As the TSSAA State Wrestling Championship concluded on Saturday night, the mood of the Blaze coaches might be best described as bittersweet.
Sweet because, Blackman ended the tournament with FOUR State Medalists. (Tying a record) Sweet because Blackman had TWO finalists for the second time in 2 years. Sweet because Blackman placed FIFTH out of all eighty-one teams entered from AAA. (Blackman’s best finish in school history).
Here’s where it gets tough. Bitter because two of their young men made it to Tennessee wrestling’s biggest stage and came up short. Bitter because there were several opportunities to accomplish more that weren’t capitalized on. And bitter because at least one wrestler’s exemplary high school career ended in defeat.
On Saturday night, Blackman’s two finalists, Landon Fowler and Brooks Sacharczyk, both came up short in their bids to win state titles.
In the 170 pound finals match, both Fowler and Chase Diehl from Science Hill were state champions last season. Diehl was at 160 pounds last year while Fowler was at 170. The match was a low scoring one as the first period ended 0-0. Both guys have very good defense and neither could finish a shot. In the second period, Diehl scored an escape point with 23 seconds remaining for the only score of the period. In the third, Fowler earned his escape quickly and the defensive battle continued. As time wound down, it looked like the match was going to overtime, but Diehl was able to score a takedown with under 10 seconds remaining. There was no time for Fowler to react. The final score was 3-1. “It was the match of the night,” said Blackman Coach Ronnie Bray. “We thought we’d get the takedown and so did they.”
In the 182 pound final, Junior Brooks Sacharczyk lost a 6-1 decision to Austin Antcliffe from Arlington. Sacharczyk was 51-1 coming into the final match with his lone loss of the season coming at the hands of Antcliffe. As the match began, Sacharczyk started off strong but couldn’t penetrate and get to his shots. Antcliffe’s defense was solid. With short time left in the first period, Antcliffe won a late takedown from the front headlock to open the scoring. Sacharczyk scored an escape midway through the second period but Antcliffe countered with another takedown. In the third, Sacharczyk was forced to wrestle with urgency and while his attacks were solid, he wasnt able to score..
Earlier in the day, Senior Jalen Brown (152) advanced to the third place match after his opponent, Trenton McCrary from John Overton, failed to make weight. His opponent in the consolation finals was Logan Ferguson, a senior from from Tennessee High. Brown scored an early takedown in the first and controlled the first period. In the second, Ferguson got an escape and in the hand fighting that ensued, Brown suffered a hand injury and was forced to medical forfeit. He was winning 2-1 at the time. Brown finished 4th.
Also wrestling earlier in the placement matches was Junior Bowdy Boyce. Boyce was 5-1 on Thursday and Friday beating Elkins from Halls in the blood round. Saturday morning, he faced Wilson Benefield from Cleveland. After a scoreless first period, Benefield was able to score a reversal to go up 2-0. Boyce got an escape in the third period to trim the gap but Benefield was able to score the winning takedown with 32 seconds remaining. In the 5th place match, after two scoreless periods, Ryver Shelton from Jefferson County scored two takedowns in the third before Boyce gave up the pin. Boyce finished 6th.
All in all, the Blaze did have a great tournament. Although Blackman didn’t win their placement matches on Saturday, one has to keep in mind that Saturday is the best of the best. The Blaze grapplers have shown much improvement this season and the toughness and grit showed with four state medalists. “I’m very proud of our group this season. I would have liked to see (Anthony) Gomez get in there,“ said Bray. “Take away that five point move from Feldhacker (Brentwood) and we probably win that match too.”
With a great season in the rear view, Blackman will get ready for the off season and begin reloading for next year. It’s always difficult to say goodbye to seniors who have been key cogs in the wheel. Losing an athlete like Landon Fowler is tough on any program. Fowler has a record of 231-26 and is one of the most decorated wrestlers in Blackman history. He is a five time region champion, a three-time state finalist and a state champion. Jalen Brown is a four time state qualifier, a two-time region champion, a state medalist and has over 150 wins. While I am sure that several Region 5 teams will celebrate their retirement from high school wrestling, Coach Bray and staff are sad to see these guys go. However, it is rewarding to see wrestlers of this caliber succeeding and moving on to the next chapter.
Key players returning for the Blaze next season will be Sacharczyk, Boyce, Gomez, Adam Tibitoski, Alex Rose, and Austin Marlatt, who all have 40 or more wins this season. In addition, several key freshmen are moving up from middle school who will contribute from day one.
Expect to see several Blackman wrestlers at national competitions in folkstyle. And before you know it, there will be fight nights and the Blackman Wrestling Freestyle and Greco Club will begin having practice for international style wrestling.
Congrats to all of the Blackman Family!! It was a great season. Thanks to all the wrestlers, coaches, friends and family who supported Blackman this year!
There is no off-season! Go Blaze!!