For four years running, the Suburban East Conference wrestling title has boiled down to a late-season clash between Forest Lake and Hastings. All four times, the Raiders have come out on top.
The latest installment in the series came in Hastings last Thursday, with the hosts prevailing 40-23. Seventh-ranked Forest Lake built a 23-16 lead before the second-ranked Raiders finished the dual with four consecutive pins. Two came from grapplers ranked in the state’s top five: Jake Swenson at 195 pounds and Isaac Eichman at 220.
“They capitalized on their strengths in their upper weights against us,” said coach Billy Pierce. “…They’re used to winning the conference and they’re not going to give it up easily.”
The Raiders jumped out to a quick lead. Forest Lake was shorthanded at 106 and Hastings earned a pin. Second-ranked Luke Rowh won 7-1 in a showdown at 113 pounds against sixth-ranked James Pleski. A major decision at 120 put the hosts ahead 13-0.
Forest Lake’s big three of seniors Michael Pleski, Ben Morgan and Tyler Isaacson combined to tie the match over the next three matches. Pleski won by major decision and Isaacson by pin. Morgan, ranked No. 1 at 132, scored a 3-1 win over fourth-ranked Eric Bauer.
Hastings took a swing match at 145, as Jake Anderson won 7-6 over Cody Paggen. But the Rangers rallied with a major decision from Austin Boniface and decisions from Ryder Paggen and Mike Urban.
Down the stretch, though, the Raiders took control, as Kyle Winberg, Jeremy McLaughlin, Aaron Calhoun and Beau Phinney could not avoid pins.
“The score indicates a little dominance on their part, but the outcome of two matches could have made the difference in the dual,” Pierce said. He also noted the loss will be good motivation as the team prepares for the Section 7AAA tournament, which begins next Friday.
Forest Lake wraps up SEC competition against East Ridge tonight, Feb. 9. Parents and seniors will both be honored at the meet. A win would make the team 8-1 in the SEC.
Pine Island Invite
Despite first-place efforts at four weight classes, the Rangers came up just short on Saturday in their quest to win the Pine Island Invitational. Class AA powerhouse Kasson-Mantorville edged Forest Lake for the second straight year in the nine-team event. The KoMets scored 222 points, six more than the Rangers.
Still, Pierce was impressed with his team’s effort and in their improvement on a few areas of recent emphasis.
“We’ve been not doing a very good job in the third period, whether in not scoring more points or in losing matches,” he said. “I felt on Saturday we really improved on that.”
All 13 Rangers won at least one match and 11 won at least two. Four went 3-0 and took home titles: James Pleski at 113, Michael Pleski at 126, Morgan at 132 and Urban at 170.
The elder Pleski, Michael, handed Noah Schlee a 13-5 major decision in the finals. Schlee, a fifth-ranked senior from Class AA team Grand Meadow/LeRoy-Ostrander/Kingsland, came into the match with a record of 26-1.
Pierce said Pleski displayed the aggressiveness and third-period killer instinct that the coaches have been preaching to him and the team as a whole.
“He was really focused, and it was some of the best wrestling I’ve seen Michael do,” Pierce said.
Ranked sixth in the state, Pleski is now 24-7.
Morgan needed a combined total of only 70 seconds to secure three pins and improve to 28-2 on the season. Urban, ranked eighth, improved to 25-6 with three pins.
Isaacson and Boniface both finished second. Isaacson, ranked fourth at 138, fell 4-3 to Kasson-Mantorville’s Coltan Laganiere. The KoMet junior, who is 33-1 and ranked No. 2 in Class AA, has given Isaacson three of his six losses this season. Isaacson beat ninth-ranked Jake Hanson of Rochester Mayo 2-1 in the semifinals.
Boniface advanced with a pin and a major decision before falling 5-2 in the finals to Kasson-Mantorville’s Corben Hansen.
Andrew Meyers at 120 pounds, Cody Paggen at 145 and McLaughlin at 195 each went 2-1 to place third.