Banged up Panthers finish 1-1 at Columbus Junction

Kaden Baker got things going early for the Panther wrestling team, as they took on Van Buren on December 14 at the Columbus Junction triangular. Pekin beat Van Buren 42-20, before facing Columbus.

The Pekin Panthers weren't at full strength when they wrestled against Van Buren and Columbus Junction/Winfield Mt. Union on December 14. Still, the Panthers were able to exit with one win and one loss in preparation for another weekend of competition.

After sitting out the first dual between Van Buren and Columbus, the Panthers were able to get themselves going early. Kaden Baker (170-pounds) and Skyler Juhl (182-pounds) were both able to win convincingly, pinning their Van Buren opponents in quick fashion. Following some forfeits, two of which went in Pekins favor, the Panthers turned to Tyler Gillum (106-pounds) to keep applying the pressure to the Warriors.

Gillum was on his heels for most of his match, but wouldn't go down without putting up a fight. Numerous times it seemed like the official was about to call him down, just to have Gillum use enough of his weight to free up one of his shoulder blades. His opponent was relentless and wouldn't let it go to a decision, and Gillum was finally pinned midway through the second period.

Michael Jones (132-pounds) provided a bright spot for the Panthers in the middle of their dual, pinning his man shortly after he took to the mat. Cael Baker (145-pounds) and Seth Bingham (152-pounds) both went the distance, but ended up on the losing end of a points decision. With the dual in hand, due to point differential, there wasn't as much pressure for Keaton Baayen (160-pounds) to close out the dual with a pin in the second period.

Pekin wound up with 42 points, while Van Buren had 20.

"We're still flying a little high yet, but there were some guys who were down tonight," Pekin coach Al Chapman said. "I had to make them realize that we aren't at full strength. We're pretty weak right now as far as what we could be, with the illnesses and injuries we have."

With Columbus and Pekin having each beat Van Buren, the two programs clashed to conclude the night, and determine who had the better squad at this stage of the season.

Pekin got off to another strong start behind pins from Jordan Hixson (182-pounds) and Juhl. A forfeit by Columbus put Pekin up by 18 points, but that lead quickly disappeared. Columbus countered by pinning Kaden Pollock (285-pound class) and Gillum. In Pollock's match, he faced a disadvantage, his opponent outweighing him by 65 pounds. Pollock was unable to get his offense going, which led to him eventually getting pinned. A forfeit by Pekin had the dual all tied up, with only a few matches remaining.

"Kudos to the guys who wrestled against Columbus," Chapman said. "We brought in Hixson who weighs 163 and he wrestled a 182, so he's giving up 19 pounds, but he came back and got a pin there. We asked some of our top guys to move up, they did and we were pretty proud of that."

Three more Panther forfeits had Pekin in a hole, with six matches to go. Jones got his second pin on the night, which allowed Pekin to cut into their deficit. Zach Hammes (138-pounds) and Cael, two of Pekin's more highly touted wrestlers, found themselves on the losing end in their matches. Hammes was pinned as time was winding down in the second period, while Cael lost a very close 3-5 decision, with one Columbus takedown providing the difference.

By then, it was too late for the Panthers to get a win, but were still hoping to finish out strong. Bingham wasn't able to get a win in his second appearance on the night, after finding himself pinned early in the second period. Baayen maintained the offensive for most of his match, keeping his man down on the mat until he finally got the referee to call a pin late in the first period. The final Panther remaining, Kaden Baker (170-pounds), followed suit by taking down his man quickly and decisively to get his win.

"We had it penciled out that everyone who was going to wrestle for us would need to get big points because of the forfeits we had to give up," Chapman said. "We knew we had a shot, some of the matches didn't go our way but we have room to improve."

The Wildcats ended up with 45 points, while the Panthers fell shy with 36.

The two squads linked up again, as Pekin hoped to avenge some of their defeats, when they competed in the Iowa City Regina Invitational on December 16.