MASCOUTAH — The Mascoutah Invite is a good annual barometer for the Greater Alton wrestling programs to see where they stand and this year was no different.
Alton, Civic Memorial, Roxana and East Alton-Wood River all participate in the 30-team extravaganza on the mat.
Alton was the two-time defending tournament champion entering the Friday and Saturday tourney. Unfortunately they took third this season with 198 points. O'Fallon was first with 271.5 and Collinsville took second with 246 points.
That doesn't mean it wasn't a prosperous two days for the Redbirds. They sent three grapplers to championship matches and senior Alejandro Lopez picked up a title at 145 pounds. The sizzling senior is now 12-0 on the young season. Overall the Birds brought home 10 medals.
“Alejandro wrestled a real good match in the finals against a really tough kid (Collinsville's Aaron Engle),” AHS head coach Eric Roberson said. “That was his first tournament title here at Mascoutah, so yeah, I'm proud of him.
“A few of these guys didn't wrestle in this tournament last year and every wrestler we brought at least won one bout. Nobody got blanked so that was a nice contribution across the board from everybody in the lineup. The young guys stepped up and everybody contributed.”
Lopez was ecstatic to nab his first Mascoutah Invite championship. He feels his season is off to a blazing start and he plans on keeping it up.
“It's a great feeling,” Lopez said. “Last year as a junior I wrestled at 138 and took third. I actually wrestled Aaron Engle for third. To come in here (this year), they ranked me the No. 1 seed and it's a great feeling to know other people think I'm going to get first.”
Lopez was behind Engle early, but fought back to pull out a grueling 5-4 decision.
“He's a tall kid, so I was really worried about the legs. When I was on bottom I just stayed focused to stay sealed off and not let those legs in, because they if they get in I'm going to get put in a tight spot,” Lopez said. “I was down 4-3, on bottom and he's riding tough, he's going hard on me. I ended up in a good position. I'm in the front headlock and I know if I get away it's a tied match and I've got to go another minute so those last 20 seconds I had to push and I got that reversal and just looked at the clock, 17 seconds left and I knew I had to ride. I had to do it, I had to win.”
Alton's Connor Broyles (132) and KeOntay Holmes (182) also wrestled in title matches, as well as EA-WR's Zac Blasioli (152). Holmes received the award for fastest pin in the tournament, for his stick of Red Bud's Logan Houba in 9 seconds during his opening match on Friday.
Broyles fell 1-0 in a hard-fought match to Triad's Merik Fulton, while Holmes watched Triad's Russ Witzig tack on points in the third period to beat him 6-1. Blasioli couldn't quite get over the hump against Oakville's Austin Neal either, falling 3-2.
“This was definitely the hardest competition (I've faced) this year,” Blasioli said. “My finals match, I knew the kid from last year and knew he was a decent wrestler and it was going to be a tough, close match. Like coach (Dave) Sobol says, you can't win every match.
“At the end of a close match like that you want to try and push the pace and get shots off and hopefully you come up with one.”
Blasioli and the Oilers are cast in Class 1A when the wrestling postseason rolls around, so he believes getting competition with 2A and 3A programs is a great test for he and his teammates.
“Here we see big schools like O'Fallon, Collinsville, who we really don't see,” he said. “It does help us out since we are in a smaller division. It's nice seeing bigger schools, tougher kids. It helps later on in the year.”
Roxana head coach Rob Milazzo was happy with the Shells' performance. They finished in 13th place with 106 points. He said breaking the century mark for scoring in the tourney was a definite goal.
“The kids wrestled very well for this early in the season,” Milazzo said. “We only brought eight kids and we scored over 100 points and that was our goal to score 100. To get four placers in a tournament this tough, I'm very proud of the kids.”
The Shells were led by senior heavyweight Owen Robinson, who defeated Ryan Murfield of O'Fallon for third place. For a 1A program to have a stout heavyweight is a nice ace-in-the-hole and Milazzo was happy with his performance.
“(Murfield) beat us last night and we came back and avenged that loss and we're really proud of him,” Milazzo said of Robinson. “He's made a lot of progress. He didn't come out until his freshman year and we didn't expect him to be this far along. He's doing a great job. I expect him to do good things. He's 12-2 now.”
The other three placers for Roxana were: James Henseler (5th at 126), Jarod Foiles (4th at 132) and Alex Maguire (7th at 138).
Besides the three finalists, Alton had medalists in: Garrett Sims (5th at 106), Hunter Hobbs (4th at 120), Courteney Wilson (7th at 126), Jaelyn Watkins (8th at 138), Keondrick Russell (6th at 195), Alecquan Russell (8th at 220) and Ryan Kane (6th at 285).
The Oilers received medals from: Drew Sobol (4th at 106), Jake Erlson (8th at 160) and Blasioli, while CM had one medalist, Brandon Carpenter (4th at 195).
EA-WR compiled 71 points to finish in 18th place, while the Eagles accumulated 53 points and finished 24th.
Roberson said the Mascoutah Invite continues to grow and he thinks it's gotten tougher over the last few years, setting up a good barometer for the season.
“We're always going to start out with this tournament,” Roberson said. “It's a really solid tournament. The tournament has gotten stronger over the last few years, there are more teams, a lot of our conference teams are in it, so that makes it nice to see where we stand in a tournament format with them. It's good to do this before we step into the Granite City Tournament to see what we're going to do.”