BUTTE — Down by five points entering the final match of the first day of the Mining City Duals, Bozeman needed a pin of Butte 132-pounder Anthony Liva in order to win its pool.
Just moments before, Scout Allen had won a dramatic match for the Bulldogs in which he scored five points — a takedown and three nearfall — in the final 17 seconds of the match. Butte seemed to have the pool locked up and all the momentum in the world, until it didn’t.
Preston Innis, who had been pinned in bouts against Hellgate and Helena, came out aggressive. He had Liva on his back early and then worked his way for a pin that took just one minute and 24 seconds.
“I think he went out there thinking, ‘I’ve got to pin this guy,’ so he was throwing cradles from left field and that’s kind of what he did,” Bozeman head coach Nate Laslovich said. “He’s a strong kid for his weight and he was either going to pin him there, or who knows what would happen.”
The Hawks got the pin, the win, and are among five other teams that won their pools — Havre, Billings Senior, Missoula Sentinel, Great Falls, and Flathead. Six other teams will also find themselves in the winners side of the tournament on Saturday — Butte, Big Sky, Columbia Falls, Frenchtown, Polson, and Skyview.
The Blue Ponies, winners of four straight Mining City Duals, will face off against Butte at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning. Havre has been the class of the tournament once again and has outscored its opponents 179-21 in three first-day duals.
“So far, so good,” Blue Ponies’ head coach Scott Filius said. “For us, it’s a learning tool. Everyone gets seven matches, everyone gets to compete. We really view it as a sharpening tool for our kids.”
The knives were certainly out as Havre gutted Glacier 64-0, Conrad 72-6, and Frenchtown 43-15.
Even with those dominant outings, Flathead still had the edge in team points at the tournament with 194. The defending Class AA champs started off strong, with last year’s state runner up Payton Hume winning all three of his matches with bonus points.
It’s still a young team, but with eight returning state place winners, they might just be the team to unseat the Blue Ponies. They’ll face Polson and Skyview tomorrow, which they should be able to match up fairly well with. Even so, the Falcons are one of the three more dangerous one-loss teams — Butte and Big Sky won’t go down quietly.
“On the way up the ladder there’s going to be pain and you have to feel that,” Bulldog head coach Cory Johnston said. “That way you remember what it feels like and you remember what it’s like down the road.
“It’s all part of the learning process. We’ve got Havre tomorrow and they’ve got a good lineup, but I wouldn’t trade my kids for anyone.”
Great Falls and Sentinel enter day two undefeated and are perhaps two of the surprises of the tournament so far. Neither did particularly well at state last season, but both looked like they just might be threats this time around.
Bison 160-pounder Jordan Komac was simply tremendous, picking up a tech fall and two pins during his three matches. The returning state champion looks like he’ll have a good chance to be able to repeat this season, but this year the team might just finish better than eighth in Billings.
“We’ve got a mixture of young and old and our emphasis is really just scrapping every time we get out and shake hands,” Great Falls head coach Steve Komac said. “We felt for the most part we did a good job of that today.”
Great Falls, however, gets a tough task and is paired with Bozeman. Laslovich feels his team will be able to handle coming off such an emotional win, but even so it’s no easy task.
“The good thing for us, is that our guys are young, they don’t really have any expectations,” Laslovich said. “They’re just thinking, ‘hey, let’s go back tomorrow and do the same thing.’”
There’s a chance that inexperience might make them dangerous, too.