BYRON — Chase Tatum has seen a lot of Fulton’s Eli Pennell this season. Maybe too much.
Three of Tatum’s four losses this year have come at the hands of Pennell, including another narrow 2-1 setback for Saturday’s 220-pound sectional wrestling championship at Byron. Pennell also defeated the PHS senior for the regional championship the week before.
Even still, Tatum earned himself a return trip to state, looking to improve on his third-place finish from a year ago. He will be joined by freshman teammate Matthew Harris, who placed second at 113, and classmate Dallas Hill, who claimed third at 195.
“It’s a big deal. We got three kids and was real close to getting that fourth one,” said PHS coach Steve Amy, noting senior Jacob Ebner, who will be an alternate at state. “Super proud of them. All that hard work over the year is paying off for them. We talked all week about forcing your moves and focusing on going out and scoring your move over and over again. And the guys did it all weekend.”
The Tiger trio moves on to the IHSA State Finals in Champaign, which begin Thursday at the State Farm Center.
St. Bede brought seven grapplers to Byron, but none advanced.
Tatum was a whirlwind in his first sectional match Friday, pinning Gennings Dunker of Lena-Winslow at 0:29 and pinning Christian Bonacquisti of Rockford Lutheran at 1:14. In Saturday morning’s semifinals, Tatum, the reigning BCR Wrestler of the Year, stuck it to Morrison’s Riley Wescott at 1:02.
Then came along Tatum’s nemesis Pennell, who beat Tatum by the narrowest of margins, 2-1, for the title at 220. Tatum (35-4) has now had three of his four losses this year at the hands of Pennell, including the regional finals.
Amy said Tatum stuck to the new plan of attack against Pennell, having lost 6-1 last week in the regional finals.
“Chase just made a minor mistake and got out of position. He wrestled a great match. We will make a few small adjustments to take care of it this weekend,” he said.
The good news is that Pennell will be on the bottom bracket at state, opposite Tatum.
Harris (28-9), a regional champion, continued a banner freshman season over the weekend. He defeated freshman Owen Lightfoot of Winnebago by a 16–0 tech fall Friday night and junior Jacob Millman of Oregon, the No. 2 ranked wrestler in 1A, 8-4 in the 113 semifinals Saturday.
In the title bout, Harris lost by a 1:20 fall to Conner Elmer, a junior from Dakota.
“Working hard all season and it pays off, I guess. I felt like I could do it, but it was going to be hard to get to this point,” Harris said.
“It’s a great feeling to come out and wrestle against the upperclassmen and show what I can do. Usually most of them (upperclassmen) are a lot stronger and they know how to get in your head.”
Amy said the freshman Harris is not fazed by much.
“Matthew’s been wrestling a long time. Not a whole lot bothers him. When the lights are shining the brightest, he does a good job of showing up to the party and taking are of things,” Amy said.
“That semifinal win was a big win for him. Makes him believe he can compete and beat anyone in the state.”
Climbing the Hill
For Hill, it was just about taking that next step, and on Saturday, he climbed that hill, making it out the semifinal wrestlebacks for the first time. Hill fell to Byron’s Colton Ingram 7-0 in the semifinals, but remained in contention by defeating Martin Snyder of Dakota 3-0 in the “blood” round, an obstacle that knocked him out the past two years.
“It’s the third year in a row he’s been in that match,” Amy said. “I know nerves were getting to him a little bit. They were getting to Aaron (assistant coach Christiansen) and I. It was good for him to get that win and get that monkey off his back and look forward to next week.”
Hill (18-3) capped his day by pinning Avery Shaw of Amboy at 2:56 to step up to the sectional podium for the first time in third place.
Bruins leave empty-handed
St. Bede qualified a record seven wrestlers for sectional, but only two — seniors Charles Korey (113) and Hunter Monterastelli (220) — were able to win a match.
Also competing for the Bruins were sophomores Dominic Bima (113) and Noah Setser (138) and juniors Nick Lough (170), and Peter Sampson (285).
St. Bede coach Alex Shreve said the Bruins gave it their best shot.
“We went and competed in the hardest 1A sectional out there. Many say if you make it out of this sectional, you have a great shot at getting a state medal, but that means you are going to have to grind to get out of that sectional,” he said.
“Everyone wrestled well. We are a very young sophomore-heavy team, so this was great experience. Overall, I was impressed by what these guys did to make a historical season that will always stay with these guys.”
The sectional got off on a down note for the Bruins when sophomore Luke Sanchez, a regional champ at 152, didn’t pass the skin checks at weigh-in, Shreve said, and was unable to wrestle at sectional. Shreve said one official cleared Sanchez, as did the trainer, since a red mark on Sanchez’s body would be covered by his singlet, but the head official would not pass him.