MAHOMET — Ronald Baker III and Talin Baker had a good time Friday night.
The brothers on the Champaign Central wrestling team advanced into the Class 2A Mahomet-Seymour Sectional semifinals that night, talking about what could happen on Saturday afternoon.
“(Friday) night, (Ronald) said, ‘Bro, it’d be cool if we were both in the finals,’” Talin recalled.
After grinding out wins in their respective semifinal matches Saturday — Talin 2-1 against Civic Memorial’s Avery Jamie at 113 pounds and Ronald 3-1 against Lincoln’s Jacob Lawrence at 144 pounds — they did just that.
Before the championship rounds, Mahomet-Seymour dimmed the gym and turned on the spotlights to highlight the final matchups. As Talin’s name was called, the Central freshman shook his opponent’s hand and made a beeline for his older brother, and they gave each other a double high-five with ear-to-ear smiles on their faces. When it was Ronald’s turn, the Central junior did the same thing, and the duo’s smiles got even wider.
“It feels surreal,” Ronald said of sharing the finals stage with Talin. “It’s really nice having my brother there and seeing us both accomplish something and knowing we’re going to be at state together. It feels great, and we’re proud of each other.”
The top four wrestlers in each weight class qualified for the IHSA state finals that start Thursday at the State Farm Center in Champaign, so making their title matches meant the Bakers had already added one more week to their season.
“The time and effort are showing now,” Ronald said. “Just watching each other grow, I’m ready for next year more than anything. As we both get more experience, hopefully we’ll be placing high at state. That’s the goal.”
Before that, they had to lock in for their sectional championship matches. Talin was up first, and he was in control from start to finish, besting Normal West’s Dylan McGrew 6-0. He walked off the mat with a confident strut, locking eyes with Ronald while giving him a smirk as if to say, “Your turn.”
“I just looked over, and he was the first person I saw,” Talin said with another grin.
Ronald’s match didn’t go as smoothly, falling by pin in 1 minute, 40 seconds to Mattoon’s Korbin Bateman, but that didn’t change the fact that the brothers were still going to compete together at state in their hometown later this week.
“Just the brotherhood,” Talin said of what Saturday meant to them. “We can have so many memories now.”
Talin was the Maroons’ lone sectional champion. While Ronald was the only other Central wrestler to move on, his younger brother one-upped him in a way. So, bragging rights?
“Maybe a little bit,” Ronald said with a smile. “Not too much, though.”
Barnhart leads trio of Chargers to state
Centennial senior Jack Barnhart is going to state. Again. Only this time, he’ll arrive with a 40-0 record in his first year competing at 285 pounds.
Barnhart placed fourth at state as a sophomore and sixth as a junior at 220 pounds. Not only has he gone up a weight class this year, but he’s also upped the expectations, shooting to become just the second Charger wrestler to ever win a state title.
“In previous years, I would have worried a little bit and let things get to me,” Barnhart said. “I’ll be nervous, but as soon as I step out there, I’m just doing what I’ve done since I was little. Just going out there and trying to score points. However the cards fall, they fall.”
The undefeated state title contender won his second consecutive sectional championship Saturday without wrestling the final match. After Barnhart pinned Bloomington’s Stephen Carr early in the second period of their semifinal bout, his final opponent had to medically forfeit, giving Barnhart the victory by default.
While he said the back half of Saturday was relaxing for him, he wanted the chance to get back on the mat one more time.
“It’s nice, but I probably would have rather wrestled,” Barnhart said. “I only get a couple more matches for my senior year, so I’m trying to get as many as I can.”
With as much attention as Barnhart draws, his teammates’ accomplishments can get lost in the shuffle. Andon Beldo (126 pounds) and Trevor Schoonover (138 pounds) both finished third, giving Centennial the most state qualifiers of any area team at the Mahomet-Seymour sectional.
“We get one more week for us three to practice and get better,” Barnhart said. “Hopefully, we can all three place. Or win. That’d be awesome.”
Shaw’s title highlights the rest
Danville senior Phillip Shaw IV came into this season with a different goal in mind. After placing fourth in the state at 182 pounds as a junior, he immediately raised his expectations as high as they could go.
“I’m trying to go there and win the whole thing,” Shaw said. “It’s one last ride in high school, and I’m trying to give it all I’ve got. I’m real excited. Ready to win it.”
Shaw said he’s been thinking about getting back to state “since last year ended,” but he wanted to do it as a sectional champion. He was a runner-up last year, so hearing his name called as the 175-pound champ Saturday was the confidence boost he needed.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and I made it come true,” Shaw said.
Fellow Viking Ty Rangel punched his ticket to state with a third-place finish in the 132-pound weight class.
Joining the Maroons, Chargers and Vikings in next week’s state tournament from the Mahomet-Seymour sectional will be a pair of Bulldogs. Gage Decker took third at 157 pounds and Justus Vrona was fourth at 126 pounds to land dates at state for M-S.