ST. MICHAEL — Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield took some blows against the best Fairmont/Martin County West had to offer.
But even when trailing 23-10 with six matches remaining, the Charging Dragons had plenty of heavy hitters left.
And for the rest of the Class AA state semifinals, D-C/Litch dominated.
Winning the final six matches, with bonus points in five of those, the No. 3-seeded Charging Dragons earned their first trip to the state championship as a co-op, beating No. 2 Fairmont/Martin County West 41-23.
“It was great to see the kids weather that storm,” said D-C/Litch co-head coach Dan Buker, who coaches the Charging Dragons along with Bryan Clemen. “We finished out on top in a couple of those matches (between 120-to-160 pounds) and since we won the coin toss, we got the matchups we wanted. You gotta give credit to the kids there.”
In the championship match, top-seeded Simley had nine wins by fall, securing its third straight state championship after beating D-C/Litch, 68-6.
In the other semifinal, Simley defeated No. 4-seeded Princeton, 56-24.
“(Getting to the finals) was our goal as a team,” said D-C/Litch junior Hayden Hoernemann. “We did the job and got our goal.”
In the semifinals against the Red Bulls, the Charging Dragons jumped out to a 7-0 lead after a decision at 106 pounds by Andrew Joedeman and a major decision by Victor Franco at 113. But from that point, Fairmont/MCW entered the heart of its lineup with five straight top-10 wrestlers.
The Red Bulls won three straight, with a tech fall by Jaxson Rohman at 126 and a first-period fall by Kain Sanders at 132.
At 138, in a matchup of two top-10 grapplers, D-C/Litch's Jerry Simes stopped the losing streak with a 7-4 decision over Lucas Jagodzinske. Simes entered the match ranked fifth while Jagodzinske was third.
“That was a big match,” Buker said of Simes’ victory. “It halted any (momentum) that they had, and it helps with our confidence to win a swing match.”
While Fairmont/MCW won the next two matches, both were by decision as the Charging Dragons avoided giving up bonus points.
“We knew that was the best they had and they had to bump one of their better guys up (in Connor Simmonds),” said D-C/Litch sophomore 152-pounder Eddie Simes. “We knew they weren’t as good when we got to 170.”
Trailing by 13, the momentum swung quick for D-C/Litch as Jude Link won by first-period fall at 160, Tate Link survived a late scramble to take a 4-3 decision at 170, and Will O'Brien and Hayden Hoernemann both won by fall at 182 and 195, respectively.
“The coaches gave me a job to do,” Hoernemann said, “and I came in and got it done.”
At 220, Beau Nelson cemented the Charging Dragons' victory with an 11-3 major decision over Max Olson. And for good measure, Brendan Rokala ended the semis on a high note with a first-period fall at 285.
“Overall, it was a sense of joy,” Buker said when describing the bench after Nelson’s clincher. “We were grateful to have a strong performance and to get that sense of satisfaction.”
Early in the final against Simley, D-C/Litch got a surprise victory from Franco at 113. Down 5-0 in the third period, Franco took a shot and brought Peyton Spychalla down to the mat, sticking him with the fall at 4:57. Spychalla is ranked third at 113 while Franco is seventh.
“That’s something we practice on, where if you’re down by a certain amount, get aggressive,” Buker said. “(Franco) wrestled all the way through to the end and did a good job.”
The rest of the way, it was all Spartans. Reid Nelson (120), Cash Raymond (126), Chase DeBlaere (138), Vristol Short (145), Cael Berg (160), Landen Duval (182), Quayin Short (195), Gavin Nelson (220) and Bennett Tabor (285) all scored pins for the Spartans.
“They’re pretty good, top to bottom,” Buker said of Simley. “We told the guys beforehand to just be aggressive and let the matches fall as they may.”
On Friday evening, seven Charging Dragons — Franco (113), Jerry Simes (138), Eddie Simes (152), Jude Link (160), Tate Link (170), Nelson (195) and Hoernemann (220) — compete in the Class AA individual tournament.