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SPEICHERVILLE — For the first time in nine years the Three Rivers Conference wrestling tournament has a team champion that is not the Whitko Wildcats.
By the narrowest of margins the host Northfield Norsemen upended a short-handed Wildcat squad 209.5-202 to take the team title.
The Wildcats, haunted as they have been by injuries all year, were forced to forfeit three weight classes. Those forfeits allowed Northfield to outscore the Wildcats by 28.5 points in those divisions.
Whitko almost made up the difference by claiming individual titles in four weight classes.
At 125 pounds, Chas Busz — freshly back from injury — pinned his way into the finals taking a 2:27 win over Ben Horban of Rochester and a pinfall win in the semifinals over Tippecanoe Valley’s Arron Heller.
In the finals, Busz met No. 2 seed Paul Mikesell of North Miami. Busz took the title with a 14-6 major decision.
Senior Jordan Gilbert made it two titles in a row for the Wildcats with a much tougher road to the title.
After scoring a pinfall win over Rochester’s Lukas Carpenter and a major decision 11-2 over Tippecanoe Valley’s Seth Fincher, Gilbert met No. 1 seed Trevor Rebholtz from Southwood.
The two went through regulation tied at 2-2. Gilbert was able to score a takedown with time running out in the first overtime to claim the title at 130 pounds with a 5-3 decision.
Two weight classes later at 140 pounds, Cody Bays gave the Wildcats their third title. Bays — who entered the day as the No. 4 seed — pinned Tippecanoe Valley’s Jeremy Marburger in the first round and ousted No. 1 seed Josh Brainard from Southwood in the semifinals with a 14-8 decision.
In the finals, Bays scored a 16-1 tech fall win over No. 1 seed Levi McKee from North Miami.
The Wildcats’ final individual title came in the last match of the day. The championship bout at 285 pounds, Ben Hinora took the title for Whitko.
Hinora, the No. 2 seed scored pinfall wins over Jake Smith of Southwood and Wabash’s Justin Sturgill to advance to the finals against No. 1 seed Dominick Byrns of Manchester. In the closing seconds of the match Hinora scored a pinfall win to claim the final title.
The Wildcats got second-place finishes at 112 and 215 pounds. At 112 pounds Colton LeTourneau fell 8-6 to the No. 2 seed Rochester’s Zech Weese in the finals. Letourneau advanced to the finals with a 31 second pinfall over Austin Niccum of Wabash in the first round and a pinfall win in the semifinals over Northfield’s Thomas Rockenbaugh.
Whitko’s Logan Ison fell by pinfall to Northfield’s Scott Ammons in the finals at 215 pounds. Ison, the No. 4 seed advanced to the finals with decisions over Cole Sellers of Manchester and No. 2 see Randy Ward of North Miami.
The Wildcats Kuyler Bailey and Josh Busenbark recorded third-place finishes at 119 and 152 pounds respectively. Bailey downed Tippecanoe Valley’s Scott Armstrong 10-1 in the third-place match while Busenbark scored a 48 second pinfall win over Northfield’s Spencer Miller at 152 pounds.
The Wildcats’ Chris Phillips placed fourth at 160 pounds while Wes Gensch took fourth at 171 pounds. Ian Pherigo rounded out the Wildcat scoring with a fourth-place finish at 145 pounds.
“It was a very frustrating day,” Whitko head coach Frank Bumgardner said. “We wrestled about as well as we could. We wrestled probably the best we have all year, but giving up three weight classes was just too tough for us. We just didn’t have the team to overcome that today. Overall we are happy with the way we wrestled, but disappointed in the outcome.”
Whitko looks to rest up for the week before heading into the Carroll sectional where it hopes to defend a team title amongst 10 other teams Saturday.