Carter's section title carries great meaning in challenging season for Baldwin wrestling
To the Baldwin wrestling program, it was much more than a section championship.
When Baldwin's DeAdrain Carter won the Section 2-AAA championship and qualified for the WPIAL individual wrestling tournament, it capped an impressive season for the senior athlete, and the accomplishment obviously meant a lot to him, personally.
But to the Baldwin varsity wrestling program — from the current wrestlers and coaches to the alumni and longtime fans — Carter's championship came at a crucial time.
It wasn't just a championship. It was a source of pride and hope during perhaps the most challenging season in the program's history.
Just before the season, longtime head coach George McCormack stepped down for health reasons. McCormack passed away Nov. 30 after losing his battle with cancer.
Meanwhile, on the mats, the Highlanders were plagued by a low turnout and injuries. The result was a lineup filled many forfeits.
When a team forfeits a weight class, the opposing team receives six points, meaning Baldwin often was down by 30 points or more before the wrestling even started on a given night.
As a result, the Highlanders did not win a dual meet.
However, when the section tournament came around, Carter — the starter at the 106-pound weight class — was dominant and captured the section crown.
“Absolutely, it's a highlight of the season,” said Mike Bilbie, Baldwin's first-year head coach who was an assistant in the program for more than 20 years. “To have a section champ, it's a nice way to end the season. It gives you some hope for the future.”
Carter went into the section tournament as the No. 1 seed at 106.
After receiving a first-round bye, he cruised through the competition, pinning Ringgold's John Mountain in 17 seconds in the second round; beating Belle Vernon's Jacob Dunlap, 8-3, in the semifinals; and taking a 12-2 major decision over Peters Township's Danny Florentino in the finals.
“I felt excited,” Carter said. “I felt like I accomplished one of my goals for the year.
“Last year, I finished fifth in the section and barely qualified (for WPIALs), so I felt like all of my work paid off. And we dedicated this season to Coach McCormack, so it was great to do it for him.”
Carter went on to the WPIAL Class AAA tournament and defeated West Allegheny's Mason Schaefer in overtime, 2-0, in the first round before falling to Trinity's Tristan Buxton, 8-2, in the second round.
Carter won his first two consolation matches before losing to Pine-Richland's Hunter Baxter in the consolation semifinals to finish fifth.
He missed out on a chance to advance to the PIAA tournament, and finished the year with a 26-7 overall record.
“I thought I could have went to states, so I was a little disappointed,” he said.
However, now that he's had time to reflect, Carter views the season — and his high school wrestling career — as a big success, despite missing out on the chance to compete in the state tournament.
“I thought my time as a Baldwin wrestler was great,” said Carter, who plans to wrestle in college at either Washington & Jefferson or Indiana Tech. “This season, I felt like we did well with what we had. I had a great time, and I really enjoyed it.”
Bilbie praised Carter's season, crediting his hard work and dedication to offseason training for his success.
“When we came up with a gameplan for the postseason, the plan was for him to dominate kids on his feet. His strength is on his feet,” Bilbie said.
“He has a very good double leg, and he's quick. He pretty much dominated kids all year. He's taken down just about every kid he's wrestled.”
While Carter was Baldwin's lone section champion, one of his teammates, junior Elee Khalil, also had an impressive section tournament, placing fifth and qualifying for the WPIAL tournament.
Khalil pinned West Mifflin's Vince O'Donnell in the first round before being bumped into the consolation bracket via a loss to Ringgold's Brandon Heinzelman in the second round.
Khalil then wrestled through the consolation bracket and pinned Mt. Lebanon's Jack Rendulic to take fifth place.
While he qualified for the WPIAL Class AAA tournament, he did not participate because of a shoulder injury.
The fact that Khalil, who ended up with a 9-6 overall record, was able to compete in the section tournament at all was a victory after he missed offseason wrestling and most of the regular season with a shoulder injury.
Khalil's impressive performance was a credit to his toughness, according to his head coach.
“With the shoulder injury, he couldn't do any wrestling in the summer. He was a little behind coming into the season,” Bilbie said. “He finally got the OK to wrestle right before sections, and he made a go at it, realizing he was not where he was last year at this time, and he ended up wrestling well and taking fifth.
“He got banged up again at practice before WPIALs, and we didn't want to risk injuring it further. He will be back next year and will be a big part of things.”
Bilbie emphasized that the performances by Carter and Khalil were the highlights of the 2013-14 season for the Baldwin wrestling program
“If we would have been healthy this year, I think we would have had more than two guys in WPIALs,” he said. “I think we would have had at least four or five guys.
“But how those guys wrestled in the postseason tournaments is the highlight of the year.”
Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.