State wrestling: Perfection eludes Erie’s Clay Bunker in finale

Erie’s Clay Bunker, right, tries to throw Broomfield’s Nick Babcock to the mat during their 4A 152-pound championship match on Saturday night at Pepsi Center. Babcock won to hand Bunker his first loss of the season.

DENVER — Perfection eluded Clay Bunker on Saturday night at the Pepsi Center.

Throughout the season, Erie’s 152-pound wrestler freely admitted that his thoughts were constantly occupied by an unrelenting ambition of nabbing a state title. He got as close as humanly possible to that goal.

A 3-1 loss to good buddy Nick Babcock of Broomfield in the Class 4A final left his opponent with torn cartilage in his ribs and left Bunker one win shy of both an undefeated season and his ultimate goal of a state crown.

“You can make as many excuses as you want, but it came down to what I didn’t do,” Bunker said. “And I didn’t get it done.”

Bunker (42-1) gave up a takedown in the opening seconds of the match, and neither wrestler permitted anything edgewise the rest of the way.

“They’re both good riders,” Erie coach Steve Gratton said. “Clay wrestled a great match except for the one thing at the beginning. He got him off his feet a few times, and I thought he dominated the match.”

Bunker, who was trying to become Erie’s first titlist since Adam Muir in 1998, was awarded a point on a stall in the second round to make it 2-1 entering the third. Babcock earned an escape point in the third, and that was that. Bunker tried a hail Mary of sorts in the final seconds and flung Babcock to the mat, but it wasn’t enough to award a takedown.

“I should have come out harder,” Bunker said. “I shouldn’t have let him get that first takedown.”

Bunker said his final flurry “felt like a takedown but he didn’t call it. I wasn’t behind him. My fault.”

Bunker is slated to wrestle at CSU-Pueblo next season, and improved on his fifth-place showing at state last season. As a junior, he lost to Babcock in the consolation finals.

Bunker and Babcock struck up a friendship shortly after and have trained together and been roommates on the road at tournaments.

“He’s a cool kid and I don’t have anything against him,” Bunker said. “But I’d rather not lose to anybody.”

Gratton believed a bloody nose suffered by Babcock (39-3) was to Broomfield’s advantage because “we were definitely better conditioned.” The stall allowed Babcock to catch his breath.

“That’s no excuse, but Clay wrestled great,” Gratton said. “We like them both and Nick did what he had to do.”

Erie 120-pounder Brandon Wetsch, meanwhile, finished fourth. After a down-to-the-wire overtime loss in the semifinals Friday night, Wetsch rebounded Saturday morning in the consolation semifinals with a 14-2 major decision over Lewis-Palmer’s Mike Hartling.

Wetsch then lost 7-1 in the third-place match against Pueblo Central’s Sonny Espinoza. Wetsch, who finished fifth last year at 103 pounds, concluded his sophomore season 26-8.