Ben Morton didn’t get the opportunity for wrestling payback Tuesday night against Oak Park-River Forest in the Class 3A dual meet sectional meet hosted by Niles West.
But Morton took advantage of the chance to end his Evanston career on a high note, pinning Chris Helm in 5 minutes, 14 seconds in the 138-pound bout for Evanston’s only fall of the night.
Heavyweight Lamont Davenport and 152-pounder Malik Pratt both scored decisions but the Wildkits were eliminated from the Illinois High School Association state tournament series with a 57-13 loss to the defending state champions.
Oak Park, regarded as the top high school team in the country, improved to 25-0 despite the fact that the Huskies chose NOT to use eight state qualifiers who competed at last weekend’s individual state finals in Tuesday’s starting lineup. Among those watching from the OPRF bench were state champions Walter White (152) and Matt Rundell (160).
Evanston closed out the most successful season in school history, at least from a dual meet standpoint, after winning 32 of 36 duals.
Morton missed out on the chance to wrestle OPRF’s Savonne Bennette, who was also benched. One more victory for Morton at the Glenbard North individual sectional would have given the ETHS senior a chance to avenge a loss to Bennette at the sectional last year, but it didn’t come off.
“I talked to him down at the state meet, but he wasn’t here tonight. So I’m kinda disappointed about that,” Morton said after improving to 35-5 on the year. “He pinned me when we were freshmen, and last year I wrestled him a lot tougher (in a 4-2 loss). I think I would’ve gotten him this year.
“I lost a lot of my motivation when I lost at the sectional because I really wanted to make it Downstate. But after watching the state tournament, I realized that this would be the final match of my career and I wanted to make my family and my team proud. I fought as hard as I could to pull out a win.
“I can’t believe I’m done now. I’ve never invested so much in anything in my life. Wrestling at Evanston changed my character, changed my work ethic and changed my relationships with other people, too. This is a special sport and the coaches here all helped me become a better person.”
Morton built a 9-6 lead over Helm after two periods, and added another takedown before getting the satisfaction of hearing the referee slam his fist to the mat for the last time. Actually, Morton does plan to continue his mat career at Williams College in Massachusetts, but he knows it won’t be the same.
He fell in love with the sport after a mat camp prior to the start of his freshman season, cracked the starting lineup as a sophomore and was hooked.
Evanston was forced to forfeit at three weight classes — 120, 126 and 132 — because some senior starters were too banged up to participate. But the Wildkits weren’t intimidated by that No. 1 national ranking, or overwhelmed by Oak Park’s mat mystique — just the Huskies’ talent.
“The coaches just told us if we lose, we lost to the best team in the country,” Morton said. “They said just give it everything you’ve got because you’ve got nothing to lose. Everyone is pretty bruised up right now, and they told the seniors just wrestle your heart out because it could be your last match.”
“We couldn’t re-invent ourselves and swing for the fences (take unlikely chances),” noted ETHS head coach Rudy Salinas. “We just wanted to keep the matches close, do what we do best, and make them earn their wins.
“For the most part I was very pleased with the kids’ effort. We were out-matched in some weight classes, but I don’t know how many teams were able to score 13 points against them this season. Once Ben settled down against Oak Park’s in-your-face style, he was able to get through those (scoring) flurries and get an opportunistic fall.”
Another senior, Pratt, romped to a 15-6 victory over OPRF’s Andrew Borgdorff at 152 after trailing 2-1 in the first period. He scored a takedown to grab a 5-4 lead just seconds before the second period buzzer, and rode that momentum to a lopsided win.
At 285 pounds, Davenport’s near fall snapped a 2-2 tie in the third period and delivered a 5-2 victory over Chris Middlebrooks for the ETHS junior.
Oak Park’s list of winners included Peter Ogunsanya, 11-2 over Chris Rivera at 106; Bobby Campos, second period technical fall over Derek Hunter at 113; Bryce Scott, fall versus Austin Klopfer in 3:55 at 145; Ben Avis, 6-3 decision over Izzy Fox at 160; Max Metzger, pin in 1:42 over Jalen Barnes at 170; Kamal Bey, pin in 2:57 over Zach Warhus at 182; Ben Bergen, pin 5:17 over Brandon Bias at 195; and Kendale McCoy, 7-6 win in overtime over Anthony Morris at 220.
“What we got out of this was the experience of training past the regional and keeping focused for the past week and a half,” Salinas added. “And hopefully we can identify with some of the things Oak Park does like us — only better — and work on them in the future.”