Pekin qualified five for the state tournament in Class 1A after sending eight to the district 4 meet in Pleasantville Saturday.
Junior Zach Hammes(23-6) finished first at 132 pounds after defeating JT Rowe of SE Warren/Melcher-Dallas in a 1-0 decision and Jarrett Stodghill of North Mahaska 6-2 in the championship match.
Panther senior Drake Harbison(8-3) defeated Lynnville-Sully?s Josh Dunsbergen 12-7 and North Mahaska?s Tyler Strasser 5-0 to advance as district champion at 138 pounds.
43-4 Pekin senior Keaton Baayen was also crowned district-champ after winning the 152 pound bracket. Baayen pinned Cayden Johnson of Lynnville-Sully 1:21 into the first period and then won a 4-2 decision over SE Warren/Melcher Dallas?s Alec Henderson.
Senior Kaden Baker was the lone second-place qualifier, improving to 31-14 after sandwiching two defeats of Wayne?s Hunter Cobb around a loss to Central Decatur?s Luke Jones.
The 195 pound weight class saw Pekin crown it?s fourth district champion and fifth individual wrestlers trip to state when freshman Mason Juhl (37-11) pinned his first opponent, Pleasantville?s Evan Mann, :29 into the third period of their first round matchup and then English Valleys? John Fisher :45 into the second period of the championship match.
Last season junior Zach Hammes was not only a match away from making it to state, but the guy that eliminated him at districts finished second at the state tournament. He begins his 2018 quest for a state title Thursday in Des Moines against Okoboji sophomore Blake Abrahamson who has a 36-11 record.
The Fairfield Ledger talked to Hammes Tuesday night as he searched for inner peace while supporting his fellow Panthers at their playoff game at Pekin High.
Q) Talk about the changes you made from last year to this year in hopes of getting to this next step.
Hammes: Last year I had a couple of tough guys at districts and I knew I did. I lost a close match with the kid that placed second at state and it was kind of heartbreaking seeing him go that far after a close match. This year my mindset was, ?I?m going. I don?t care who I?m wrestling,? and that?s what happened.
Q) Do you feel like being a top wrestler last year gives you an advantage?
Hammes: Yeah, I really do. I think coming in as a junior and wrestling a sophomore first round, it gives me a tougher mindset.
Q) Are you aware of your opponents? style and are you studying him at all?
Hammes: It?s hard wrestling down here when you meet the guys up north, you don?t really know much about them but our coaches do a good job of scouting and we do know quite a bit about our opponents.
Q) How are you feeling right now?
Hammes: Pretty good. The weight?s under control and pretty much you?re in your conditioning and getting your mindset right and I feel ready to go.
Q) What do you need to do between now and Thursday?
Hammes: Just stay calm and don?t let the nerves get to you. That?s a big part of it. Keep the mindset right and know you can do big things.
Q) Do you feel like you guys are like cars before a race, just checking the oil and making sure the fluids are all full?
Hammes: The car is all built, you just have to make sure everything is tight and ready to roll.
Q) Talk about having five Panthers go to state.
Hammes: It?s a big thing, Pekin hasn?t sent five guys since 1970. It?s going to be nice to have teammates up their to talk to and not be by yourself.
Q) Does the fact that you?re all having success help push each other?
Hammes: Yeah, definitely. The hammer is in the room and we?re all grinding and making each other better. It helps a lot.
Q) Are you hoping to see a lot of Panther fans in Des Moines?
Hammes: Yeah, the crowd really gets you going and gets you into it. The more the merrier.
Also speaking with The Fairfield Ledger Tuesday night was 160 pound senior Kaden Baker who is 31-14 and will face Mediapolis senior Brennan Swafford who is 49-2.
Q) Talk about making your first state appearance as a senior.
Baker: I just knew it was do or die and I had to win. I?ve been wanting this for a long time, so it?s nice to finally come through.
Q) When did you start wrestling?
Baker: I started wrestling my fifth-grade year. Zach was the one that told me that they played more games so I should come over from basketball.
Q) What are you doing to prepare these next couple of days?
Baker: Just healing up and getting the mind and body ready.
Q) Are you battling any injuries?
Baker: My knee was a little sore but it?ll be good by Thursday.
Q) How familiar are you with the guys in your bracket and where is your confidence level?
Baker: We?re all 0-0 but I know I have good competition right off the bat so I just need to wrestle my match and we?ll see how the cards fall.
Q) What?s left after this for your senior year?
Baker: I?m going to go out for track just for fun and I?d like to go somewhere to play football in college, we?ll see if that happens.
Who are you talking to about football in college?
Baker: William Penn, a couple of division three colleges around Iowa and out-of-state, Culver-Stockton.
What do you want to study?
Baker: I?ll just get the general classes out of the way that?d I?d take whereever I go, but I really haven?t picked a place yet.