BUTTE — Havre needed a spark.
Anyone, anything would do, but if it was going to win its fifth-straight Mining City Duals, it needed to turn the ship around in a hurry. Down 16 points, Cameron Pleninger stepped up to the mat against Flathead 113-pounder Bryce Shaffer, last year’s Class AA runner-up.
Five minutes and 41 seconds into the match, Pleninger pinned him. Four matches later, the Blue Ponies walked off the mat as victors, taking the championship 31-28 over the defending Class AA state champion Braves. Great Falls won the third place match over Missoula Sentinel, 35-33.
“If I wanted to keep us going, I had to give us some motivation,” Pleninger said. “It feels amazing. This is my second time here and second time winning.
“It’s just a ton of fun, it really gets your blood flowing.”
Pleninger didn’t make it easy on himself.
He gave up a takedown as well as two early nearfall points and trailed the entire match. With under 30 seconds to go, he was able to get Shaffer on his back, picked up two nearfall points and then pinned him.
“Cameron’s, well, that was a pretty gutsy performance,” Havre head coach Scott Filius said. “Basically we had to get on top. We knew the kid cuts a lot of weight and would run out of gas late, so we had to keep it close and finish it at the end.”
Havre would win three of the final four matches, which was just enough to squeak out a victory. All their wins during that final stretch gave them bonus points, including two falls.
The Blue Ponies jumped out to a 9-0 lead as Martin Wilkie won by decision over the Braves’ Tanner Russell. Connor Harris then pinned Kenyon Fretwell in 2:15 to give Havre the first two matches of the day.
Flathead, however, wasn’t about to go away. It won the next six matches, but just three were bonus point victories.
“We knew we had to keep it close,” Filius said. “We had losses on top, but they weren’t really big losses. They were three points, not six. “
Havre won seven-straight duals to take the title, including four on the final day. It had back-to-back matches to begin the day, which they took 35-31 over Butte and 42-22 over Missoula Big Sky. The Blue Ponies then had little issue with Great Falls in the semifinals, winning 54-15.
The Bison would strike back in the third-place dual, grinding out a win against Sentinel.
They got off to a hot start and opened up a 35-9 lead before the Spartans came roaring back. Sentinel won four-straight matches by pin to end the dual, but it wasn’t quite enough to overtake Great Falls.
“I don’t think we came into this tournament as a seeded team so to come out of here with a win is a good start,” Bison head coach Steve Komac said. “Our effort out of our kinds was really, really good. We’re young and we have a lot to learn, but as far as far as straight up effort goes, we had an outstanding weekend.”
Great Falls finished eighth at state last season, but it would be surprising if they finish that low again. Going 6-1 in the toughest high school dual tournament in Montana is no easy task and the Bison were consistently tough throughout the weekend, which should be something Komac is able to point back to as the season goes along.
There’s still a lot of wrestling to be done this season, but with one important weekend in the book, things are starting to take some shape.
Finishing well in the Mining City Duals isn’t necessarily a sure-fire ticket to the podium at state, but it’s a good start. Well, unless you’re Havre.
But even then, they’re pretty modest about their success.
“It just means we’ve had a couple good years,” Filius said.
Havre 31, Flathead 28
145 – Martin Wilkien (H) dec. Tanner Russell, 3-1; 152 – Connor Harris (H) pin Kenyon Fretwell, 2:15; 160 – Garrett Rieke (F) pin Taylor Gopher, 0:38; 170 – Payton Hume (F) dec. Mason Dionne, 4-1; 182 – Colby Martin (F) via forfeit; 205 – Tucker Nadeau (F) dec. Tyler Schaub. 10-6; 285 – Alex Paul (F) maj. dec. Austin Ratliff, 15-4; 103 – Brenden Barnes (F) dec. Mick Chagnon, 8-1; 113 – Cameron Pleninger (H) pin Bryce Shaffer, 5:41; 120 – Dominic Battello (F) dec. Quin Reno, 3-1; 126 – Marc Ramirez (H) pin Hunter Reichert, 3:26; 132 – Ryan Stewart (H) pin AJ Ekanger, 3:36; 138 – Lane Paulson (H) maj. dec. Jaden MacNeil, 10-1.
Great Falls 35, Sentinel 33
145 – Russell Wienholz (GF) pin Cam Hegel, 3:02; 152 – Luke Joy (S) inj. def. Kaden Hilliard; 160 – Jordan Komack (GF) via forfeit; 170 – Elijah Davis (GF) dec. Bailey Hawk, 10-6; 182 – Travis Tomei (GF) dec. Dylan Goforth, 5-2; 205 – Tanner Stack (S) dec. Alan LaRocque, 2-1; 285 – Jensen Poirier (GF) via forfeit; 103 – Dre Coles (GF) via forfeit; 113 – Easton Shupe (GF) pin Bryson Danzinger, :15; 120 – Dakota Thomas (S) – pin Hunter Renville, 4:59; 126 – Justin Kovalicky (S) pin Cache Hillard, 5:49; 132 — Reece Eckley (S) pin Braeden Lomas, 5:55; 138 — Beau King (S) pin Jack Dresel, 2:25.