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Austin's Nate Smith beat Bowen's Rudolph Johnson 6-3 in the 126-pound final Sunday in the Public League Tournament at Chicago State. | Stacia Timonere~For Sun Times Media

Nate Smith could have taken an easy road to a city title and no one would have blamed him.

Last year, the Austin senior kept running into Bowen’s Ronzel Darling, losing in the Public League semifinals and the preliminary round of the Class 2A state tournament to the eventual state placer.

So Smith could have stayed at 120 pounds for this year’s Public League tournament and probably would have cruised through the bracket. Instead, he moved up to 126, where returning runner-up Danny Carlson of Lane was waiting in the semis and two-time city champ and returning state placer Rudy Johnson of Bowen was on the other side of the bracket.

None of that mattered. “I feel that at 120, there was competition, but not as tough competition as I wanted,” Smith said. “I bumped up to 126 so I could face those good guys and get ready for state.”

Good call. Smith beat Carlson 4-2 in the semifinals and knocked off Johnson (29-2) 6-3 in the championship match Sunday at Chicago State to move to 31-0 on the season and stamp himself as a wrestler to watch in the Class 2A state series.

Despite Johnson’s loss, Bowen had enough depth to get past three-time defending champ Lane 142.5-139.5 for its first Public League championship since going back-to-back in 2003-04.

The Boilermakers’ lone winner was Cory Wilson (22-3), a transfer from Julian who beat Kelly’s Leo Gonzalez 8-2 in the 113 final.

“I really wanted to [win city as a team] because I’m a junior and we have a lot of really good seniors here,” Wilson said. “I’d like to send them out with a bang.”

That happened, but not before some nervous moments for Bowen coach Ron Wilson. “I didn’t know if we’d be able to pull it through or not,” Ron Wilson said. “I had three of my [projected] champions lose in the championship [round]. I got a little worried there.”

But Bowen was able to hold off Lane, which had two champs in Johnny McCarthy (31-6) at 132 and Jake Davis (26-13) at 138.

McCarthy, who beat Morgan Park’s Jaled Hampton 8-0, was the only repeat champ from last season. “The kid was good on his feet,” McCarthy said. “My conditioning was probably better than his. [I figured] if I keep on him, he’s probably going to open up a little bit, he’s probably going to get a little bit anxious.”

Apart from Smith’s win over Johnson, the match of the day might have come at 285, where Northside’s Ben O’Connor (28-2) won 2-1 over defending champ and previously unbeaten Lavontay Cobb (40-1) of King.

“It’s great experience for the state tournament,” said O’Connor, who avenged two overtime losses to Cobb.

Taft, which was third with 123 points, had a meet-best three champs: Ryan Fulton (30-1) at 145, Jon Figueroa (27-5) at 152 and Nico Gallo (30-2) at 170.

“Coming in here, we stuck to what we do in practice,” Fulton said. “Work hard every day, beat each other up, make each other better.”

Also winning titles were Morgan Park’s Devanta Williams at 106, Amundsen’s Jerry Flores (27-2) at 120, Westinghouse’s Romero Stancil (18-2) at 160, Simeon’s William Whitehead (31-1) at 182, Douglass’ Terry Martin (25-0) at 195 and Lindblom’s Duece Rachel at 220.

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