CHAMPAIGN – For just the second time in Morris Community High School wrestling history, the Redskins have a state champion wrestler who doesn’t have the last name of Dergo.
By virtue of going 4-0 at this year’s IHSA wrestling individual finals, Kenny Baldridge became the first titilist in eight years by going undefeated at the event while winning the 132-pound weight class. John Dergo last won a state title for Morris in 2006.
“It feels really good. I’ve been working at this since I was seven years old,” Baldridge said after capping off his four-day run down at the State Farm Center at the University of Illinois in Champaign. “I got my butt kicked all the way through IKWF and then got to high school and started getting better and better. Finally this year I made it into the finals and won it.”
He won it in a most impressive fashion, too.
Going up against the same opponent that beat him the previous weekend at the Pontiac Sectional – Alexander Butler of Rockford Boylan – Baldridge completely changed up his style to pull what many consider an upset.
“We changed up a couple of things from last week. We changed up our motion and that got him [Butler] confused,” Morris coach Jon Lanning said. “He was surprised with the way we came out. We made little adjustments and he got the win.”
Baldridge lost to Butler, 7-4, in the Pontiac Sectional semifinals.
“Last time when I wrestled him in the sectionals, I was circling my left side to his right and what I didn’t realize is that it was the side he was shooting on. He would single and get me on it,” Baldridge said. “I could defend double leg and his outside firemen but the problem was that I couldn’t defend his sweep. Over the week, I worked on circling to the right side and making sure that I could defend my left side. Then countering while jamming the hook on the left side. Throwing it by for a huge single.”
Baldridge got a reverse at the end of the first period to salvage a 2-2 tie and the bout remained close at 3-3 when Butler elected an optional start at the beginning of the third. Baldridge then, had a 5-3 lead with about 20 seconds left when Butler was ruled to have recorded an escape to tie it up at 5-5 to force overtime.
“It is what it is. I’m a fan of letting the kids finish the match but they made the call and we still came through. Our conditioning is top notch,” Lanning said. “I’ll put our kids up against anyone in this tournament. It paid off. All the double workouts, the six weeks of busting hump, the wall crawls, the sprints in the halls. It all paid off tonight.”
Paid off in a big way when Baldridge got out the whoopin’ stick and pinned Butler at 6:27 of overtime.
“That was just a straight takedown,” Lanning said. “Jam those hooks underneath … we saw that last week, that we could get that undertook up and in. I knew that could give us a chance.”
Baldridge said that he was just biding his time, waiting to hit Butler with that move.
“I was waiting for him to shoot in because I knew he was going to shoot in,” Baldridge said. “I was going to counter and I jammed him with the hook and I knew if I could get in on a body lock I could get him and sweep him down. When I got to that body lock, I knew I was going to get him straight to his back.”
Baldridge responded somewhat modestly to winning the title bout, first flexing his muscles and then going over to hug Lanning and coach Keith Anderson.
“I was excited, but at the same time I wasn’t too crazy about it,” Baldridge said. “I’ve worked hard for it was everything I had been hoping for. I looked forward to nothing but the best throughout the match and I’m excited and glad I won.”
Baldridge opened the tournament by beating Steven Bradford of Bloomington by a 6-0 score before knocking off Patrick Schoenfelder of Antioch by a 16-4 major decision. In the semifinals Friday night, Baldridge defeated Michael Petersen of Crystal Lake Central by fall in 5:00.
He joins Gehrig Dergo (1976), Brian McTague (1982) and John Dergo (2005 and 2006) as state champions from Morris.
Baldridge said that is is nice to now be mentioned in the same breath with Dergo.
“It’s nice. I’m glad to be a state champion and to get another one for Morris,” Baldridge said. “It’s good to be able to do what he did.”
Baldridge finished the season with a 41-1 record.