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State Wrestling, Class AAA Championship: Hastings 33, St. Michael-Albertville 32

Posted: Thursday, March 2, 2023 - 9:28 PM


Coaches, administrators and fans found themselves reaching for the wrestling archives late Thursday night, March 2, 2023. Why? What they had just witnessed was one of the most stunning turnarounds that resulted in the biggest upset in recent memory.

Hastings, the No. 3 seed in the Class AAA field to open the Minnesota State High School League’s Wrestling State Tournament, was heading down the path of finishing as the big-school runner-up for the third time in four championship match appearances. Top-ranked and heavily-favored St. Michael-Albertville was holding a 21-point lead with five matches remaining in what most figured would be its third Class AAA title since 2018 and 10th overall.

“We knew we had to do something special in those final five weights, but we certainly didn’t imagine that,” said Hastings assistant coach Paul Vaith.

What transpired over those next five weights became the talk of the season. The Raiders turned that deficit into an exhilarating 33-32 victory that drew thunderous cheers throughout the lower bowl of the Xcel Energy Center. In those five weights, the Raiders recorded five victories, including pins in the final three weights.

Ian Pepple started the run with a 3-1 decision over Noah Torgerson at 170 pounds. It continued with a 14-8 decision from Ian Pepple over STMA’s Bryon Sauvy. That set the tone for three consecutive pins to close out the dual. Derrick Steinke started it with a pin at 195 and Austin Leflay followed with a pin in 44 seconds.

That momentum suddenly created the reality that was unfolding.

Blake Clemons put the punctuation mark on the eye-popping turnaround with a quick pin that gave the Raiders their second title and first since 1996.

“This was wrestling magic,” said Vaith, who coached the Raiders to that Class AA crown in 2006.

The victory also avenged two previous losses to STMA during the regular season. STMA defeated Hastings 46-21 on Jan. 6 during The Clash National Duals and then again in a 44-15 win on Feb. 3.

Hastings earned a berth in the championship match with a 40-25 victory over Willmar in the quarterfinals and then a 38-21 win over No. 2 Waconia in the semifinals.

STMA earned a berth in the final with a 58-13 victory over Anoka in the quarterfinals followed by a 56-14 victory over Stillwater in the semifinals. That victory was a rematch of the Class AAA finalists in 2022.

Third place: Stillwater Area rebounded from a loss to St. Michael-Albertville in the semifinals with a 33-30 victory over Waconia for the third-place trophy. The Ponies’ Ryder Rogotzke clinched the victory with a pin in 35 seconds in the 220-pound match. That gave Stillwater an insurmountable 33-24 advantage. There were bonus points earned in the final four matches; a major decision and pin for Stillwater and two pins for Waconia.

Consolation: Willmar, making its ninth state tournament appearance in the past 11 years, had two pins and two decisions in the final four matches to record a 43-21 victory over Apple Valley in the consolation final.

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