Harris gets revenge, leads Admirals with third place finish at state wrestling tourney

LEXINGTON — Don Harris got revenge.

The senior ran the table in the consolation bracket at the state tournament, beating the wrestler who knocked him out of the winner’s bracket to earn third place in the 182-pound weight class.

“I got him back,” Harris said. “It feels good, I’m third in the state.”

Danville head coach Joey Sallee said that after Harris won to solidify his place in the top four, they told him he’d be facing Harrison County’s Chase Blanton again. Blanton beat Harris 3-2 in the winner’s bracket quarterfinals.

“We knew that they were going to wrestle it on the edge,” Sallee said. “You can watch and see, when (Blanton) makes contact, he’s working on pulling you toward the edge of the mat. If he’s going to take a shot, that’s where it’s going to be. That way if it doesn’t go his way, he can get out of bounds.

“When they were locked up, we kept telling (Don) to pull him in, pull him back to the center. And it worked. It was a different set of referees, too. Nothing wrong with the other group but this time, they were a lot more willing to hit him for stalling. We knew it was going to be that kind of match.”

Blanton was hit for stalling once and Harris earned two points for a takedown, ending in a 4-2 Admiral victory and the highest placement for a Danville wrestler since 2014.

“It’s a big honor,” coach Sallee said. “We don’t place a whole lot of kids in the state tournament real often, but it should mean a lot to him. It might not sink in for awhile. A lot of kids showed up to watch him, hopefully we’ll benefit from that too. College-wise, I know he’s committed to Lindsey Wilson, but I’ve had a few coaches talk to me about wrestling with him. If I was Lindsey Wilson, I’d be looking to wrestle with him, too.”

Harris said he drew inspiration from his undefeated football season.

“I just thought back to our football motto, just finish. Finish strong,” Harris said. “It’s good, I feel good about it because it’s my senior year, I improved from last year.

Coach Sallee said that it showed Harris can adapt after a loss.

“It showed that he listens. It was great,” coach Sallee said. “It was on the line, we told him when he won his last match that he’s got Blanton again. And we said nothing changes. We’re going to win this match … One thing I think he did a whole lot better in this match than in the previous one, he pressed the pace a lot more. Rather than letting him get to the edge, Don took him and physically moved him a lot more, which is what he’s capable of doing. It just takes buying into it.”

A handful of Admirals moved on to the second day at the state tournament. Six Danville wrestlers made the state tournament: Morgan Sallee (113), Kelby Gay (126), Garren Moody (152), Eric Bloh (170) and Spencer Updike (220).

Sallee, Bloh and Updike each joined Harris on the mats for day two.

Bloh won his first two matches in the winner’s bracket before falling in the “blood round,” the round just before the top eight.

He’s known for his takedowns — both winners-bracket wins were major decisions — but coach Sallee said people don’t see how much he’s grown in the last four years with the team.

Eric is a great story,” coach Sallee said. “He came to us four years ago, and we knew he could be good at the sport. Physically, he’s very imposing. I think people believe he is intimidating at times. What they don’t see is his smile. When Eric smiles he lights up a room. He has a very tough exterior, and he has his reasons for that. What people miss is the soft side that exists. He plays with my granddaughter at matches. She’s four years old. When she comes to matches she looks for Eric. He hugs my mother. He has grown so much in four years.”

Coach Sallee also noted Updike, battling in the 220-pound weight class. Updike lost his first match of the tournament but won his first two in the consolation bracket to make day two.

“Spencer Updike was the surprise of the tournament,” coach Sallee said. “This was his first appearance at the state tournament, and he handled it really well. Spence is great to coach because he keeps everything simple. Nothing fancy. He just goes out and gets the job done. I think next year could be really special for him. He fell two matches short of making the medal round, but I expect him to be in it next year.”

Sophomore Morgan Sallee won two matches in the consolation bracket — both by fall — before a loss in the blood round.

“Morgan is my son. It’s hard coaching your own kid,” coach Sallee said. “I have coached three of mine, and it doesn’t get any easier. He fell a match short of the medal round. They call it the “blood round” for a reason. Morgan is full-time wrestler. He will take a couple of days off, and then he will start working on next season.”

Moody, wrestling in the 152-pound weight class, was one match away from making the second day at the state tournament, but was disqualified.

“Moody was disqualified for an illegal move. The move was legal,” coach Sallee said. “Unfortunately, his opponent came down on his neck and head. After being checked, the kid wanted to continue wrestling. The on-site trainer then stepped in and decided that he could not continue. The opposing coach wanted to forfeit the match. He realized the move was not done with the intention of injuring his athlete. However, because the trainer had already declared him unable to continue it was out of the coach’s hands. Fortunately, the young man was okay. He was cleared to wrestle on the second day. The Caldwell County coach tried to do the right thing, and I really appreciated that.”

It was a learning experience for Moody, and the rest of the Admirals. The team placed 23rd overall.

“Overall, it wasn’t what we wanted. It was still much better than any finish we have had in quite some time,” coach Sallee said. “We told our kids on the first day to embrace the experience. Have fun. Enjoy what you are doing, wrestle your best, and everything will fall into place. We reminded them that there were people in Florida mourning the loss of students and teachers due to a tragic incident. In short, there were much bigger issues than winning or losing wrestling matches.”