Niles advances to state semifinals

Published 8:50 pm Friday, February 21, 2014

Niles’ Noah Hall takes down Byron Center’s Gianni Baez in the Division 2 Quarterfinals Friday night. (Leader photo/RON HARNER)

Niles’ Noah Hall takes down Byron Center’s Gianni Baez in the Division 2 Quarterfinals Friday night. (Leader photo/RON HARNER)

BATTLE CREEK — For the second consecutive year, the Niles wrestling team will get to showcase its skills in the semifinal round MHSAA State Team Finals at the Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.

The Vikings (22-4) earned their spot in the final four by outlasting a tough Byron Center team by the decisive, and slightly deceptive, score of 43-24 in the quarterfinal round.

Niles surged out to a 16-0 lead over the Bulldogs (25-8) behind pin-fall victories by Alex Bata (285) and Brendon Meek (112); and a major decision win by Andrew Flick at 103.

However, the Vikings were unable to sustain the veracity with which their outing started, and soon found themselves in a much tighter competition than it maybe should have been.

Niles dropped five-of-the-next-nine matches, including three by pin-fall, to see their grasp on the match greatly diminish.

“We definitely made it closer than it should’ve been. We got lucky in that we got more pins than they got, but in the end, we didn’t give in when we could’ve packed it in, and our guys were able to get something going and find a way to win,” Vikings coach Todd Hesson said.

Cody Thornton made the move of the night for the Vikings in the 189-pound match when he countered an immensely aggressive attack from his opponent, Byron Center’s Brennan Andrews, and turned it into a pin-fall win that sealed the Vikings’ victory with just one bout remaining.

In all, Niles recorded five pin-fall victories (Bata 285, Meek 112, Noah Hall 135, Warren Smith 140 and Thornton 189) and four decision victories (Andrew Flick 103, Josh Dayhuff 125, Darek Bullock-Mills 130 and Ted Jackowiak 215) in the winning effort.

To say that Niles’ appearance in this year’s final for was a surprise would be a monumental understatement.

This year was supposed to be a transition year, after the Vikings graduated seven grapplers who got them to the semifinals last year.

“Back-to-back final fours was a little unexpected for us, I mean getting to final four, with one senior, are you kidding me?” Hesson said. “This one is very sweet for us.”

The Vikings will now move on to face the No. 1-ranked Lowell Red Arrows, who is the very same team that dispatched them from last year’s tourney.

The match will begin at 11:45 a.m. on Saturday at the Kellogg Arena.