Section 8AAA Wrestling: Moorhead spoils Little Falls’ state bid again in finals

Little Falls senior Dan Mushel tries to free himself from a tangle of limbs and gain control against Moorhead senior Kenny Mark, Feb. 15. Moorhead took down the Flyers 34-19 to win the Section 8AAA title for the second year in a row. (Photo courtesy of Dave Gastecki)

Little Falls senior Dan Mushel tries to free himself from a tangle of limbs and gain control against Moorhead senior Kenny Mark, Feb. 15. Moorhead took down the Flyers 34-19 to win the Section 8AAA title for the second year in a row. (Photo courtesy of Dave Gastecki)

Little Falls entered the Section 8AAA team championship as the top seed, having defeated second-seeded Moorhead by 17 points earlier in the season.

But the Flyers knew they would need some good fortune on their side if they were to repeat that feat and avenge last season’s section championship loss to the Spuds.

In the end, the odds favored Moorhead, as the Spuds earned a 34-19 win and repeat trip to state.

“Moorhead was a very different team match-up wise this time, especially in the lower weights where they had moved several wrestlers down a class,” Little Falls head coach Mike Hendrickson said. “In the first dual in December, everything went our way. We got all the bonus points where we expected, won the flip to get a key match-up, etc. This made me a little nervous.

“This time around, we knew we would have to step it up a bit to beat them. They definitely outwrestled us at some weights. We, on the other hand, were very frustrated in the matches where we needed bonus points. They did a great job of wrestling defensively in those matches. It was hard to watch.”

Moorhead took the first two matches to go up 7-0, then Little Falls countered with a pin by junior Logan Kapphahn and fall from freshman Josh Beack.

A pair of decisions from the Spuds, followed by a 9-3 win from sophomore Justin Jenks, left the dual tied at 13-13 after 145 pounds.

The Spuds took over from there, winning five of the final seven bouts, three with bonus points.

Little Falls sophomore Justin Jenks locks up Bemidji junior Lucas Gast in a cradle to score near fall in the Section 8AAA team tournament semifinals, Feb. 15. Jenks earned an 18-0 technical fall to help the Flyers reach the finals, where they fell 34-19 to Moorhead. (Photo courtesy of Dave Gastecki)

Little Falls sophomore Justin Jenks locks up Bemidji junior Lucas Gast in a cradle to score near fall in the Section 8AAA team tournament semifinals, Feb. 15. Jenks earned an 18-0 technical fall to help the Flyers reach the finals, where they fell 34-19 to Moorhead. (Photo courtesy of Dave Gastecki)

Senior Tyler Gastecki won 9-3 at 170 and senior Trysten Ross won 9-7 at 220.

Another thing working against Little Falls in the dual was the absence of junior Axel Lange due to injury, with Lange having earned a fall against Moorhead in the regular season. His presence would have perhaps allowed the Flyers a different set of match-ups.

“Undoubtedly, he could have helped, but his injury prevented that,” Hendrickson said. “It would be fun to rewrestle it with Axel in there as he got a pin in the previous dual with them.

“Our strength has always been our balance,” he said. “Unfortunately, their balance and tough kids got the best of us in the finals. Looking at indys (individuals), we have some super chances for getting some kids to state. We are excited about that.”

The Section 8AAA individual tournament was scheduled to take place Friday – Saturday, Feb. 21 – 22, at Sartell.

The state individual tournament will take place Friday – Saturday, Feb. 28 – March 1, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

The Flyers finished with a record of 19-12.

Getting to the finals

Little Falls reached the finals via a 54-24 victory over ninth-seeded St. Cloud Apollo in the quarterfinals and 45-21 win over No. 4 Bemidji in the semifinals.

Seniors Derek McMahan and Austin Olson, sophomore Gage Blechinger, freshman Wyatt Lillemoe, Kapphahn, Jenks and Ross earned pins versus Apollo, with Gastecki and freshman Lane Rutten winning by decision.

Versus host Bemidji, senior Tom Tabatt, eighth-grader A.J. Jenks, Beack, Gastecki and Ross delivered pins, Justin Jenks earned a technical fall, sophomore Trevin Larson picked up a major decision and senior Dan Mushel and Rutten won by decision.

Seniors on this year’s team included Chase Scherping, Mushel, Levi Hoffman, McMahan, Olson, Gastecki, Ross and Tabatt.

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