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Whitehall wrestling wins Martin tourney; Pablo Lugo unlikely hero in thriller vs. Clinton

Division 3 third-ranked Vikings pick up victories crucial to state-meet seeding.

Photos courtesy of Whitehall wrestling

In a tournament with state-meet seeding implications, Whitehall’s wrestling team captured the title at Martin’s Clipper Classic Friday and won it in thrilling fashion.

The day was capped with Division 3 third-ranked Whitehall’s thrilling 36-35 finals victory over Division 3 fifth-ranked Clinton.

“This is a pretty high-stakes tournament for us. Looking ahead to the postseason, these duals have huge seeding implications at the state meet,” Whitehall coach Justin Zeerip said. 

Whitehall started the day with a 48-18 victory over St. Joseph with victories by Cody Manzo, Nolan Taranko, Caden Varela, Liam Leeke, Ryne Christensen, Darnell Mack, Ryan Goodrich, Trenton TenBrock, Gavin Craner, and Blake Morningstar. 

“We wrestled really well against St. Joe,” Zeerip said. “They are a good team. They started the season ranked and just recently fell out of the rankings. Credit our kids — they wrestled really well.”

Whitehall followed with a 51-18 rout of Division 4 sixth-ranked Bronson. The match was highlighted by Christensen earning the 100th victory of his career. Manzo, Kolten Weiler, Max Krukowski, Taranko, Varela, Leeke, Mack, Goodrich, Craner, and Jason Smith also earned wins in the match.

In a potential regional matchup, Whitehall defeated Kent City, 57-19. Manzo, Krukowski, Tarnko, Leeke, Mack, Goodrich, Pablo Lugo, TenBrock, Craner, and Smith won matches for the Vikings.

That set up the championship against Clinton. Whitehall knew going into the match that it would be close.

Whitehall lost the crucial pre-match coin flip, meaning Clinton was able to dictate matchups throughout the dual, which is a big advantage.

“We told the boys that every point would matter. We had to limit bonus points — last six minutes no matter what,” Zeerip said. 

Whitehall found itself in great shape after Krukowski won the opening bout 5-1. Clinton roared back with two pins and a tech fall in the next three matches for a 16-3 lead.

Christensen and Mack cut Whitehall’s deficit to four with a decision and pin, respectively. Blake English lost an overtime barnburner, giving Clinton a 19-12 lead. 

In the most improbable turn of events, Pablo Lugo came off the bench and immediately gave up a 7-1 lead but pinned his Clinton opponent. Lugo’s win pulled Whitehall within 19-18.

“Lugo’s match, I don’t know what to say. If he loses, the dual is over,” Zeerip said with a laugh. 

Clinton secured a major decision at 175, extending its lead to 23-18, but Whitehall answered. TenBock pinned at 190, Craner bumped up a weight class and pinned at 215, and Morningstar put the Vikings’ victory on ice with a thrilling pin over his state-ranked opponent. 

Clinton earned falls at 106 and 112, but it wasn’t enough.

“It’s about matchups. We got into St. Joe earlier, and Clinton only beat them by three,” Zeerip said. “We knew that Clinton would be problematic for us in terms of matchups, and then when we lost the flip. But our guys fight for each other.

“Those guys who lost by tech fall, if they get pinned, we lose. Pablo down seven with little to no varsity experience, if he doesn’t rally, we lose. Morningstar, wrestling a guy ranked way higher than him. We’re just so proud of our guys. They manage their weight for each other, they fight for each other.”

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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