By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
DES MOINES —
A dramatic win started the night, a dramatic loss ended it and there was one more tough one in between.
But, three Clinton High School wrestlers assured themselves top-six finishes Friday at the Iowa High School Championships at Wells Fargo Arena.
Hunter Genco used a late four-point move to force overtime before winning in overtime in the consolation quarterfinals, but Dustin Caldwell and Dillion Chase suffered heartbreaking losses on side-by-side mats in the semifinals.
"It's tough to be that close," Clinton coach J.D. Lueders said. "This one will sting, but we have three medalists, and I'm pretty proud."
Caldwell, a junior ranked third in the state at 152 pounds by thepredicament.com, lost 3-1 to fourth-ranked Dawson Nemmers of Western Dubuque when Nemmers broke a 1-1 tie with a takedown in the final 45 seconds.
Chase's loss was even more gut-wrenching.
Ahead almost from the start — he shot in for a takedown and added a two-point near fall just 20 seconds into match — he got caught in a spladle and was pinned by Johnston's Logan Walkup in the semifinals at 160.
"Your heart goes out to the kid," Lueders said. "He wrestled tough. It just crushes you."
Walkup cut the gap to 4-2 when he got a reversal off Chase's early near fall, but Chase rode Walkup for the entire second period. His lead increased to 5-2 19 seconds into the third period on an escape.
"He gets one and is pretty tough on his feet and you're thinking he's in good shape," Lueders said.
But Chase, who had been warned for stalling earlier in the match, took a shot with a little more than 30 seconds left, and Walkup caught him in a cradle — a move in which the defensive wrestler winds up wrapped in a ball on his back with his arms trapped after the offensive man counters a shot by hooking his opponent's legs with his arms and legs.
Chase struggled, trying to free himself for about 15 seconds before Walkup got the pin with 15 seconds remaining in the match.
The ending was almost the opposite of Clinton's first match Friday night. In that one, Genco trailed Danny Kelly of Cedar Falls 6-2 and was in the down position for a restart with 18 seconds remaining in regulation. But, he was able to get a headlock on Kelly and scored the reversal and a two-point near fall to force overtime.
"The headlock is what really secured it so we could go into overtime," Genco said. "The headlock really saved my butt."
In overtime, Genco used a move that has become his signature at the state tournament — the praying mantis, in which he sticks his leg in between his opponent's legs and takes him to the mat — to record the winning takedown with 22 seconds left in the 1-minute overtime period.
"At first I had doubt, but then I said, 'I've gotten three shots on this kid and taken him down already and he only took me down one time, and that was because I gave it up," Genco said. "I knew I'd be the one to take him down somehow. I've always got that move up my sleeve. It comes in handy at state. I use it at least five times every year, mostly here.
"It's just a move I use every time someone gets a shot in on me. That move is my go-to move out here."
Genco assured himself a spot on the awards stand for the third consecutive year with a 13-3 win against ninth-ranked Shane Gill of Sioux City North in the consolation second round earlier Friday.
"It's just Step 1," Genco said. "There's still a long way to go. I want to get to third."
There were a couple of anxious minutes for Genco, a junior ranked fifth at 120, though.
Four seconds after he was awarded a takedown to go ahead 2-0, he was called for an illegal slam as he returned Gill to the mat. Gill, whose head hit the mat, was awarded a penalty point and was evaluated by the training staff and allowed to continue.
"I knew for a fact he was going to get back," Genco said. "The ref came over and said he knew it was not intentional but he had to call it."
Genco called the takedown that came at 1:39 mark of the first period the turning point.
"Once I got the first takedown he basically gave up," he said.
Genco inflicted some pain over the final two periods, though, earning four two-point near falls.
"What really ticked me off was all he was trying to do was hurt me," Genco said, "trying to throw crossfaces from left field."
Caldwell and Chase had little trouble earning spots on the awards stand with wins in the quarterfinals Friday morning. Caldwell defeated Iowa City West sophomore John Milani 5-1, while Chase pinned junior Markram Ibraheem of Des Moines East in 52 seconds.
"Once I sunk in the half to finish the pin, that was one of the best feelings," Chase said of the win that guaranteed him no worse than sixth place. "It helped getting a big win in the first round against a good kid (third-ranked Connor Larson of Webster City)."
Alex Caldwell, like Genco a returning placewinner, will not make it back to the awards stand this year.
He lost 4-1 to top-ranked Joel Northrup of Marion Linn-Mar in the consolation second round.