Young Tigers finish 13th at state; Blanton takes 2nd, Eubanks 3rd
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
PELHAM – The Tigers obviously still have a lot of growing up to do.
Hartselle finished 13th of 19 teams at the Class 5A state championship at the Pelham Civic Complex last weekend, closing out a season that was frustrating at times as the Tigers went through a rebuilding year after last year's state championship.
"Some did well; some didn't do that well," Hartselle first-year coach Dan Styles said, "We certainly could have done better in places. The year as a whole we had a lot of youth and we've got to get tougher. We've got to try to build more heart in some places and might have some more growing up to do."
Hartselle lost nine wrestlers from that state title team, and that youth showed this season. Even so, the Tigers qualified six wrestlers for the state championships, but only junior Caleb Blanton made it to the final round, where he lost to Pinson Valley's Juan Zapata.
Blanton advanced to the finals by defeating Wetumpka's Matthew Escevarria 5-4 in the first round and moving past Homewood's Kyle Bridges 4-0 in the second round. In the 140-pound final, Blanton faced a foe in Zapata who he had defeated earlier in the regular season.
It was Zapata who got the upper hand this time, pinning Blanton in 2:53 after Blanton had led 2-1 following the first two-minute round of the match.
"Caleb had a great year and got beaten in the finals by a kid who he's beaten before," Styles said. "It's just one of those things. He'll have another good chance next year and look forward to that. He's a great kid and a great wrestler."
Hartselle's next highest individual finisher was senior Brad Eubanks, who finished in third place.
He was hoping to win the state heavyweight title after finishing second in 2005. That dream was not to be as a 7-4 first-round loss to Homewood's Aaron Feld relegated Eubanks to the consolation bracket.
Eubanks swept through the competition from that point on, defeating Scottsboro's Richard Wayne in the consolation final 3-1 in overtime. Eubanks earlier defeated Wayne to win the Section 2 heavyweight title and finished the season with a 3-2 record against his rival from Scottsboro.
Freshman Kyle Davis, in his first visit to the state championships, finished in fourth place in the 112-pound division. Davis was pinned by defending state champion Di Withers of Benjamin Russell in the first round but bounced back to win his next two matches 12-9 over Chase Dowdy of Homewood and 6-2 over Buckhorn's Matt Tauton.
Davis advanced to the consolation final match against Skyler Matthews of Fort Payne, who pinned Davis in 2:17. Styles was impressed by the performance of Hartselle's youngest state qualifier.
"Kyle Davis as a first-year wrestler I thought did exceptionally well," he said. "He's going to be a good wrestler for us for years to come."
Hartselle's Rico Elliott fell 8-5 to Toi Withers of Benjamin Russell in the first round of the 125-pound weight class. Elliott advanced to the consolation semifinal after Maurice Phillips of Erwin had to forfeit, then fell to Ryan Brown of Huntsville in the consolation semifinals.
Elliott was a third-place finisher at state last season in the 103-pound weight class but moved up in weight class this year as a sophomore.
Hartselle's other qualifiers, juniors Wes Pevahouse and Jake Watkins each were two-and-out. In the first round of the 189-pound class, Pevahouse was pinned in 45 seconds by Erwin's Heath Butler and lost 10-2 to Scottsboro's Jeremiah Horstick. In the 171-pound class, Watkins was pinned in 5:46 by Homewood's Jeff McClain in the first round and lost 7-2 to Huntsville's Jacob Winkles in the second round.
Although this season's finish was a disappointment in comparison to recent Hartselle teams, the future looks bright for the Tigers, who had just three seniors on the team this season and return five of the six state qualifiers with only Eubanks graduating. Four of the six Hartselle wrestlers who qualified for state this season were first-time state participants – only Elliott and Eubanks had previously qualified for the state championship.
Even Styles, who took over the Hartselle program this season after Keith Corder stepped down following 12 years as head coach of the Tigers, admitted that he had to learn from his mistakes this year and will improve next season.
"I probably didn't do as good a job as I needed to in getting these kids prepared and getting them tough," he said. "I think next year we're going to have to visit the south more often, so we can see some of these wrestlers from the southern section during the regular season. We've wrestled some of them before, but a lot of them we hadn't seen."