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Blue Earth Area grappling trio qualify for state meet

DRIVING FORCE — Blue Earth Area wrestler Max Ehrich (left) lifts Jackson County Central opponent Matthew Haley’s leg to record a takedown in their 160-pound championship match during Saturday’s Section 2A-3A individual meet in Windom. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Mertens/Faribault County Register)

WINDOM — The public address announcer acknowledged the 150th win of Blue Earth Area senior Max Ehrich’s esteemed prep wrestling career after Saturday’s Section 2A-3A individual meet’s 160-pound semifinals.

Ironically, Ehrich’s 151st victory proved even more historic as his 5-4 decision in the gold-medal match propelled the Buc standout to the Class A state meet for a second consecutive year.

Ehrich will join Blue Earth Area senior teammates Luke Mertens, the super sectional’s heavyweight champion, and 182-pound runner-up Nick Frank in the state’s elite eight at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 27, at St. Michael-Albertville High School.

“I just went out and wrestled my match,” Ehrich said in reference to his one-point clash of titans with No. 7-ranked 160-pounder Matthew Haley of Jackson County Central. “At the start of this year, I didn’t know how many matches I’d get due to the pandemic.

“My two goals were to place at state and reach 150 wins.”

Ehrich technically has accomplished both missions, while moving down a weight class from the one — 170 — that he finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in the state.

Oddly, Frank, who held the No. 10 spot at 195 pounds, dropped to 182 to garner his individual state bid, while ironically, Mertens — who tipped the scales at 236 at the sectional team meet last week — gave away significant poundage to his opponents en route to winning the 285-pound Section 2A-3A championship.

“We like to keep our opponents guessing, I guess,” Bucs head coach Randy Wirtjes said with a wry smile.

Ehrich left little to the imagination in posting a 16-1 technical fall over Canby’s Tanner Drietz to open Saturday’s super sectional before disposing of Adrian’s Isaac Bullerman via a 9-0 semifinal win.

Meanwhile, Mertens continued his role as Luke the Giant Slayer in outpointing Red Rock Central’s Cory Anderson — 26-3 record — in Saturday’s quarterfinal before pinning No. 7-ranked Jayden Gamrak of Minneota in the semifinals in 5:42.

Mertens then battled Canby’s Shane Noyes, who held the No. 2 spot at 220 during the regular season, to a 4-4 tie after three 2-minute periods in the heavyweight finals.

Mertens then swept Noyes off his feet near the edge of the canvas during the initial overtime, and the Lancer senior tugged on Mertens’ singlet to lose the match on a technical point.

“It looked like the refs were going to award Luke the takedown anyway, so it (penalty point) really just prevented the inevitable,” said Wirtjes.

Frank also was involved in a down-to-the-wire clash at 182, but fell one point shy of winning the crown. Westfield’s Tyler Archer converted a third-period escape into a 3-2 win over Frank in the finals, but the Blue Earth Area senior still qualified for the elite eight.

JCC’s No. 9-ranked William Freking captured the third-place match, but was denied a true-second challenge since Frank had posted a 3-2 win over him in the semifinals earlier Saturday. Frank opened the day by pinning Fulda/Murray County Central’s Christian Kuball in 2:48.

Blue Earth Area senior 220-pounder Logan Johnson and Bucs’ senior 138-pounder Ty Peterson also made legitimate runs at state-qualifying bids, but were stopped just short of their goals.

Johnson downed Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove’s Travis Willhite by a 5-3 quarterfinal decision before losing a narrow 5-3 semifinal to Minneota’s Jackson Esping.

The Blue Earth Area 220-pounder then recorded a 48-second fall over Wabasso’s Hunter Taylor in the consolation semifinals before shutting out Kenyon-Wanamingo’s Logan Meyers in the third-place clash, 5-0.

Unfortunately for Johnson, Medford’s Brennon Hoffman edged Esping by a 2-1 decision in the 220-pound championship, therefore denying the Buc grappler from receiving a true-second challenge.

Peterson, who entered the super sectional with a 26-1 record, coasted to a 13-0 quarterfinal major decision over TMB/WWG’s Jayden Torgeson before suffering a tournament-ending knee injury during the first period of his 138-pound semifinal match with No. 1-ranked Kade Sammons of Windom/Mountain Lake Area.

Peterson continued into the second period against Sammons, only to get pinned at the 2:08 juncture due to a possible torn MCL. Peterson then injury-defaulted his consolation match.

“Ty Pete certainly was good enough to be there (state individual meet), but it just didn’t happen due to the injury,” said Wirtjes. “That was a really tough break for a hard-working kid like him.”

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