By Pat Dailey (For OzarkSportsZone.com)
WILLARD — Led by individual champions Cole Patton, Trevor Christian and Colt Adkins, Lebanon ended Neosho’s decade of dominance by beating the Wildcats for the Class 3 District 3 team title Saturday.
Neosho had put together a streak of 10 straight District titles from 2010-2019. The Wildcats’ 193 points were second to Lebanon’s 225 total.
“It’s a really big deal and it’s been a long time,” Christian said. “We’ve been wanting to do this since I was in high school. We finally got to dethrone them. We knew we were good enough to do it. But we weren’t overconfident. We performed well and had a lot of things go our way.”
“We thought we had a better team last year, but couldn’t do it,” Adkins added. “We came up short. This year, we’re over-performing. The guys who weren’t supposed to win matches are winning.”
With the Yellow Jackets needing only one win in the final round to clinch their championship, Patton obliged by winning the 120 title.
“I didn’t know how my match was going to end up,” Patton said. “I’m glad I got on top. It’s insane, we’re going crazy. We have 11 wresters going to State and Neosho has eight.”
Neosho’s Drayke Perry, a champion at 220, warned not to count out the Wildcats at State.
“They’re a tough team and they wrestled good,” Perry said of Lebanon. “They got more kids through than we did. We’ll see next week, though, that’s when it really matters.”
Christian (160) is ready to conquer another goal he’s fought for, namely a state championship. He was in fine form Saturday by winning 12-0 versus Marshfield’s Will Snider.
Christian, who is 40-3, already has 13 matches at State while collecting finishes of fifth, third and second.
“A lot of the guys in my weight class are younger. They’re talented guys, but don’t have that experience,” Christian said. “I know what you have to do. I’m going to get it done. This is the year. I know I’m as talented or more talented than everyone in this weight class.”
Christian won’t be surprised if he sees Hannibal’s Trevor Wilson in the later rounds.
“He’s really good from what I’ve heard,” Christian said. “But he’s a sophomore.”
Adkins (170) made sure not to take Branson’s Max Petruccelli lightly in their title tilt. Adkins gained a pin in 2:51 to go to 34-4.
Adkins was surprised not to see Neosho’s Keaton Sanders in the final.
“I really did think I’d be facing Sanders,” Adkins said. “He’s a great opponent and a great friend, too. After I saw (Petrucelli) beat Keaton, I couldn’t let him fly under me at all.”
Patton (120) earned a 16-12 victory against Helias’ Jack Lage in their final to up his record for 34-7.
At 6-foot-1, Patton towers over almost all of his foes.
“I’m 6-1 and everyone else is 5-5,” he said. ‘I like having the leverage. I use it as an advantage. They’re usually stronger, but I’m usually quicker.
“I knew I had to be able to scramble (against Hage),” Patton added. “It was a good match, going 199 percent the whole time. My legs were (tired) because I had to keep my hips tight. He’s good on bottom, so I had to stay tight and not let him get too many points off of escapes.”
Ortiz gains revenge
McDonald County’s Oscar Ortiz (132) avenged two regular-season, one-point losses to Neosho’s Kolton Sanders by pinning Sanders in 3:00 in their title tilt.
“It’s my best win of the year,” Ortiz said.
While setting himself up for the fall, Ortiz left the mat and leaped high above Sanders in an effort to maintain his position.
“I was scrambling and pushing and got close to the edge (of the circle),” Ortiz said. “I didn’t want to go out of bounds, so I just jumped. Sometimes, that’s what it takes.”
Ortiz (43-6) had been eying a rematch with Sanders for a while and doesn’t think they are through with each other.
“We’ve been working to beat him all year,” he said. “We’ve been working harder and harder, pushing the pace. It paid off. It’s a good comeback win. One more time, though, that’s what it’s going to take. Hopefully, I can get it done at State.”
