Hartselle finishes 6th at sectionals
Six wrestlers qualify for state; Blanton and Eubanks win sectional crowns
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
HUNTSVILLE – For the first time in five years, a name other than Hartselle sat atop the scoreboard at the Class 5A Section 2 wrestling meet.
Hartselle, who has been the sectional champion four years in a row, finished sixth at the end of competition Saturday afternoon at Huntsville High School. The Tigers ended the meet with 109 team points, finishing behind Huntsville (112), Oxford (113.5), Fort Payne (115), Arab (170.5) and champion Scottsboro (232).
Although the Tigers fell short of their fifth-straight sectional championship, they did qualify six wrestlers for state competition this week in Pelham. Qualifying for Hartselle were senior Brad Eubanks; juniors Caleb Blanton, Jake Watkins and Wes Pevahouse; sophomore Rico Elliott and freshman Kyle Davis.
"We did about what I expected," first-year coach Dan Styles said of his Tigers. "There were certainly a couple more kids that I think could have qualified. The effort was there, but we've still got a bit of growing up to do in some areas."
The Tigers were at a disadvantage before competition even began due to the absence of senior Andrew Watson. Watson was not present with the team for disciplinary reasons.
Also, at 145 pounds, Hartselle's Barrett Eubanks was injured in his opening-round match and sectional officials would not allow him to continue competition.
Last year's team qualified 12 wrestlers, including Watson, for state and eventually moved on to win the Class 5A title. A repeat of the team championship is all but impossible for Hartselle this season, but for the six wrestlers who qualified for state an individual crown is still within reach.
Brad Eubanks and Blanton took home the titles in their weight classes at sectional competition. Eubanks defeated Scottsboro's Richard Wayne 9-4 in the championship match of the heavyweight division, making the third straight year that Eubanks has been sectional champion in his weight class.
Eubanks also improved his personal record against Wayne this season to 2-2.
"They've had a nice little rivalry," Styles said. "(Wayne) beat Brad in OT in their first match, then Brad won the second and was pinned in the third. The tiebreaker might be in Pelham next week."
Blanton's 7-5 overtime victory over Arab's Scotty Whisenant in the finals of the 140-pound division was arguably one of the more exciting matches of the tournament. Blanton trailed 2-1 after one round before coming back to tie Whisenant 3-3 heading into the final round. Whisenant scored a takedown early in the third round but Blanton followed with an escape to make the score 5-4.
The score remained 5-4 for most of the round before officials ruled that Whisenant was stalling by going out of bounds too often and gave a penalty point to Blanton, tying the match at 5-5. In overtime, Blanton scored a takedown of Whisenant with 24 seconds remaining to take the title.
The victory was a bit of personal retribution for Blanton, who was the only member of last year's Hartselle team who failed to qualify for state.
Watkins was pinned 39 seconds into his 171-pound division championship match against Scottsboro's Trevor Brown and was Hartselle's lone second-place finisher among state qualifiers. Elliott and Davis were third-place finishers and Pevahouse finished in fourth place.
Davis' third-place finish was especially impressive because his win in the consolation final came against the same wrestler who defeated him in the first round Friday night. Davis lost 6-5 to Buckhorn's Matt Tauton Friday but defeated him 5-2 in the rematch Saturday afternoon.
"That's a special thing for someone to qualify for state as a ninth-grader," Styles said of Davis. "I knew he was capable of achieving this. He's going to be a special wrestler for us for quite a long time."
Elliott and Eubanks are the only two wrestlers who also qualified for state competition in 2005 – a perfect example of how much the Tigers had to rebuild this season. Of the 12 Hartselle wrestlers who participated at the sectional meet, only two were seniors and six were a sophomore or younger.
"Some of our younger wrestlers, they had to go through some growing pains this year," Styles said. "Just being here at sectionals, even if they didn't qualify, just being here is going to be helpful for them down the road in later years."