All season long, Morris 132-pound wrestler Kenny Baldridge was looking up at the name of Alex Butler of Rockford Boylan. From the start of the 2013-14 wrestling season, Butler was ranked No. 1 by Illinois Matmen, ahead of the Morris senior and it never changed.
So Baldridge had to do it himself.
It wasn’t easy, though. After going 35 straight matches without a loss this winter, Baldridge lost at the Pontiac Class 2A Sectional to, you guessed it, Butler by a 7-4 score. Little did he know it then, but that spelled curtains for Butler.
“Honestly, it kind of was a good loss. People can say what they want to say, but honestly, it was a good loss,” Baldridge said of the lone blemish on his record this year. “That’s because it gave me an advantage at state because the kid thought, especially after the sectional, that he’d beat me easy at state if I even made it to the finals. When I got down there, you could tell he was cocky, even in the finals and he was not expecting me to come out the way I did, having learned from my mistakes in the sectional.”
Baldridge went on to win his final two bouts in Pontiac to finish third while earning his third straight trip to state. As it turned out, it also had him on a collision course and a rematch with Butler.
EYE OF THE TIGER
Knowing that he was more than likely going to have to beat Butler if he wanted to win a state championship, Baldridge and his wrestling entourage knew something had to change. That change started even before the Pontiac Sectional was finished.
“We saw that right away. Even when he (Kenny) was wrestling back, I told him, ‘Hey, let’s take a look at this, we have to circle the other way,’” Morris coach Jon Lanning said. “That was one little adjustment that (grappling coach) Joe Gilbert helped out with the next week. He was also working on getting his hips down and stuffing hard so he could stop that tilt that he (Butler) tried. And Kenny thought he could also jam that under-hook in and jack him up and score from there and that’s exactly what he did there at the end.”
Baldridge said that he has taken that tact with other wrestlers before, and had success doing so.
“It’s not the first time I’ve done it. I did it with Barlow,” Baldridge said of Rock Island’s Barlow McGee. “I changed up and made sure to change everything so I wouldn’t lose to him like I did the year before. There have been a few other wrestlers that I have lost to that I have done that with. It’s worked every time I’ve changed up the style.”
Baldridge started the state meet by defeating Steven Bradford of Bloomington 6-0, then he dispatched Patrick Schoenfelder of Antioch 16-4. Michael Peterson then lost to Baldridge by fall in 5:00 setting up the rematch – albeit one with a whole new strategy – that everyone was hoping for.
“You have to have a good scouting report on a guy to do that. Because of our schedule, we get to see a lot of teams that we play down the road. Then once we go up against them again, we’re able to make some adjustments,” Lanning said. “We also know that some of the teams we go up against have certain styles. Some use legs, some are going to be a little more open, some are going to tie you up more like we do. So you do make adjustments based on that, but you aren’t going to know what to do all the time unless it’s against a specific opponent. Especially in the postseason when you have the chance to wrestle them more than once.”
Baldridge’s tactics paid off right away as Butler seemed confused by his movements and tendencies. The were little like the week before in Pontiac. Still, it was a tied match at the end of regulation and overtime was needed to determine the next Class 2A state champion. In one of the all time greatest moves and combinations in MCHS history, Baldridge stunned Bulter in the extra session, then for good measure pinned him at 6:27 to become the fourth state champion in MCHS history.