Center Grove juniors Hayden Watson and Drake Buchanan flirted with the ultimate high school wrestling achievement.
Both Trojans took center stage on Bankers Life Fieldhouse Saturday night in the championship matches at the state finals.
“It’s a tough tournament to win,” Center Grove coach Maurice Swain said. “Our kids had great years and kept coming back each week with the mindset they could win the whole thing. We got there and had some matches. We just got to the next level.”
Watson led much of the way against Zionsville senior Logan Wagner in the 145-pound title match before a takedown in the final minute led to a 9-5 defeat.
“We score all the points in the match and we give up a stall call,” Swain said of Watson’s loss. “So after scoring all the offensive points in the first period, Wagner scored a takedown late to go up one point. We got a little desperate at the end trying to tie it up and that how the match ended.
Watson, who finished 32-5, had shut out New Haven senior Elijah Chacon 6-0 in the quarters and beaten Floyd Central freshman Hunter May with a 10-1 major decision in the semifinals.
Unbeaten junior Gabriel Sollars of Evansville Mater Dei defeated Buchanan 9-4 in the 182-pound championship. Buchanan’s (35-2) only other loss was to Sollars in the Jasper Semistate final.
“Drake started out strong and we know that guy is really good on top,” Swain said. “He turned into one of those matches where there was a lot of mat wrestling, and that’s where that guy excels.”
Buchanan advanced to state title match by defeating Chesterton’s Gavin Layman 10-3 in the quarterfinal round and pinned Warsaw’s Brandon Estepp in 2:39 in his semifinal match.
“It was a great experience to make it to the final,” Buchanan said. “A lot of people would kill to make it to the final. Sollars gave me the only two losses on the season. Me and him were destroying everyone we faced and the top two people in the state (at 182). Obviously, I made some mistakes in that final match, and Sollars is a great opponent. It sucks to get second, but hope to get better and get the W (next year).”
Buchanan said he made improvement in neutral position this season.
“Even Sollars had a little trouble with me in neutral,” he said. “My cardio was better than it was last year.”
Watson had finished third in state at 132 pounds last year and Buchanan was sixth at 182.
“They went up a few matches on the ladder and now it’s just get to the top,” Swain said. “They both have another year and have time to get better. It’s a great accomplishment, but getting to the top of the podium is the goal. We’ll go back to work, so hopefully we can make that happen.”
For Swain, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic made it different type of season.
“It was a year we’ve never seen before,” Swain said. “Back in September and October time, a lot of people thought we wouldn’t have a season, so to be able to get the kids here to chase their goals was important we got through it.”
Buchanan said there were some tense moments dealing with the pandemic.
“You get quarantined one time by some random classmate and your season is done,” Buchanan said. “It was really stressful these last few weeks. Being able to complete in the state finals, making it to the final match. Losing was a little disappointing. Just being able to have a season is always, always going to be better than not having anything at all.”
Whiteland sophomore wrestler Joey Buttler lost to Wabash’s Jared Brooks in the seventh-place match at 113 pounds to finish 31-10. Buttler had previously lost to Bellmont’s Isaac Ruble 17-13 in the morning quarterfinals and to Chesterton’s Hayden DeMarco 7-3 in his first consolation match.