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Brendan Ditchman nearly bit off his tongue in a bout at the Individual State Tournament last weekend at Assembly Hall. Yet there he was, a few days and seven stitches later, competing Tuesday as the swing vote in the most important match of the year for Lincoln-Way Central.
With the score knotted at 25 and a trip to the state tournament on the line, Ditchman, a 182-pound senior, seized a 6-5 decision over Matt Kemp to down Edwardsville at the Class 3A Bloomington Sectional.
His last-match heroics pushed the Knights into the quarterfinals of the Dual Team State Tournament for just the second time in school history. Matches will be held at U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington.
“Ditchman has been in 16 overtime matches this season and he’s won 15 of them,” Central coach Jason DePolo said. “Because of the close matches he’s been in, I think Brendan’s our go-to guy. We’d love to start or end the match with him. It gives the coach a heart attack, but momentum-wise, it’s huge to win those close matches.”
Adding to the frenzy of Ditchman’s victory was a Central rally after trailing 15-0. The Knights needed consecutive victories from Tyler Schneider (152 pounds), Matt Schneider (160) and state-placer Bryce Gorman (170) to give Ditchman a chance to win the match.
“Those four are state qualifiers, and starting at 152, that’s really the heart of our team,” DePolo said.
The victory was a cathartic one for Central after struggling at the Individual State Tournament. The Knights sent a remarkable seven qualifiers but suffered a series of razor-thin defeats.
“Things didn’t go well for us,” DePolo said. “So we said, ‘Let’s be mean and physical, and let’s leave it all out there (Tuesday)’ — especially for our seniors who didn’t go out the way they wanted.”
Central will face Grant in a Class 3A quarterfinal at 11 a.m. Friday. If the Knights prevail, they’ll face the winner of the Minooka-Marmion contest in the semifinals at 2 p.m.
“I think we’re in a great position (to earn a team trophy),” DePolo said. “We really couldn’t have had a better draw at the bottom of the bracket with Sandburg, Oak Park-River Forest and Harlem up on top.”
Here’s a look at the other area qualifiers:
The Warriors booked the first trip to the state tournament in school history after easing past Bremen in the sectional. West will meet five-time reigning champion Montini in a first-round collision of the Class 2A elite.
“This year, it’s probably our best team we’ve had yet with 10 qualifiers and five placers,” West coach Brian Glynn said. “And yeah, we’re going to run into Montini, but there’s nothing you can do about it. We saw it. We didn’t pout about it. We didn’t make excuses. It happens in a lot of sports. We’re going to go out there and be competitive with them and battle them.
“Hopefully, I told the guys, we’re going to give them the closest match they’ve had all tournament.”
West will lean on the experience of seniors Jake Bohne (170) and state-placer Josh Ruettiger (152). The Warriors are youthful and should be a force again next season. State medalists who should return include juniors Javier Montalvo (182) and Kyle Rodriguez (132), sophomore Noah Keefe (120) and freshman Kyle Ruettiger (113).
Montini counters with eight state finalists, led by 160-pound champion Xavier Montalvo (54-5).
After a few midseason missteps, Minooka found its stride to reclaim the Southwest Prairie Conference Tournament over Plainfield Central. The Indians followed that with a win at the Joliet Central Regional, then took it to Waubonsie Valley in Tuesday’s sectional to move to the Class 3A quarterfinals for the fifth consecutive season.
A key component of the upswing has been the return of team captain Corbett Oughton (152), a fourth-place finisher at the Individual State Tournament. Oughton, the top wrestler on the squad, suffered a dislocated elbow and his leadership sorely was missed for the six weeks he sat.
“I feel better every match. (The elbow) gets better and better,” Oughton said. “I’m just happy I got back in time.”
Joining Oughton as a Minooka state-placer was his younger brother, Carson, at 145 pounds. Carson was one of two freshmen in Class 3A to qualify at that weight. He finished sixth.
The other freshman to qualify at 145 was Marmion’s Trace Carello. The Indians open competition vs. Marmion at 11 a.m. Saturday. Marmion also features two state champions, Johnny Jimenez (120) and George Fisher (132).
It’s not often an undercard outshines its main event, but that might be the case Saturday.
The first round features reigning champion Sandburg vs. Oak Park-River Forest in a rematch of last season’s title match, which the Eagles won 30-24.
“Oak Park at 9 a.m. How fun,” Sandburg coach Eric Siebert said. “There will be as many as 10 toss-up match-ups. Every match will have a chance to determine the dual. It would be nice if this happened a little later instead of a 9 a.m. quarterfinal, but it is what it is. It will be fun and great for the fans.”
Sandburg took two of three bouts between the teams last weekend at Assembly Hall, with Sebastian Pique (120) topping former state finalist Matthew Rundell and C.J. Brucki giving top-seed Davonte Mahomes the first loss of his season before going on to grab the 160-pound state title.
Pique’s return from a dislocated elbow fortifies Sandburg’s lineup. The Eagles, without Pique, lost to the Huskies 27-24 on Jan. 12.
Another factor to watch will be late-match gamesmanship. Sandburg, a more veteran bunch, seemed to be the better conditioned team, going 4-0 in overtime matches to OPRF’s 2-2 at Assembly Hall.
Along with Brucki, state champs include Sandburg’s Colin Holler (170) and Ricky Robertson (195), and Oak Park-River Forest’s Joe Ariola (182).