Archive for Thursday, March 4, 2004

Bonner’s Middleton wins 135-pound state title

March 4, 2004

Twenty minutes after the final horn sounded, and a lifetime before it began to sink in, Matt Middleton removed his state championship medal and placed it around his father's neck.

"It's ours," Middleton said with an electric smile. "That's two of 'em."

Nearly 29 years to the day when Levi Middleton became the fourth Brave to win a state wrestling title, the younger Middleton joined his father by dominating his way through the 5A 135-pound bracket.

Middleton's first three victories came easy. A first-round win over Johnny Chrisman of Haysville came by a 9-0 decision. A second-round win over Salina South's Cory Riley came by five points, 8-3, but neither match was ever in doubt.

Middleton then advanced to the finals by pinning Wichita West's Geoffrey Tucker in less than two minutes.

After the matches, Middleton and his teammates returned to the team hotel and spent the rest of the night reflecting on Matt's upcoming title match.

"After we ate, we just sat around and talked about it," Middleton said. "I was still in amazement."

From there, Middleton was forced to wait nearly 24 hours before taking the mat for the final match of his career.

Although he said he tried to stay calm and focused, he admitted that his stomach was churning as he waited.

"I was just anxious," Middleton said. "I wasn't nervous, I just wanted to wrestle. I knew it was going to be this. I didn't bleed, sweat and throw up all season for nothing. I was ready."

At 6:10 p.m. Middleton joined 251 other wrestlers for the parade of champions, a walk that featured all six medalists in all 14 weight classes of each of the three classes represented.

"Please join me in welcoming the best of the best in 2004," the public address announcer said as the wrestlers began their walk.

An hour and 15 minutes later Middleton proved he was worthy of such a title.

His championship match against Levi Anstine of Arkansas City began the way every Middleton match had this year -- with a flurry.

Rushing the center of the mat, Middleton shook hands with his opponent and went for the kill.

Middleton and Anstine danced around and looked for an opportunity to score for the match's first 30 seconds. Middleton's first shot came at the 1:32 mark of the first period. It missed and Anstine fled the mat.

Fourteen seconds later, Middleton's next shot was successful as he connected and scored a two-point takedown. From there, the match was his to lose.

"I knew I was faster, bigger and stronger than him," Middleton said. "I just wanted to stay smart and score when I could."

BSHS wrestling coach Dan Burns said he was thrilled with the way Middleton kept his composure and let the match come to him.

"It was the state finals and Matt Middleton played it cool," Burns said. "He didn't even open it up in that match. He knew the key was to win, and he knew if his opponent couldn't score, he couldn't win."

Middleton's opponent did score, but not because he earned it. Shortly after taking the 2-0 lead, Middleton lifted Anstine into the air and brought him back to the mat. The officials on hand dubbed the move a dangerous slam and awarded Anstine one point.

"Matt was so amped I don't even think he realized that he slammed him," Burns said. "He just thought he brought him back down to the mat."

The penalty point did nothing to throw off Middleton's focus.

Leading 2-1, Middleton began the second period in the bottom position. When the whistle blew, he rushed to his feet and tried to score a one-point escape. Anstine prevented Middleton from scoring the escape, but left the door open for a reversal and a 4-1 lead.

For the rest of the period, Middleton was in total control, trying to flip Anstine onto his back for the pin.

"I wanted to pin him," Middleton said. "I was just trying to turn him. Winning state with a pin would've been the ultimate finish, but I'll take it this way, too."

Middleton's only scare came with 1:35 left in the third period. Although never in control, Anstine wound up on top, and Middleton was on his stomach looking for a way out.

At the 1:00 mark, Middleton found that way out, as he again scored a two-point reversal.

From there the seconds ticked down, and Middleton rode Anstine to a 6-1 victory.

After the match, Middleton pointed to his coaches and then to Levi, who watched from the northwest corner of the arena.

As he exited the mat, Middleton was overcome with emotion. Tears flowed freely and a look of astonishment was permanently fixed on his face. He kneeled in a corner to regain his composure and began hugging anyone and everyone he could find.

"This is better than any feeling I've ever had," Middleton said. "This is like my destiny. Now I can be up there in the wrestling room with my dad."

Twenty minutes later, the look of astonishment was gone, and the classic Matt Middleton smile had returned to his face.

As he fidgeted atop the medal stand waiting to receive his medal, he smiled from ear to ear. He then stepped down and shared a hug with his dad.

Middleton became the 12th Brave to win a state wrestling title and the first since assistant coach Jimmy Vogel, who won state in 2001.

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