BLOOMINGTON -- Butterflies certainly were floating inside Drake Stirn's stomach, but the Mercer County 106-pound sophomore wrestler found an easy way to calm them.|
A 77-second pin was the perfect remedy.
With the outcome still undecided, Stirn came up huge with a first-period pin over Plano's Juan Lazerit in the Class 1A dual-team state quarterfinals at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum on Saturday. Stirn's fall allowed the Golden Eagles to earn a 40-25 victory, guaranteeing them a second consecutive state trophy.
Mercer County followed that with a 57-14 win over Litchfield in the state semifinal, as the Eagles flew into the state championship against top-ranked Dakota.
"Unbelievable," Mercer County coach Jeremy Finch said. "The goal from Day 1 when they got into the wrestling room was wrestling for a state title. It's an amazing feeling."
Stirn set it up with his clutch victory. Entering the second-to-last bout, the Golden Eagles held a 28-25 advantage after Plano won the 220- and 285-pound bouts.
"I was nervous more than anything," Stirn said. "I didn't want to go out and lose. I wanted to go out there and win. I laid it all out there."
It did not take long for Stirn to finish the victory off, completing the pin in 1 minute, 17 seconds.
"He's gutted it out all year and all last year," Mercer County 170-pound senior Jon Ricke said. "He's taken his beatings and bruises, and he never quits. It's paid off. He really showed guts."
Mercer County certainly needed the heroics after the Reapers' scored a fall and major decision to cut a 28-15 deficit to 28-25 as the dual flipped to 106 pounds.
With their so-called weaker spots lingering, the Golden Eagles knew someone had to step up.
"A wrestling match can go either way," Ricke said. "One person can catch a guy and that's the match. I was nervous."
Turns out, Mercer County got the victory it needed to avenge a regular-season loss to Plano in late December.
"Surviving that was key," Finch said. "That gave us confidence."
Trailing 14-5 in the semifinal, the Golden Eagles won the final 10 bouts to reach the school's second state championship match this year. In November, they won the Class 2A state football title.
"You know, all the emotions are rushing through," said Ricke, a starter on both teams. "You've been through it once and you think, 'OK, you've been through one state title.' But it's not another state title -- it's something brand new."
What carried the wrestling team to the finals was the same thing that propelled the football team to their championship.
In crunch time, an unlikely source stepped up.
"I couldn't believe it," Stirn said. "I jumped to my feet after it."
The victory reaffirmed Mercer County's belief that each person in its lineup can win at any time.
"I've told our guys all February that this is the time of year where you put together your best six minutes," Finch said. "I like our best six minutes against theirs any day. I like my guys."
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