Perfect timing Clinton's Wheat spins last-second reversal into semifinal berth
CHAMPAIGN – Clinton wrestler Nick Wheat showed Friday how little time it takes to plant a seed.
In the case of the Class 1A 215-pounder, less than 10 seconds.
With the third-period clock ticking down and Wheat trailing top-ranked and unbeaten John Jones of Frankfort by a point, the Clinton athlete knew he wasn't in a good position.
"I was getting tired," he said. "I didn't think I could get out (of Jones' grasp), but I wanted to try."
He did more than put up a valiant effort.
With one second left in the match, he was credited with a reversal and the winning points in a 6-5 victory that thrust him into today's semifinals.
"This is the greatest feeling ever," Wheat said. "I was just happy to get to state. I'm so excited."
So was Argenta-Oreana's Cody Force, a fellow competitor at 215 pounds and one of the semifinalists in the other bracket. Force has handed Wheat five of his six losses this season but has maintained that Wheat is an outstanding competitor.
"I'm happy to see that Nick won, too," Force said.
Force's 3-1 decision against Mount Olive's Shawn Gasaway moves him into a semifinal showdown against Winnebago's Michael Sojka. It will be the only semifinal bout in any of the three classes to feature two unbeatens.
Force and Sojka are each 40-0.
"He endured and beat a good kid," A-O coach Gary Cook said. "He wrestled under control."
Wheat and Force are two of six area athletes who still have state championship aspirations.
The list of area semifinalists includes two standouts from Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley/Fisher, Guy Kirby (135 pounds) and Colten Unzicker (160), as well as top-ranked Tyler Wilfley of LeRoy (140) and Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac's Dacian Alvarez (103).
Not on the list is O/A-P heavyweight Blake Warren. He was pinned in the quarterfinals by second-ranked Andre Dunn of Kewanee.
Though he won't get a title, Warren left the Assembly Hall with a record. The senior posted the third-fastest fall for any weight class in the history of the Class 1A tournament in the first round, a 19-second pin that is the quickest ever in the 285-pound division.
Warren used his favorite move, "an over and under," he said, to pin Clifton Central's Jon Dandurand in the preliminary round.
Since taking up wrestling as a ninth-grader, Warren had never posted a pin in less than 30 seconds. He wasn't expecting it to happen in his state-meet debut at the Assembly Hall.
"I wrestled him on Senior Night and it went all six minutes," Warren said.
The previous record for the fastest fall at 285 was 35 seconds. The only quicker pins at state in 1A were a 14-second fall by Stillman Valley's Pat Babcock at 275 in 2000 and an 18-second fall by Carmi 112-pounder Sean Casey in 1988.
In all, 17 of the area's 23 state competitors participated in the quarterfinals.
Unzicker used a last-second takedown in the first period to score the first points against Lisle's David Pawlowicz, and the third-year state veteran went on to a 7-0 triumph.
The shutout, he said, "makes me know my defense is getting better."
LeRoy's Wilfley, who placed third a year ago, won by technical fall against Rochester's Chase Tackett 17-2 to return to the semifinals.
"I'm happy with the win, but I'm not satisfied," he said. "I want the title."
A year ago, Wilfley was pinned in the semifinals. It's a match he remembers frequently.
"That's a big motivator," he said. "Now I get another chance. I'm going to leave everything out there and have no regrets." GCMS/Fisher's Kirby scored all four of his points in the final 30 seconds of the first period and made it hold up, edging Amboy's Travis Full 4-2.
"I felt pretty solid, but I still have things I need to improve on," said the junior, who is one win shy of reaching 40 for the season.
He acknowledged he's much stronger now than in November. If the Kirby of today could wrestle the Kirby from Week 1, he said, "I would destroy myself."
O/A-P freshman Alvarez didn't allow a point in his first match, blanking Braidwood's Trent Lyons 5-0. In the quarterfinals, he rallied from a 4-2 first-period deficit to hand Rock Falls' Chris Denning a 7-4 loss. A second-period takedown and three-point near-fall were the points he scored in his comeback.
"I've never done a spladle before, never tried it," Alvarez said. "My practice partner, Wesley Patton (a qualifier at 112) has done it to me, so I tried it."
The move was responsible for his advancement.
"I'm feeling good right now," said Alvarez, who has lofty ambitions.
"I'm going for making it (to state) four times," he said. "Oakwood has only had three-time qualifiers."
Among the area athletes who were defeated in the quarterfinals, two lost to the top-rated person at their weight, including Patton. Two others, including Warren, were beaten by the second-ranked grappler.
Patton, an O/A-P sophomore, was pinned by Harvard's Sergio Figueroa in 1:49. At 189 pounds, GCMS/Fisher's Kirby was decisioned by No. 1 Mitch Alberstatt of Durand.
At 130, Argenta-Oreana's Kris Powars was beaten 11-3 by second-ranked Steve Heino of Wilmington.
All three of the Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac qualifiers helped make coach Dave Markwell's final state appearance a memorable one, posting first-round victories. Markwell, an upcoming Hall of Fame inductee, is retiring at season's end after 25 years as a coach.