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Finishing just short: Dickinson’s Berger, Hutzenbiler place runner-up in finals matches

FNS Photo by Kevin Cederstrom Devin Berger of Dickinson, right, tries to break free from Tate Barnhardt of Bismarck St. Mary’s during the 126-pound championship at the North Dakota Class A state wrestling tournament on Saturday at the Bismarck Civic Center.

BISMARCK — Reaching the state finals is a common occurrence in the Berger household.

Dickinson senior Devin Berger’s father, uncles and brother have all reached the state title match.

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Before Saturday, the Dickinson senior hadn’t experienced the finals match.

“They can’t give me anymore grief,” Berger said with a smile. “It’s a pretty sweet feeling know that your whole family have been where you have been and they know what it’s like.”

Though Saturday’s 126-pound final match against Bismarck St. Mary’s Tate Barnhardt didn’t result in a win for Berger, the Dickinson senior walked off the mat with a sense of accomplishment. Barnhardt defeated Berger in a 5-0 decision during the North Dakota Class A state wrestling tournament at the Bismarck Civic Center.

“I knew coming in it was going to be a real tough match and I was going to have to give it my all to stand chance with him,” Berger said. “I made a few mistakes, which cost me the match. You don’t get that chance back.”

Berger closed out his senior season with a 32-9 record and a state runner-up title.

The Dickinson senior said the idea his high school wrestling career is over hasn’t quite sunk in.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” he said. “When it does hit me, it will be pretty crappy.”

Dickinson wrestled in back-to-back finals matches as junior Austin Hutzenbiler faced top-seed Bismarck High senior Kael Knowlen at 120 pounds.

At the end of the first period, Hutzenbiler led Knowlen 2-1. A minute into the second period Knowlen turned Hutzenbiler and the Dickinson junior heard a popping noise in his ribs. Hutzenbiler stood up and his mouth was full of blood.

Instead of forfeiting, Hutzenbiler battle through the pain, but Knowlen finished with an 8-4 decision. Hutzenbiler said wrestling after the injury wasn’t the same.

“It was good match and then he caught me in a power half, which I knew was coming,” Hutzenbiler said. “I was fighting it off well and they I pulled over and I heard my rib popped. It started hurting worse and worse throughout the match. I just had to keep wrestling. That definitely played a factor. I had to man through it.

“I knew my ribs were hurting, but if I threw in the towel, I knew it would haunt me for the rest of my life. I wasn’t about to let that happen.”

The Dickinson junior said taking runner-up at the state tournament is a good learning experience to prepare him for next season.

“Coming up a couple points is going to play a key factor going into next year,” Hutzenbiler said. “I’m going to keep it in the back of mind when I’m wrestling in the summer. It’s going to push me.”

Dickinson was guaranteed nine state placers and the team made the most of it. The Midgets finished in sixth place with 98 points.

The Midgets’ sophomore Jaret Lee, who was wrestling unattached at 120 pounds, placed third, while freshman Caden Haugen (113) finished fourth. Senior Chris Sickler (285) placed seventh.

In his first trip to the state tournament, Dickinson sophomore Brian Rodriguez took eighth wrestling unattached at 126 pounds. Senior Michael Cherwinski (138) and sophomore Rafael Lopez (170) also took eighth.

“We started out with fire, because there’s nothing to lose, you just go out and wrestle,” Dickinson co-head coach Adam Orton said. “We wrestled great in the first round. In the placing matches, they fought as hard as they could. Whether the outcome of the match went as well as they wanted or didn’t go as well as they wanted, but they wrestled as hard as they can. They definitely came to state with a goal. They came ready to go.”