Panthers finish third at home Invite

Zach Hammes was one of three wrestlers to win their weight class at the Panther Invitational on December 1. He was down early but came back to finish with a 16-10 decision.

The Pekin Panthers were looking to win their home wrestling Invitational in back to back years but came up short this time, finishing in third place on December 1. They gave themselves a chance with a handful of guys wrestling to win their weight class and only three of them succeeding.

Those three Panthers were Cole Earnest (170 pounds), Hunter Conger (160 pounds) and Zach Hammes (138 pounds) with all three winning their final match by decisions. Earnest got through his first match in just under two periods, pinning his opponent from Regina, then quickly took down Cardinals in the semifinal. Earnest went the distance against Shawn Good from Albia in a tightly contested match, with Earnest coming away with a 4-2 win.  

“it was great to have five guys in the finals and come away with three champs,” Pekin coach Al Chapman said. “I’m especially happy with Zach and Hunter as seniors being able to win their bracket and take home another medal.”

Conger had similar results but got through his quarterfinal match quickly, getting a pin over Van Buren in just over 30 seconds. He faced some adversity in his semifinal match, going down 4-0 early and having to be more defensive so as not to get pinned. He climbed his way back to tie things up in the early stages of the third period and finally took down his man midway through, advancing to the finals. Conger faced another opponent from Albia and took control throughout but couldn’t do enough to end it early. As a result, Conger wound up winning the bracket by way of a 6-1 decision.

Hammes came in with a 2-0 record on the season and was the favorite to win his weight class, receiving a bye in the first round. He had a huge takedown midway through the first period, briefly injuring his opponent as he lay there with trainers evaluating him. After his opponent was declared good enough to continue, the match went through the first period before Hammes pinned him early in the second. The final match was back and forth in which Hammes outlasted his opponent 16-10, going down early but taking control in the later stages of the round.

Michael Jones (132 pounds), Cael Baker (145 pounds) and Mason Juhl (220 pounds) all had chances to join their teammates with first-place finishes but came up just short, having to settle for runner-up. Jones got through the first round after pinning his opponent late in the second period and then took down his second opponent early in the second period. He got even better results by pinning his next opponent, whom also happened to be his teammate, in just over a minute. Jones looked like he was on his way to finishing first, picking up some needed points, but was quickly on the defensive late in the second period which resulted in being pinned.

“We’re not where we want to be yet, and the guys know it, and we know we’ll be improving as we go down the road,” Chapman said. “Right now, you let these guys soak on it overnight and then come Monday work on making sure that they don’t feel that way again. Mason will do better at 195 and Jones is a firecracker, so we’re not worried about him.”

Baker didn’t face an opponent in his first round after receiving a bye. He was able to get through the semifinal round with an aggressive move to put a reverse on his opponent, which eventually led to him pinning him down early in the second period. Yet another Albia opponent had also made it into the finals, this time able to beat the Panthers. Baker held strong throughout the match to avoid being pinned but only picked up one point for an escape, but Landon Turner of Albia finished up with four to hand Baker second place.

Juhl stayed ahead of his first opponent in a high scoring affair and was able to pin him in the closing seconds of the first period. In the semifinal Juhl was able to pick up four early points with takedowns and ended the match with a pin midway through the second period. He had the chance to take first place in his weight class but was down quickly. His opponent from Regina brought him down a few times, picking up two points each time and ended up beating Juhl 14-4.

The Panthers picked up two more fourth-place finishes from Bailey Freshcoln (132 pounds) and Logan Kealey (220 pounds), along with three fifth-place finishes from Tyler Gillum (120 pounds), Cooper Laumeyer (126 pounds) and Quenton Kopp (195 pounds).

Pekin finished out with 152 team points, finishing in third place behind Davis County, who had 170.5 points, and Albia who won with 180.5 points.

“It’s good to get a tournament atmosphere while we’re at home before we start hitting the road,” Chapman said. “We battled well, and I think we’re heading in the right direction right now.”

The Panthers head to West Burlington on December 6 for a tune-up before a big tournament over in Oakland, IA on December 8 which will feature multiple teams from the Midwest.