Fruitland rolls to 3A crown

Five wrestlers victorious as Grizzlies capture first state championship.

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANMarch 2, 2014 

NAMPA — Move over, basketball and football — a new state championship banner is on its way to the Fruitland High School rafters.

Five Fruitland wrestlers captured individual state titles Saturday as the Grizzlies rolled to their first-ever team championship at the Ford Idaho Center.

“What an awesome day,” said coach Isaac MacKenzie, whose team placed second last year and fourth in 2012. “We’re kind of known as a basketball school, but we’re a wrestling school this year.”

Fruitland all but locked up the title Friday by putting nine wrestlers into the finals. The Grizzlies finished with 264 points, outdistancing Snake River (170.5), Teton (156) and District Three rival Weiser (133).

Junior Garrett Larson provided an emphatic finish Saturday, earning his first state title with a stunning pin of Gooding senior Cole McGinnis in the 285-pound final.

McGinnis — a Weber State football signee — was the unbeaten two-time defending champ, but Larson led by a point before throwing McGinnis onto his back early in the third round.

“I’ve planned for it all year,” Larson said. “I knew I was going to face him in this match, and I worked hard to be better-conditioned. He gassed out, and I still had something left in the tank. It felt great.”

MacKenzie was thrilled to see Larson deny McGinnis a third title.

“Most people said McGinnis was going to win before we even wrestled a match,” MacKenzie said. “We were hungry, we had a good game plan and Garrett wrestled the match of his life.”

Freshman Sammy Eckhart got Fruitland’s championship ball rolling Saturday, earning a 7-1 decision over teammate Robert Diaz in the 126-pound final.

“My dad has helped me since I was little,” Eckhart said. “He was a two-time state champ at Kuna, and I’m proud to be his son and to carry the name forward.”

Between Eckhart’s early triumph and Larson’s late heroics, three Fruitland seniors capped their prep careers in style.

Cody Bumgarner won a 4-2 decision over Payette’s Brian Heleker in the 152-pound final, Nik Fagen pinned Homedale’s Jovan Cornejo in the 170-pound title match and Chase Fiddler finished off an underdog run to the 195-pound championship with an 8-4 decision over Morgan Smith of Snake River.

“I knew I could do it,” Fiddler said. “I came here planning out every move I would make in each match. I’m really happy with how it turned out and really happy that we’re going to be known as a wrestling school now.”

Fagen said his past disappointments at state made his crowning senior moment even sweeter.

“(Eckhart) won state as a freshman this year — and that’s really cool for him — but I think there is value in having to work through losses to get to the top,” Fagen said. “That’s what I’ve had to do, and it’s really rewarding to finally get there.”

Diaz, Kendall Fletcher, Triston Zamora and Christion Ketchu added runner-up finishes for the Grizzlies, who enjoyed their moment in the sun after years of playing second-fiddle to league rival Weiser.

“We’ve always been the underdogs,” Bumgarner said. “But we had a great year. We dig it to the very last minute, and it’s paying off.”

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