LAPEL — With the Madison County Wrestling Tournament less than two weeks away, Frankton senior heavyweight Hunter Branham and the Eagles are putting in the work now.
At rival Lapel on Tuesday night, Branham scored one of two decisive Eagles’ pinfalls, as Frankton won 54-24, but the team’s week is far from over.
“We had tonight, we host Noblesville Thursday, then Saturday we’re at Pendleton Heights (for the Super 6),” Frankton head coach Courtney Duncan said. “It’s a lot about weight management, making weight three times in a week. That’s tough for high school kids, but we have to make sure our weights are in check and get those head-to-head county matchups we want before county.”
The county tournament is scheduled for Dec. 17, but for Branham, who is shooting to defend his local title, there’s a bigger goal ahead in about two months.
A state qualifier at 285 pounds after placing fourth during the 2022 New Castle semistate, Branham is building toward a deep postseason run, and he improved his season record to 12-0 with the Eagles’ fastest pin in 1 minute, 34 seconds at Lapel.
Branham established a rapid 4-1 lead in the first period against junior Grissom Jernigan before muscling to his eighth fall on the year with 26 seconds left on the clock.
“(Last year is) in my mind a lot. I try not to think about it and just focus on what’s going on now, but I’m trying to get back to state obviously,” Branham said. “It is a big part that’s motivating me this year.”
As a junior, Branham finished his season with a 28-8 record, falling in overtime during both the semifinal and third-place rounds at semistate. He lost by decision 8-2 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis during the opening round at the state finals.
The experience was a lesson for Branham, and he’s hoping to capitalize, beginning with county.
“It definitely opened my eyes a lot because I’m just used to being the biggest and the strongest, and obviously, even the state tournament in general, it opened my eyes to better competition and how I need to prepare for this upcoming February,” Branham said.
For the time being, Branham and the Eagles (8-6) defeated the Bulldogs for the second time this year with a 72-12 victory during the Rex Leavitt Invitational in Elwood on Nov. 19.
“Team wins are amazing. Winning personally is amazing. Obviously, Lapel is a rival, so we just love wrestling them. To get a win always feels good,” Branham said.
The Eagles claimed six forfeit wins overall, won two matches by fall and picked up two decisions, while dropping one match by forfeit and three by fall.
Lapel senior Alan Buzan posted the fastest fall of the night at 120 pounds, pinning sophomore Austin Brummett in 51 seconds that cut the team score deficit to 36-18. Junior Cole Miller won by fall in 2:36 at 170 pounds.
Frosh Paige Stires tallied the Bulldogs’ first-earned team points at 113, pinning fellow freshman female competitor Jaden Hughes in 5:24.
“I went out there thinking about being aggressive and giving it my all. Not being afraid to go 100%,” Stires said. “Whether I win or lose, just getting experience out there for future years is important. My goal is to get to state whether this year or in the future. It would be cool to go to state as a girl and hopefully as a freshman.”
The Indiana High School Girls Wrestling state finals will be at Mooresville High School on Jan. 13 following regional on Jan. 6 and semistate competition.
Frankton’s first pin against Lapel went to junior Garek Ellis at 220 in 3:15 over junior Jaydon Rodriguez.
The Eagles battled to claim their two decisions at 132 and 138 behind late rallies.
At 132, senior Carson Ward trailed 3-0 before narrowing the margin 3-2 with a takedown before the end of the second period. Ward pulled ahead 4-3 in the third, but junior Braken Little charged back with a three-point swing at the 1-minute mark to lead 6-4.
An escape by Ward with 29 seconds left and a takedown five ticks later sealed the 7-6 decision.
At 138, sophomore Thaiden Alexander gritted out a 12-10 decision after watching a 5-0 lead turn into a 5-4 mark and later an 11-10 match with 26 seconds remaining.
A gimme escape by Lapel’s Braden Dawson after a restart with 15 seconds left gave Alexander the advantage, which he defended as time expired.
“Good matches, 132 and 138 were exciting. I always tell my guys, it’s always hard to manage your weight and wrestle during the week because you don’t have a lot of time to recover, so as long as we do our job and keep our weight in check, hopefully, we’ll be good moving forward,” Duncan said.
“We have county coming up. We’re going to see Pendleton this weekend. See Anderson this weekend. So, a lot of head-to-head matchups going into county, which we’re looking forward to.”