BUCKSPORT — Gavin Sanders got the call Friday night.
The Dirigo Cougars were going to be down a man heading into Saturday’s Western Class C wrestling championship. That man happened to be in Sanders’ weight class, 182. And Sanders, who hadn’t wrestled varsity for more than six weeks, had to fill a pretty big void.
Some wrestlers would be up all night, tossing and turning over the sudden pressure. But not Sanders.
“I’d pinned all of them (in his weight class) earlier this season,” Sanders said. “I was about as prepared as I could be, I guess.”
Sanders won his weight class and was one of 13 Cougars in 14 weight classes to qualify for states as Dirigo won its first regional crown since 2008 Saturday.
Dirigo led wire-to-wire while accumulating 194.5 points, 37 ahead of runner-up Bucksport. Winslow (122), Madison (100), Mt. View (82) and Lisbon (73) rounded out the top six.
Lisbon qualified five wrestlers for states, Monmouth three and Spruce Mountain one. The Class C championships will be held next Saturday at Fryeburg Academy.
Sanders was joined in the winner’s circle by Dirigo’s Caleb Hall (132), Brett Whittemore (138), and Jesse Hutchinson (145) and Lisbon’s Zach Stevens (120).
Sanders, who had wrestled JV since around Christmas, got called up by coach Doug Gilbert after a teammate was suspended Friday.
“We talked (Friday) night after things settled down. We’d lost 24 points, and somebody’s got to make up 24 points,” Gilbert said.
Sanders didn’t make up the difference alone.
“Dexter Verrill, seeded fifth, comes out in the first round and pins a kid that beat him last week in about 30 seconds. Now, we’ve only got to make up 16,” he added. “Everybody stepped up — some places where we needed pins. Gavin scored 22 points for us today.”
“It shows that we’re right up there at the top of the state,” Hall said when asked about Dirigo’s depth. “We had all but one qualify for states. I don’t think too many teams can say that.”
Hutchinson was locked in one of the day’s tighter finals, edging Madison’s Cody Soucier, 4-3.
“I’ve been working harder this past week than previous weeks (because) Cody’s always been beating me,” Hutchinson said. “I had to bring him to my pace. I just do better at my pace.”
The top four wrestlers in each class earned spots in the state meet.
Julian Baldinelli (152), Thomas Barnett (160), Alex Snowman (195) and Zach White (220) all were runners-up for the Cougars. Eric Holman (113) and Reilley Lombardi (126) won their consolation finals, while Misty Steward (106), Verrill (120) and D.J. Webber (170) finished fourth. Webber was injured after being dropped on his head early in the meet. He was treated at a nearby hospital and released.
For Lisbon, J.D. Martin (113) was a runner-up, Cody Beraunies (106) and David Moore (160) were consolation winners, while Tyler Bard (126) took fourth place. Stevens rallied to pin Bucksport’s Alex Brown at the 2:43 mark of the 120 final.
“I just tried to see what moves worked and adapt,” Stevens said. “I just wrestled my best and had fun.”
Monmouth’s Tyler Lewendowski (fourth at 113), James Gambino (third at 132) and Angus Koller (fourth at 152) are also headed to Fryeburg. Lewendowski and Koller are freshmen, Gambino a sophomore.
“Tyler did great,” Monmouth coach Shawn Schultz said. “He’s been working hard and has come a long way. Angus Koller, he’s unpredictable. He’ll be down, 14-2, and then pin a guy. We call him ‘The Comeback Kid.'”
Peter Ruffalo of Spruce Mountain finished third at 285. Dirigo could conceivably call him one of its own since Ruffalo doesn’t have a team and practices with the Cougars.
Even though Dirigo can’t technically claim to have every weight class filled next week, it should have plenty of opportunities to score points in pursuit of its first state title since 2007.
“Everyone’s going to have to wrestle to their seed or better,” Hall said. “And we’re all going to need to step up.”