And then there was one
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Tigers’ wrestling coach Pete Baker hoped to have four attend this weekend’s state tournament in Denver.
But in the regional tournament last weekend, just one qualified – Nick Wittrock.
Tonight, Wittrock takes to the mat to vie for the state title in the 120-pound weight class, which will require taking it from last year’s champ, Discovery Canyon’s AJ Rees.
Wittrock (28-9) comes into the state tournament high off his first-place finish in the 4A Region 4.
At the Montrose meet, he won all his matches by points. First, he finished off sophomore Hunter Hall (13-25) of Durango, 14-7, before taking on junior Hayes McCracken (21-18) of Delta, winning 15-14 to move on in the bracket. Pueblo Centennial freshman Darian Manzanares (29-12) posed strong competition next, but Wittrock again tallied enough points, 7-4, to move on with the win.
Then came the battle against Montezuma-Cortez sophomore Levi Gross (22-9) for first place. Wittrock again won, 5-2, for first place in the tournament and a qualifying seed for the state meet.
That gives him a leg up this weekend.
“Where he fell on the bracket – there’s no easy wrestling down there – but he has a pretty doable bracket for the semifinals,” Baker said. “He should win both matches to get to semifinals.”
Should Wittrock make it to semifinals, he’ll face Rees, a senior, in a challenging match. Rees currently has just one loss – out of 32 matches.
“Can he win? Yeah, he definitely can win,” Baker said of Wittrock. “I said it three or four weeks ago, I think Nick can be a state champion. But he’s going to have to beat the returning state champion.”
This week, the practice room has been home to just Wittrock and Baker, as Baker prepares his protege for the test of a lifetime. After a tough weekend, practice has been mostly stretching, cardio and a few minutes of wrestling.
Baker had hoped there would be more in the room this week, but Carlos Lopez, one of Baker’s state hopefuls, was out with an injury the past few weeks, and lost in his first match at regionals.
“He was there, but he didn’t show up, really,” Baker said, showing a hint of disappointment.
Brayan Daniel, a senior and another state hopeful, didn’t make weight – another disappointment for the coach.
Tyler Blackford got into a tough situation. Baker wanted him to wrestle at the 170-pound class, but Blackford isn’t big enough to compete at the level he can at 160. So, the coach put him in one of the toughest weight classes at the regional tournament.
Blackford lost in the first round against Palisade senior Daniel Garner. Garner won by decision, 12-8. Blackford went on to pin Sierra’s Emilio Garcia, but lost to his Pueblo Centennial opponent by pin.
“Tyler was in the hardest weight class in our region. It showed. The kids who beat him were really skilled wrestlers,” Baker said.
Three other wrestlers, Alex Roque (138), Brandon Ramirez (145) and Parisa Rafie (152), lost in their first few rounds. Roque fought back in his second match, but eventually lost by pin to finish the fight.
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