NEW CASTLE — Katrell Moss owned Brian Wagner. Undefeated against the New Palestine senior the last four years, Moss was again leading Wagner in what was potentially the final head-to-head wrestling match of their careers in the New Castle Semistate on Saturday.
“It was frustrating,” Wagner said of his 0-5 record against Moss — a Warren Central 195-pounder — prior to Saturday. “I guess after each match I was looking to close the gap and practicing hard every week so that when the time came, I could win.”
Wagner’s triumphant moment came Saturday in one of the last title matches of a long day of wrestling at New Castle. Wagner and Moss each won their first three matches to secure berths in the State Finals; the top four semistate finishers advanced.
All that remained for the duo was to decide the 195 semistate crown and, late in the title match, Moss was on the verge of beating Wagner for a third straight week. The Warriors’ standout defeated Wagner 6-4 for the regional title Feb. 8 at Perry Meridian and 3-1 in the sectional championship Feb. 1 at Shelbyville.
Moss led Wagner throughout most of their three-round, six-minute match at New Castle, and was up 4-3 as the clock in the final round ticked under the 30-second mark.
In the ultimate showcase of perseverance and determination, Wagner scored a takedown on Moss for a 5-4 lead and held on for a rewarding victory.
“After I got that takedown with 20 seconds left, it was clear that I just had to keep him down for the remaining time,” Wagner said of the match’s final moments.
Moss, ranked No. 4 in the state, fell to 27-2 on the year, while No. 7 Wagner improved to 38-4.
“His strength and speed is very impressive,” Wagner said of his nemesis. “He would get me every time. Winning this time was very exciting, especially at this critical point in the season.”
As one of four semistate champs in the 16-man State Finals bracket at 195, Wagner will face a fourth-place semistate finisher in the first round of the State Finals Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Only the winners from Friday will advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals, consolations and finals.
Wagner is one of five Hancock County wrestlers who punched their State Finals tickets at New Castle:
>> New Palestine sophomore Chad Red — last year’s 106-pound state champ — won his second straight semistate crown and stayed undefeated for his career. Ranked No. 1 in the state at 120 this season, Red (40-0) will face Yorktown’s Brad Laughlin (34-9) Friday in Indianapolis.
>> Greenfield-Central senior Tyler Beeson (38-2) lost by fall to Cathedral’s Wesley Bernard (45-0) in the semistate heavyweight championship. Beeson, whose other loss this year was also to Bernard, will take on Landon Blackburn (40-4) of LaPorte on Friday.
>> Like Beeson, New Palestine freshman 106-pounder Alec White also finished runner-up to a Cathedral grappler at semistate. White (34-7), who lost to Breyden Bailey (44-0) by a 7-2 decision, will square off with Corydon’s Mason Kaufer (27-6) at Bankers Life. (Cathedral won the team title with 117.5 points, ahead of Perry Meridian, 114; Warren Central, 69; and the Dragons, 64).
>> Rylan McCarty (37-6) grabbed a fourth-place semistate finish for New Palestine at 126. The senior will battle Erique Early (26-0) of Fort Wayne Snider in the first round on Friday night.
>> And Wagner will face Nick Cress (40-10) of Peru on Friday. Wagner and Moss are on opposite sides of the State Finals bracket.
For Red, he’s only four wins away from a second straight state championship — and halfway to what would be a remarkable undefeated high school career. If Red wins the 120-pound title Saturday, he’ll be 92-0 as a high schooler. In the history of IHSAA wrestling, only Lance Ellis, Indianapolis Cathedral, 172-0 (1986-89) and Alex Tsirtis, Griffith, 236-0 (2001-04) have finished their careers unbeaten.
Red pinned Laughlin, his first-round State Finals foe, in 55 seconds in the Hoosier Heritage Conference championship earlier this season. Red could face No. 2 Bailey Lahue (24-1) of Corydon in Saturday’s quarterfinals.
“The season felt like it went a lot quicker,” Red said. “I kind of enjoyed last year a little more. Getting out there, doing my thing as a freshman. Now, I feel a little older.
“But one thing I am liking about this year is I haven’t went as long (in matches). My semifinal match, 11-2, that was my closest match all year. Last year, my closest match was like 6-4.”
Red pinned his first two opponents Saturday in 44 seconds and 1:44, beat Hamilton Southeastern’s Edrece Stansberry by the “close” 11-2 score in the semifinal and pinned Warren Central’s Matthew McKinney in 4:36 to win the 120 title.
“What I really wanted to work on coming into this year was pinning more people, putting them away when I have the chance and moving my feet on neutral,” Red said.
Red was joined at the State Finals last season by teammates Wagner (who placed third at 182) and the graduated Gordon Wagner (DNP at 138), Robbie Elsea (eighth at 145).
The Dragons will again be represented by four wrestlers at Bankers Life, although they were hoping to advance each of the six wrestlers they brought to New Castle on Saturday.
Eugene Starks and Nick Brickens concluded terrific sophomore seasons for the Dragons. Starks (34-5) won his opening round match at 113 by fall and, one victory away from qualifying for the State Finals, dropped a 12-8 decision to Hamilton Southeastern’s Austin Holmes (37-2).
Brickens (21-5) also breezed past his first 160 opponent with a pin, then lost a 4-3 decision to New Castle’s Luke Decker (38-5) in the ticket round.
At 182 and 132, respectively, Greenfield-Central junior Cameron Nuckols (29-8) lost in the first round by a 6-5 decision, while senior teammate Sam Locke (31-5) lost by fall in the first round.
Beeson, the Cougars’ 11th-ranked heavyweight, earned two pins and a 5-2 decision in advancing to the title match. It will be the first State Finals for the senior.
If Beeson can make a State Finals run, he could join Josh Farrell as back-to-back championships for the Cougars. Farrell, now a redshirt freshman for the Purdue wrestling program, went undefeated to win the 152-pound state title last season.