What a night it was for Grant wrestling.
In a highly charged atmosphere inside the Bulldogs postage stamp sized gym Tuesday night, Troy Parent and Noah Drabek settled a thrilling contest with back-to-back victories for the finishing touches on a 28-25 win over Mid-Suburban league champ Barrington.
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Grant's victory in its own dual-team sectional puts the Bulldogs in Saturday's Class 3A quarterfinals at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington. There Grant (25-1-0) will meet Lincoln-Way Central (20-2-0), which defeated Edwardsville 28-25, at 11 a.m.
"This is what a dual-meet should be," said Grant coach Ryan Geist above a cheering crowd which bolted onto the floor just after Drabek's 7-0 decision at 126 pounds sealed the Bulldogs' first trip downstate since 2009. "The atmosphere in here was terrific, both teams brought plenty of fans, and the kids didn't let them down with some hard-fought, tight matches, which fortunately went in our favor tonight."
The 3-point outcome avenged a 17-point early season loss to the Broncos (15-8-0), who were searching for a fourth straight appearance in the state tournament.
"We knew coming in it would be a fight to the finish, and it was -- but we were not able to win those close matches that you need to in order to beat a team as talented and well-coached as Grant," said Broncos coach Ken Hoving.
"We thought at the onset that we had an advantage without (Tony) Cashmore in their lineup," said Barrington's Mark Shealy of Grant's state medalist at 182 pounds. "But it really wasn't, because (Grant) came to wrestle tonight, and we just didn't do as good of a job as we needed to."
Shealy (37-7) ended a marvelous career on a high note when his pin at 5:21 helped put his club back in front for the last time at 13-10.
Nick Fanella (29-12) helped the Bulldogs break out on top when he opened up with a 9-4 decision at 138 pounds, but Broncos two-time state qualifier Coord Wiseman (145, 32-9) fired back with a major decision.
Sophomore Mike Kouvelis (30-15) and teammate Steve Herrington (170) bookended a 3-2 victory from the Broncos' Julius Smith at 160 pounds to keep the Bullodgs in front at 10-7 before Shealy's pin.
With the crowd cheering every takedown and even an escape, Jared Lalanda (182, 35-9) and Connor Haran (220, 39-10) responded with a pin and 7-3 decision to open up the Bulldogs' lead.
However, the Broncos, and in particular Ben Calamari (39-9), on the heels of a magnificent performance in Champaign last weekend, did not surrender. And when the Barrington senior outlasted counterpart Dan Haeffele (33-9) 3-2, the Barrington fans, all clad in black, let out a roar as they rose off their seats to cheer.
"The place was going crazy all night long," said Drabek, who later got the crowd going himself.
Freshman Mitch Stathakis (26-16) put a scare into state medalist Nick Koch (39-11) until the Bulldogs junior turned the tables on his opponent in a 6-4 decision to push the Grant lead to 22-16 with four matches remaining.
After a workmanlike six minutes by Austin Mazzenga (21-12) drew the visitors closer (22-19), it was time for the heroics from Parent and Drabek.
Parent drew even with Barrington's state qualifier at 120, Miguel Camarena (26-15), after a 1-point penalty for stalling and an escape to make it 2-2 at five minutes. In the first extra session, Parent's takedown winner with 11 seconds remaining took a little more air out of the Broncos.
It was a wide-open bout for Drabek (34-10) right from the start, who took down Matt Conrad in the first 10 seconds of their 126-pound match, then slowly build his lead to 5-0 after two periods, before 2 more points in the late stages added the icing to the Bulldogs' victory.
"I knew I was ahead, and really didn't know what the score was, so I just kept on working to score, because I did know a win from me would give us the win tonight and put us in the state finals," said Drabek.
"Both Troy and Noah lost to those guys before," said Geist, "so to come back on a big night like this one and win back-to-back like they did was terrific for each of them, and obviously their teammates as well."
The Bulldogs earlier were team champions at the 49th Erb Invitational at Glenbrook South and second at the high-profile Sycamore Invite a few weeks later. They finished third at the dual-team state tournament in 2006, but in their next two visits there (2007, 2009) fell in the quarterfinals to eventual runners-up Montini and Minooka.
"Give Grant credit tonight -- they did all all the little things you need to do in a tightly contested dual in order to come out on top, so congratulations to Ryan and his guys," said Hoving.
• In the other sectional contested at Grant, No. 7 Machnesney Park Harlem (17-2-0) had a little too much pin power for New Trier, which put up a valiant fight until the end when Jordan Northrup (43-2), one of the best in the business at 126 pounds, closed out the Trevians with a pin to help the Huskies win 45-30.
Next up for Harlem will be Glenbard North (16-6-0) on Saturday.