ways to win. That's what this team needs."
Laurel 197.5, Billings Skyview 178, Bozeman 174.5, Great Falls 174, Forsyth 156.5, Billings West 147.5, Billings Senior 146.5, Helena 141, Belgrade 138, Powell Wyoming 129, Butte 108.5, Colstrip 94.5, Dillon 89.5, Custer County 75, Cody Wyo 62.5, CMR 61, Anaconda 52, Helena Capital 45, Huntley Project 38, Butte Central 24.5, Whitehall 23, Townsend 19, Bozeman JV 15, Livingston 11.
98 - Matt Schmidt, Sr, dec Jarren Komac, GFH, 7-0; 105 - Bryan Armstrong, Butte, dec Charles Wittick, Pow, 9-0; 112 - Grant Boggs, Hel, dec Josh Smart, GFH, 2-0; 119 - Gabe Schroeck, Hel, dec Karson Kukes, Laurel, 7-3; 125 - Taylor French, For, dec Bryce Weatherston, Bel, 3-0; 130 - Clay Cathey, Sky, dec Chris Nile, For, 9-5; 135 - Josh Morin, GFH, dec Kolter Kukes, Laurel, 4-3; 140 - Bobby West, Cody, dec Tom Challeen, Butte, 7-3; 145 - Keaton Sterling, Bel, dec Joe Malchuski, Sky, 14-9; 152 - Dallen Brauer, For, dec Tommy Cooper, Laurel, 7-5; 160 - Ben Sulser, Sr, dec Randy Andrews, Pow, 6-2; 171 - Dylan Kramer, Laurel, dec Keavon Buckley, Boz, 3-1; 189 - Jake Leinwand, West, pinned Reese Quade, Sky, 3:21; 215 - Thomas Walsh, Sky, OT dec Austin Boucher, Laurel, 14-12; HWT - Tucker Erickson, Hel, dec Tucker Yates, Col, 5-2.
98 - Vito Degidio, Boz, maj. dec Clay Stillwagon 8-0; 105 -Casey Dobson, GFH, dec. Gage Currier, Col, 2-0; 112 - Taylor Ramsey, Col, dec Shylo Rabin, Butte, 5-2; 119 - Daniel Temme, West, dec Ben Manion, Boz, 2-1; 125 - Brock Miller, Sky, dec Justin Waterson, Sky, 4-0; 130 - Marty Etchemendy, Miles City, dec Tanner Johnston, Bel, 6-0; 135 - Brandon Weber, For, dec Jeremy Quintero, Bel, 2-0; 140 - Shawn Tezak, Dil, dec Eric Gordon, Sky, 2-0; 145 - Waylon Bays, Pow, pinned Jared Dickson, CMR, 4:48; 152 - Derek McGrath, Butte, Dec Colter Devers, Bel, 3-2; 160 - Dilan Starkel, Dil, maj dec Cole Gebhardt, Boz, 12-4; 171 - Daryl Fulton, For, dec Tyler Patterson, Pow, 7-1; 189 -0 Drew McMillan, Cody, pinned Keyten Andersen, Boz, :052; 215 - Adreas Geranios, GFH, dec Kurt Bullinger, Pow, 4-3; HWT - Cody Stone-Murphy, Laurel, dec Donovan Hucke, Dil, 5-3.
98 - Harrison Howe, Sr, pinned Devyn Harris, Boz 2:27; 105 - Dillon Hoppe, West, dec Marvyn Burgos, Boz 1-0; 112 - CJ Ness, For, won forfeit Minkoff Cree, Sr; 119 - Greg Contrereaz, Sr, pinned Brett Ness, Sr, DEF; 125 - Kessler Leonard, GFH, pinned Koby Reyes, West, 2:13; 130 - Markus Kolp, Boz, pinned Auston Cannon, Laurel, 1:57; 135 - Ty Johnston, Boz, maj. dec Austin Blaede, Col, 17-3; 140 - Jace Cooley, Miles City, pinned Nick Beattie, Ana, 3:40; 145 - David Preller, Miles City, dec Adam Wollant, Boz, 5-0; 152 - Jonathan Mandy, Hel, dec Randy Keesler, GFH, 4-3; 160 - Keevan Pickle, Bel, dec Douglas Bertlesen, Boz, 6-1; 171 - Luke Paine, Sr, pinned Olie Olson, Pow, DEF; 189 - Sam VanBeek, Bel, pinned Allen Schmitz, Cap, 1:46; 215 - Trevan Sparboe, Sr, dec Kevin Ohlin, Sr, 1-0; HWT - Harrison Gorman, Sr, dec Bridger Wren, GFH, 3-0.