SALINA — When the public address announcer boomed Austin Eldredge’s name as the Class 4A 138-pound state wrestling champion as he stood on the podium, it made him realize all the work and sacrifices he had made finally paid off.
Eldredge outlasted Andale’s Zach Eck 7-6 on Saturday to become the McPherson Bullpups’ first state wrestling champion since Taylor Krier in 2012.
With his victory, Eldredge also became the MHS single-season victory leader as he finished 41-3. Ty Goss’ 40 wins lasted one season.
Finally one more huge note, Eldredge will join the MHS Wall of Fame in December.
“It was awesome,” Eldredge said when the PA announcer proclaimed him the state champion. “It was a great feeling. I just had to be comfortable trusting myself giving up points and being able to come back.”
Eldredge gave up two early points before a reversal made it 2-2 at the end of the first period. After Eldredge went up 3-2, Eck surged in front 4-3, but another Eldredge reversal gave him a 5-4 lead going into the final period — which was the same score when the two had meet earlier this year.
But Eldredge tacked on two points in the fourth period for a 7-4 lead, then had to fend off Eck’s rushes for the title.
“I just knew I had to come back and get points where I could,” he said. “I just had to stay smart and stay on my game. (At 5-4) he had a great shot and I was able to get a go-behind and I got up by three. I thought I probably had it right there.”
Eldredge had survived two close matches on Friday in the quarterfinals and semifinals, but was technically sound on Saturday and seemed fresher.
“It wasn’t a concern today,” he said of possible fatigue. “I knew once I got hydrated and made weight, I knew I was going to be doing a lot better. It was just getting through Friday.”
Eldredge is the wrestling version of a basketball gym rat. Few wrestlers in MHS history have put in the time, going to camps and a lot of events in the summer.
“It’s incredible. I’d do it all again,” he said of the sacrifices.
Eldredge now joins the spot reserved in the Roundhouse for those who have been a state champion.
“It’s going to be great,” said Eldredge, who plans on wrestling in college but doesn’t know yet where that will be. “I’m excited to see it. Lots of highs and low, lots of great people I’ve met. I didn’t get where I wanted to the last three years, I just had to trust the process and believe I could do it my senior year.”
Eldredge gave a lot of credit to MHS coach Doug Kretzer, who has maintained all year he thought his 138-pounder would be a state champion.
“He’s an incredible coach and an incredible person,” Eldredge said. “I’m so glad to have him as a coach.”
“They both did a really good job of neutralizing each other,” Kretzer said. “What won Austin the state title is what was his Achilles Heel back when he was a sophomore (when he placed third). When he was a sophomore, he was so tough on his feet and so tough on top, but he couldn’t get away. His bottom work was what prevented him from being able to win (state). Those reversals were what won him the state championship.”
Kretzer has marveled at Eldredge’s work ethic.
“He’s just worked and worked and worked,” Kretzer said. “He would go anywhere to get better. He was the outstanding wrestler at Kearney (Neb.) this summer out of 400, 500 kids. We knew he had the potential. Could he get it going here under the big lights? He proved it tonight and I’m glad he did.”
MHS’ Rhett Edmonson wound up taking second place after losing 6-2 in the 106-pound finals to Preston Martin of Paola in a battle of freshmen who probably will see each other again down the road.
Edmonson was down 4-2, but then gave up two points and could never dent the staunch defense of Martin. Edmonson finished the year 29-11 and no doubt will be heard from again as he’s such a technician.
“He had a hard time getting penetration on his shots,” Kretzer said. “He was close on a couple. He had a great season and he wrestled very well this weekend. He was a just a little bit short. If he could have gotten that takedown near the end of the first period, instead we gave up the two. Who knows what the dynamic of the match would have been from there.”
Kretzer said he believes Edmonson will be back in this position.
“He’s a very committed kid in the offseason,” Kretzer said. “The sky is the limit for him. There’s a lot of kids who dream of being a runner-up at state as a freshman.”
MHS’ Bailey Yarborough also medaled. He was 0-2 on Saturday after going 2-1 on Friday, making it to the 182-pound semifinals. He took sixth place, which sets him up for a big senior season after going 26-12.
“He’s come a long way,” Kretzer said. “He did what I thought he could do. When Bailey is in the role of an underdog (he was a fourth-place regional placer last week), that’s where he can flourish. He’s got a unique skill set and he’s a tough kid to wrestle. He wrestles kind of awkward, kind of backwards and that causes his opponents a lot of trouble. All four of the kids in our regional were in the Final Four.”
Scott Radke, at 145, lost his only match on Saturday, but finished 31-12. Brynton Crews had gone 0-2 at 132 on Friday.
MHS, sixth after the first day, dropped to 13th on Saturday after going 1-4 in the five matches. Abilene had a huge Saturday and charged to the team title with 133 1/2 points, while Bonner Springs outlasted Andale 89-88 1/2 for the other two plaques.
Eldredge was the only senior at state and MHS took just one other senior to regional, to the future is tremendous for the Bullpups.