PIERZ – In the world of high school wrestling, a dual match is a storybook. The book always has 14 chapters in a sport with 14 weight classes, from 106-pound sprites who seem to glide over the mat to the athletic mastodons who walk out hauling 285 pounds of muscle, grit and heart.
The book can be a horror novel for teams who know they are outmatched, or easy reading for teams that know they will dominate. Neither was the case here Friday evening, when the top two teams in The Guillotine magazine’s Class 1A rankings met up in a hammer-and-tong match that had all the anticipation of a state-tournament dual.
The Frazee Hornets and Pierz Pioneers could very well meet again at the state tourney in St. Paul in early March. If they do, Friday’s show was a grand preamble, a rollicking action novel filled with ups and downs, highs and lows, screams as well as silence.
Frazee came in with the No. 1 rankings and Pierz was No. 2. These wrestling programs are as good as it gets in Minnesota: The schools have a combined 35 trips to state (23 by Frazee, 12 by the Pioneers) and six state titles (four for the Hornets and two for Pierz).
Last season Frazee was the 1A team state runner-up and Pierz finished third. Two years ago Frazee was fourth and Pierz went 0-2 at state. The schools are 105 miles apart and don’t always meet during the regular season, so this wasn’t your ordinary Friday night exercise.
As veteran broadcaster Rick Grammond -- whose “You Are There Sports” website is well-known for first-class coverage of events across these parts -- told his listeners before the match began, “This is fun when two legendary programs get together.”
The wild evening would end with a smiling lady telling Rick, “Somebody who was listening on the internet told me it sounded like you might need oxygen!”
Indeed. This was a crazy one, with 14 chapters that involved some of the state’s best wrestlers, two veteran coaches and knowledgeable fans who cheered for their boys (“Hook the wrist! Hook the wrist!”) while offering helpful advice to the referee (“That’s a stall, ref, not a stalemate!”).
Three matches pitted wrestlers who are ranked among the top 10 in their weight classes. The action began at 6:45 p.m. with the gym lights dimmed while a set of spotlights lit up the mat.
Frazee got rolling early, with Landon Byer, Michael Miller and Tanner Schermerhorn winning at 106, 113 and 120 pounds to put the Hornets in front 10-0. Lucas Popp put the Pioneers on the board with a 2-1 decision over Kaden Hiemez at 126 and the team score was 10-3.
The Hornets’ top-ranked Tanner Reetz met No. 3 Brandon Ortman of Pierz at 132, and it began with Tanner and Brandon ramming their heads into each other only seven seconds in. Ortman got the worst of it and there was a brief timeout as Pioneers coach Mark Jensen checked on him. Brandon continued wrestling, but he was a little wobbly and Jensen walked onto the mat in the second period, figuratively throwing in the towel. Reetz won by injury default, giving Frazee a 16-3 lead.
After Reese Kapsner of Pierz beat Blaine Beaty 5-2 at 138 and Tanner Eischens of Frazee defeated Andrew Tomala 6-4 at 145, the Hornets’ lead was 19-6 and half of the book’s chapters had been completed.
As the bigger boys strode from the darkness into the light, the home team found its gait and the referee’s hand began slapping the mat with regularity. Jalen Jansen won by fall at 152. Luke Girtz pulled some magic out of his singlet at 160, scoring an escape in the absolute final second to beat Charleton Wake 8-7. The score was Frazee 19, Pierz 15.
Another pin for the Pioneers: Logan Lease at 170 … Pierz led now 21-19 with four weights to go and this was anybody’s match to win. The home fans absolutely shrieked as their Brett Kapsner rolled Logan Wacker’s shoulders onto the mat and the slap reverberated, putting the Pioneers ahead 27-19.
Amid the din, Grammond yelled into his microphone, “We are getting down to the nitty gritty here!”
Sixth-ranked Matt Kummet of Pierz defeated fifth-ranked Rory Drewes 3-1 at 195 and it was Pierz 30, Frazee 19. That 11-point margin meant the Hornets needed to win by fall in both of the final two matches to take home the victory.
An amazing thing happened at 220 pounds. Luke Tweeten of Frazee and Carson Huls of Pierz battled, battled and battled some more. In fact, the score was 3-3 and headed to overtime … or so it seemed. Huls held control of Tweeten as the third-period clock neared zero, and then – amazingly – Huls simply let go, allowing Tweeten to score a one-point escape for a 4-3 victory.
The place went nuts as everyone realized what had just happened: By losing in a decision and avoiding overtime, Huls could not be pinned … and Pierz could not be defeated. Clincher. The Pioneers led 30-22 and Troy Fischer completed the night with a pin at 285 pounds, making the final score Pierz 36, Frazee 22.
Clay Nagel, the cowboy-booted coach of the Hornets, had a message for his disappointed wrestlers.
“I told the kids, ‘Would you rather have this happen here or at the state tournament?’ I don’t know what will happen at the state tournament, but Pierz is a good solid team. We learn and get better.”
Jensen, as is customary, chatted with Grammond as the end of the broadcast neared. Mark was worn out and emotional, but mostly he was proud of his boys.
“The upper side of our lineup really wrestled well,” Jensen said. “I can’t say enough about how those kids came out and laid it on the line. They are an experienced bunch, a veteran bunch, they’ve been through the wars and they showed it tonight. Everybody had a great effort. It was phenomenal.”
Jensen broke some news as he chatted with Grammond. Mark was the Pioneers head coach from 1990 to 2006 before stepping down. He returned as head coach in 2013 and it seems like he is ready to hand the reins off once more.
“It’s just one match, it’s kind of practice for the end of the year, but I’m pretty darn proud of these kids,” the coach said. “Being this is probably my last year, it’s phenomenal, just phenomenal. I can’t say enough about this group and this school and what they’ve given me.”
Both teams were back on the mat several hours later at Saturday tournaments. The Pioneers were in action at 9 a.m. at Cambridge-Isanti and the Hornets were doing the same at Staples-Motley.
The state tournament? That book will be opened the second day of March.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 326
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 7,025
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn