It’s been a long time since Lena-Winslow/Stockton faced any adversity on a wrestling mat. Almost a year to the day, in fact.
After losing to Coal City in the final of the 2018 edition of Abe’s Rumble, the Pantherhawks didn’t lose again, breezing to the 1A state title by dethroning defending champion Aurora Christian.
Having graduated just two starters from that team, Lena-Winslow/Stockton has blown away the field again to start this season. Only nine of their first 17 dual-meet victims this season managed to score in double figures.
But LWS was not the only story at the BoS Center in Springfield. An Abe’s Rumble field that co-organizers Jeff Hill of Petersburg Porta and Matt Grimm of Auburn expanded to a record 60 teams in 12 pools saw the top four teams in the IWCOA rankings, LWS, Coal City, Vandalia and Tolono Unity, dominate their way to the semifinals.
And it was Tolono Unity that prevented a fourth finals matchup between LWS and Coal City in as many seasons, rallying past the Coalers, 39-31 in one semifinal. In the pre-season, we wrote that the Rockets had the best group of upper weights in Illinois, whether you’re talking 3A, 2A or 1A.
That group propelled Unity to the championship match, and almost helped them accomplish the unthinkable. But LWS added a second Abe’s Rumble championship to the one they one in 2017, rallying from a 21-point deficit to beat the Rockets, 40-30.
In a semifinal that started at 160 pounds, Unity scored six points in five of the six bouts through 285. Pate Eastin (160), Micah Downs (182), Oran Varela (220) and Logan Wilson (285) scored pins and Connor Eastin (170) won by forfeit. Though 2A state champion Daniel Jezik racked up five takedowns in a 12-4 major decision over state finalist Cade Scott at 195, Tolono Unity still led 30-4, and the Coalers never climbed out of the hole.
The other semifinal featured a battle of unbeatens. Only 3A rival Belleville West, in the season opener, had come within 24 points of Vandalia heading into that match. But LWS won 11 of 14 matches in a 56-12 semifinal win.
With the final starting at 170, state placewinner Case Harmston beat Connor Eastin, 4-1 to give the Pantherhawks a 3-0 lead. Downs, Scott, Varela and Wilson then scored consecutive pins, and suddenly Tolono Unity led, 24-3.
From there on, despite the four consecutive pins, the question was whether the Rockets could break through for another win against an LWS lineup that combined for a 67-5 record at the BoS Center from 106 through 160.
They did – two of them. But decisions by Ben Gavel, 7-5 over Jaden Rice at 126 and 9-7 by Pate Eastin over Andrew Haas at 160 weren’t enough. That’s because LWS followed Wilson’s pin with three straight pins of its own – by Garrett Luke (106), Dillon Raab (113) and Zach White (120) – and Winston McPeek (138) and state placewinner Jason Hermann (152) added pins of their own. Vandalia scored six pins of its own to beat Coal City, 52-20 in the tbhird-place match.
Nearly half of the field – 28 of the 60 teams – entered the BoS Center ranked in the IWCOA.net top 25 rankings or honorable mention. How accurate were those rankings? The ranked or higher-ranked team posted a record of 120-29 throughout the two days, a success rate of 80.5 percent.
Some other teams that impressed:
Dwight – the honorable mention Trojans finished 13th, beating Mercer County, 48-36 and Heyworth, 37-30 in pool competition. Their final match was a 36-33 victory over another top 25 team, Tremont.
Erie/Prophetstown – the Cardinals beat top 25 opponents Monticello, 45-34 and Mount Carmel, 60-24 to win one of the tougher pools. Although the Aces got them back the second day, 36-35, honorable mention Erie/Prophetstown finished 15th.
Fithian Oakwood – the Comets started the tournament ranked No. 19, but beat two higher-ranked teams the second day. In the round of 16, they trailed Prairie Central, 33-11 with six matches remaining before ripping off three pins, a technical fall and a decision for a 37-37 tie, advancing with a 2-1 edge in technical falls. The Comets also beat Petersburg Porta, 46-33 to finish seventh.
Morrison – the Mustangs were the team story of the tournament, finishing the highest of any unranked team. Morrison went 7-2, beating top 25 schools Tremont, 42-33 to win its pool, Monticello, 45-36 to advance to the Gold pool and Fithian Oakwood, 48-30 the second day. They finished eighth with losses to LWS and Auburn.
Sacred Heart-Griffin – the unranked Crusaders went only 5-4, but all four losses were to top 25 teams – Sherrard and Seneca in pool competition and LWS and Prairie Central the second day. They rode their upper-weight trio of Mason Clem (182), Reece Edwards (195) and Jesiah Bradshaw (220) to wins over top 25 teams Robinson and Mount Carmel and two honorable mention teams to finish 11th.