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One step closer to glory: Dickinson High’s Berger, Hutzenbiler make it to finals at state wrestling tourney

FNS Photo by Kevin Cederstrom Dickinson High senior Devin Berger, bottom, tries to turn over Grand Forks Red River wrestler Sean Murphy during the semifinals round at 126 pounds at the North Dakota State Class A Wrestling Tournament in Bismarck. Berger would later pin the No. 1-ranked Murphy.

Devin Berger couldn’t see the win, but he definitely heard it.

The 126-pound Dickinson High senior heard the whistle and the hand slap the mat, which signs a pin.

Berger — the No. 4 seed — pinned No. 1-seed Grand Forks Red River Sean Murphy in 5 minutes, 29 seconds and punched his ticket to the finals during the North Dakota Class A state tournament on Friday at the Bismarck Civic Center.

“I couldn’t see his shoulder on the mat, but I heard my coaches yelling, ‘He’s pinned. He’s pinned,’” Berger said. “Then they called the whistle and that’s when I knew.”

Dickinson wasn’t finished. However, the Midgets had to wait for the weight classes to return to 120, which were the final matches of the semifinals.

The wait was worth it for Dickinson’s Austin Hutzenbiler. The 120-pound junior defeated Turtle Mountain’s Christopher Longie in an 8-5 decision.

“The wait really got to me,” Hutzenbiler said. “I thought I’d be ready, but I was so ready to go after I saw Devin wrestle. I started melting down. I tried to get it back, but I couldn’t until late in the third period.”

Hearing the whistle signifying Berger reached the finals is a sound he’s waited to hear for the last 12 years.

“Honestly, I don’t think there’s been a better feeling in my life,” Berger said. “I’ve been working 12 years to get to his point. It’s been a dream and now it came true.”

Not only do Berger and Hutzenbiler share a similarity being the two Dickinson wrestlers to reach the finals, but they know their opponents extremely well.

Berger and Hutzenbiler meet Bismarck St. Mary’s Tate Barnhardt and Bismarck High’s Kael Knowlen during the finals of the West Region Tournament.

Neither Dickinson wrestler had any luck coming away with a win. Barnhardt pinned Berger in 1:42 and Knowlen defeated Hutzenbiler in a 12-1 major decision.

The loss during the West Region Tournament doesn’t bother either of them.

“When you lose or win a match, you leave that match behind and you focus on the next match,” Berger said. “At the time, I was a little mad, but now I’m not even worried about. It’s a new day, new match and it’s the state finals.”

Hutzenbiler added: “The first time I met Kael, I beat him. The second time, he beat me. We are both solid wrestlers. If I don’t show up, he’s winning the match. If he doesn’t show up, I’m winning the match. If we both show up, we are going to head-to-head and it’s going to be a tough match. I know it could go either way.”

Adam Orton, the Midgets first-year co-head coach, said he couldn’t be any prouder of his team. The Midgets have two state finalists and are guaranteed nine state placers, which is two more than last year.

“This was one of the best days we’ve had,” Orton said. “I told the kids, ‘This could be your last day or second to last day.’ They showed how much they really wanted to wrestle. They really want to compete. It’s really good to see that. It shows our hard work in the practice room works.”

Though Berger and Hutzenbiler were back in the hotel room during the consolation rounds, they were resting. They were on their phones seeing how many state placers the team was going to have.

“You are always concerned about your teammates,” Berger said. “We were at the hotel and I just kept refreshing the matches. That was pretty sweet.”

Dickinson seniors Chris Sickler (heavyweight), Michael Cherwinski (138), junior Clayton Tangen (152), sophomores Rafael Lopez (170), Jaret Lee (120), Brian Rodriguez (126) and freshman Caden Haugen (113).

State placement matches

Haugen defeated Fargo Davies’ Alex Skaare in a major decision 12-4. Lee topped Matthew Schafner of Bismarck St. Mary’s for a 13-7 decision. Rodriguez, who is competing in his first year of high school wrestling, pinned Jace Estenson of Devils Lake in 4:46.

Both Lee and Rodriguez are wrestling unattached for the Midgets.

Michael Cherwinski defeated Bismarck’s Logan Boese for a 4-3 decision. Lopez pinned Zach Hettwer of Grand Forks Red River in 2:03. Sickler supplied a pin over Fargo North’s Cody Berg.