By Josh Brown
VANDALIA — Tippecanoe’s Caleb Blake knew exactly what he had accomplished.
Teammate Grant Carlson was mere seconds away from joining him.
Blake won the Red Devils’ first ever individual championship as a member of the Greater Western Ohio Conference at the GWOC wrestling tournament Saturday at Butler High School, while Tippecanoe’s Carlson and Troy’s Shane Shoop finished as the runners-up in their respective weight classes as the Trojans, with four total placers, finished third and the Devils finished fourth in the GWOC American North Division as teams behind overall GWOC champion Butler.
Blake (138) defeated an Aviator for his championship, holding off Butler freshman Jestin Love in a 4-1 decision.
“It’s pretty great,” Blake said when asked what it felt like to be Tippecanoe’s first GWOC champion. “It’s all because of my coaches and family, mostly coach (Nick) Petro. He gave me motivation. I’d already wrestled this kid, and he said just wrestle him like you did last time — which I did, I think, and I got the win. It was awesome.”
“We beat him (Love) earlier in the season in a dual against Butler, 5-2 I think,” Petro said. “It’s exciting. I told the guys that this is our first time being in the GWOC, and they all have a chance to make history. It’s a huge deal and honor to be in this league with these other teams. Caleb came out on top and wrestled very well, and he is a young man who understands what it means to be a GWOC champion. He took it very seriously after the match, and he was very excited.”
After the first period ended in a 0-0 tie, Blake scored a reversal early in the second to take a 2-0 lead and rode control all the way to the third period. He scored another takedown midway through the third to go up 4-0 and put the match away as Love scored a late escape but couldn’t mount any offense after.
“It was a tough match, just as tough as the first one,” Blake said. “He’s an amazing freshman, he’s friends with me, too. It sucks that we had to wrestle, but someone’s got to get first place.
“I’ve wrestled a lot of really close matches. I think it’s just my style. I’m comfortable when guys are on my legs, and my coaches have been working with me on my top game a lot, which was how I was able to ride out some stuff. I never really get too worried.”
Carlson (220) had a tough match, as well, against Centerville’s Jacob Charette in the finals. After a scoreless first period, Charette scored a reversal early in the second and held a 2-1 lead going into the third period, then he was able to maintain control for the entire two minutes and not allow the match-tying escape. In the final 20 seconds, Carlson went for a reversal that would have won the match, but Charette was just able to maintain hold of one of Carlson’s legs all the way to the buzzer.
“It was a tough match, but the effort was there,” Petro said. “He has nothing to be ashamed of. That’s just how the sport is. It was a good learning experience for him. We like those tough matches. It’s why we were excited to come here — we knew there would be tough competition. He wrestled very well, and I was proud of him.”
Tippecanoe finished fourth in the American North Division with 49 points with the two placers.
The Trojans, meanwhile, finished third with 74.5 points and had four placers — including Shoop (160), who had a shot at an individual championship against Wayne’s Jordan Hardrick.
The match remained tied at 0-0 after the first period, but Shoop scored an escape early in the second to take a 1-0 lead. Hardrick scored a takedown late in the period, though, to go up 2-1 heading into the third and added an escape early in the final period to take a 3-1 lead.
Shoop scored a takedown to tie the score with 46 seconds to go and let Hardrick up after a stoppage to go for the win, but Hardrick used his reach advantage and long arms to keep the shorter but stronger Shoop at bay for the rest of the match. After a restart with seven seconds remaining, Shoop took a gamble on a shot, but Hardrick’s defense allowed him to close the match with a takedown as the clock expired and win 6-3.
“It was just a smart match by the other kid,” Troy coach Doug Curnes said. “We’d beat him earlier in the year, but we knew it was going to be a tight match. Hardrick’s just an athletic kid. There were two positions there to where they were just going back and forth. They were both tired, and he did, he used his length to keep Shane away from him. If Shane pushes the pace earlier on and gets that kid more tired in the second, I think it’s a different match.
“The kid wrestled a smart match. When you’re up two, you don’t need to do much — just keep the referee off your back and stay away.”
Joe Pascale (113) placed fourth for the Trojans despite fighting through an illness the entire tournament, defaulting his final round match to Butler’s Logan Hoskins. Brandon Lewis (106) was pinned by Lebanon’s Agustine Godinez and placed sixth, and Carlos Quintero (132) also placed sixth after dropping a 17-2 tech. fall to Beavercreek’s Gavin Bell.
“Carlos, being a freshman and placing here is huge,” Curnes said. “I told him that champions in this tournament end up going to state, and GWOC placers end up going to district. What he has to keep in mind is, he’s a freshman and is starting to wrestle really well, and placing at this tournament as a freshman, he’s got to expect to be at the district tournament.
“Lewis, as a senior, I hate to see him finish as low as sixth, but 106 was a strong weight this year, and Lewis isn’t a huge guy. He works hard, and I’m proud of him, too. He did very well. It’s a feat to place in this conference. Twenty teams, 18 of them Division I — it’s a brutal conference.”
Now everyone has time to rest before the sectional tournaments begin on Feb. 25.
“The first thing is to recover,” Curnes said. “After a brutal weekend like this, we’ve got to get our bodies ready to battle again. There’s plenty of time between now and then to get in the weight room and physically change our bodies before the sectional. We need to recover first, rebuild and get ready to reload, and there’s plenty of time to do so.”
And for Blake, the GWOC championship only served to solidify his goals for the rest of the year.
“A sectional title, a district title and the state podium,” he said. “We’ve got two weeks until sectionals, so I’m going to be training, we’ve got a couple of duals but no big tournaments. I’m just going to come off this weekend and keep going hard. I’m really excited for the rest of the season. I feel like I’m peaking right now at the right time.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.