The old Clay Keller probably would have overreacted and maybe made a mistake that cost him the match.
The current Clay Keller admits that much.
He was just a few minutes away from potentially realizing his season-long goal of winning an individual state wrestling championship for Baker High School.
But he was five points behind his opponent, Jake Porter of Sweet Home.
Keller, a 16-year-old junior whose family moved to Baker City two years ago, said he had been prone, when facing such a challenge, to try to get all those points back immediately.
“Usually I really panic and try to go for big moves,” he said.
But in the championship match, Keller said, he just felt differently.
“I went into that match relaxed,” he said. “I was more nervous for the semifinal match.”
Keller’s newfound serenity served him well.
He cut Porter’s lead to 5-3 by the end of the first 2-minute period.
“I had a feeling I was going to get back and get the win,” Keller said.
The two battled through the second round, and in the final round, with the score tied at 7, Keller said he sensed that Porter was tiring.
Keller made a move that Porter defended, but Keller then wrapped his arms around Porter and tossed him onto his back.
With 46 seconds left in the match, Keller pinned Porter to win the state title in the 145-pound division.
Keller is Baker’s first state champion since Heath Paxton in 2003.
“It was just an amazing feeling,” Keller said. “I’ve always been shooting for this.”
Keller’s experience in last year’s state tournament, when he suffered a concussion in his opening match, was powerful motivation this season.
“I was wanting to get some redemption for last year,” he said.
His win over Porter boosted Keller’s season match record to 30-1.
Keller, who was seeded third at 145 pounds (Porter was the top seed) breezed through his first two matches, pinning Travis Hodgson, a senior from Junction City, in the first round, and pinning Caleb Werner, a sophomore from Tillamook, in the second round.
“I felt great after that first day,” Keller said.
His two wins set up a semifinal match against William Jantzer, a junior from Marshfield who was seeded second.
Keller had watched Jantzer in earlier matches but had never competed against him.
“I knew he was pretty tough,” Keller said.
Keller prevailed by a 5-4 decision to advance to the championship round against Porter, a match Baker Coach Brandon Young called “the most intense wrestling match I’ve ever seen.”
Keller said he was disappointed that Baker fell just short of its team goal of finishing in the top four and taking home a trophy.
The Bulldogs’ fifth-place finish was the best in school history, though, improving on the previous record seventh-place finish last year.
Keller is optimistic about his prospects for his senior season, and for the team’s.
“I think we’ll do good next year,” he said. “We’ve got a couple freshmen coming up, and this year’s freshmen have gotten so much better from the start of the year.”
Keller thinks he might wrestle in either the 152-pound or 160-pound division next year.