Panthers finish third at Waco Invite

The falling snow outside didn’t deter the Pekin Panthers from trying to take home so hardware from the Warrior Invitational on January 12. They came up just short, taking third place behind Wayne and English Valleys/Tri-County, finishing with 134 team points.

“We knew there would be a tight race for first since we were the returning runner-up from last year and our goal was to bring home the 1st place plaque this year,” Pekin coach Al Chapman said. “Wayne and Columbus/WMY came in because of a tournament they were supposed to be at got cancelled, and that proved to be our spoilers from reaching the team title.”

Even with the unexpected competition, the Panthers still gave themselves a chance with several of their wrestlers claiming top-five spots for their respective weight classes. Cael Baker (145 lbs.) was the lone Panther to finish first while Zach Hammes (138 lbs.) and Mason Juhl (195 lbs.) finished as runners-up to help Pekin pick up some big points.

Baker got through his first round with ease by beating his opponent midway through the match with a score of 11-1. From there, things got incrementally tougher, going into the late stages of the second period before advancing with a pin. In the semifinal match, Baker had to go deep into the third period, pulling out the win in the final 10 seconds of the match. To cap it all off, he faced off with one of the Waco wrestlers and ended regulation tied at 4-4. Baker picked up the final two points in extra time to win it 6-4, awarding Pekin 27 points.

“Cael came in focused and ready to battle and proved it by being our only Gold medal winner,” Chapman said. “He’s wrestled better before and he know that also, so we’ll need to get him back to the top of his game in order to be even more dominant.”

Hammes ended up just shy of a second gold for his team, being edged out in the Championship round by Jarod Kadel (WMU) by a score of 9-5. Up to that point, Hammes had advanced with a couple pins in the first period and recorded a third pin near the end of the second period to get to the Championship round. Kadel and Hammes had already met twice earlier this season with Kadel winning both times. Even though things didn’t turn out the way he’d hoped, Hammes hit the milestone of winning his 100th match after getting a fall in the second round.

Juhl was another veteran on the team hoping to earn a gold but finished short after being pinned by John Fisher (EVTC) in the Championship round. Juhl was tested early but managed to advance with a fall in the last 30 seconds of his first match, then bounced back by pinning his next opponent 23 seconds in. Juhl went into the third period before advancing past the semifinals where he matched up with Fisher, who ended up getting the best of him midway through the second period.

“That was a rematch from last year between the two and we’re going to use that match to get Mason more focused to where he needs to be at the end of the month,” Chapman said.

Michael Jones (126 lbs.) was on his way to a Championship match but hit a wall in the semifinals, getting shutout 9-0. With third place still a possibility and team points on the line, Jones delivered by beating his opponent 8-2 to get a spot on the podium. Bailey Frescoln (120 lbs.) and Tanner Bainbridge (170 lbs.) were able to finish in fourth place of their weight classes by getting to the third place match, but not able to end the day with a win.

Other Panthers to pick up points included Hunter Conger (160 lbs.) who finished his day with a win in the fifth-place match with a dominant 14-3 win, and Kaden Pollock (220 lbs.) who didn’t place but earned five points. Pollock began his day by winning 4-1 in the first round, got pinned in the quarterfinal, then pinned his opponent midway through the first period of the consolation bracket. Pollock then ended his day by getting pinned late in the first period.

“We still have two weight classes to get straightened out this coming week,” Chapman said. “Then we’ll be focusing on the final stretch of the season.”

Pekin will be back on the road January 17 when they wrestle at Lone Tree and will also face the Waco Warriors.