CJ’s White, Lieberman take titles
Carl Junction’s Jackson White (182) had the dubious distinction of being undefeated entering Districts, yet not receiving a No. 1 seed. No matter, White upped his record to 44-0 by pinning Lebanon’s Jake Henson in 1:26 in the final.
Of White’s 44 wins, 38 have been falls.
White shrugged off the fact that he was seeded behind Rolla’s Hayden Fane (14-2). Fane was ousted from the tourney due to a medical forfeit.
“We had one common opponent the whole season. He pinned the kid and I technical falled the kid,” White said while explaining the logic that put him behind Fane. “It was kind of, ‘Whatever.’ Our coaches said to go do the same thing I’ve been doing.”
After his victory, White was lifted off the mat by his father, Steven, a Webb City wrestler back in his glory days.
White feels primed for a State title.
“I’m very confident,” he said. “This is my year.”
Carl Junction’s Micah Lieberman (285) won as a No. 2 seed. He pinned Willard’s Carson Gehring in 2:15 to improve his record to 39-1. Afterward, he sprinted out of the gym.
“I was so happy, I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “So, I just ran out of here.”
Lieberman had a much tougher time in the semifinal round, where he edged Camdenton’s Dakota Davis 3-2. Davis went on to take third by beating No. 1 seed Zane Persinger, of Neosho, 1-0.
“(Davis) is an amazing wrestler and only a sophomore. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins State in a couple of years. He’s a stud,” Lieberman said. “I’d rather wrestle in a fifth-place match against a guy who is going to give me trouble than a first-place match against a guy who I’m going to pin in the first period. I love competition. It’s in my DNA.
“I’ve set myself up for success,” he added. “Now, it’s up to me to seize the opportunity at State.”
Finley wins for his older brother
Willard’s Christian Finley gained a 9-3 win against Neosho’s Landon Kivett in the 113 final.
For Finley, it was a fulfilling win in many ways. He was thrilled to win at home and make his older brother, Michael, proud. Michael was a state-qualifier for the Tigers last season, but was unable to compete this season after a sickness left him hospitalized for six months.
“I dedicated this tournament to him,” Christian said. “It motivates me a lot to wrestle for him. I don’t want to hold anything back. He told me, ‘Wrestle like I do and I’ll beat every kid.’”
Willard also received a championship from Jed Brandon (185). He improved to 41-2 after being awarded a medical forfeit midway through his finals match with Carl Junction’s Jesse Cassatt.
Neosho has trio of champions
Neosho’s first-place finishers included Raymond Hembree (106), Cayden Auch (152) and Drayke Perry (220).
Perry rolled to his title and improved to 46-3 with a pin in 3:27 versus Marshfield’s Eli Steffen. When they met in the regular season, Perry also posted a second-period pin.
“They were pretty similar matches,” Perry said. “But when I wrestled him earlier in the season, he scored on me. This time, he didn’t.”
Perry feels the 6-4 overtime loss he took at the hands of defending state champion Kale Schrader, of Carthage, a couple weeks ago was a good springboard for him toward the post-season.
“It boosted my confidence, but then again I wanted to beat him in overtime,” Perry said. “I know he’s top-notch, he’s elite. To see where I’m at competitively with him, that’s good. It was a match I wanted and needed. I think he would agree. It got left up to an official’s call that didn’t go my way. That just makes me want to train harder.”
Auch improved to 48-2 by pinning McDonald County’s Jack Teague in 3:30. Auch became a three-time District champ and will be looking to be a three-time State champ.
Hembree won by technical fall 17-0 against Lebanon’s Quentin Long in the only finals matchup featuring Neosho and Lebanon.
Hembree, who upped his record to 40-14, has pinned Long three times this season.
“That helped my confidence a lot,” Hembree said. “I really wanted to set up my shots. But he’s tough in neutral. I couldn’t get to any of my shots.”
Bulldogs have a pair of champs
Rolla’s Nathan Pulliam (145) upped his winning streak that dates back to last season to 62 by pinning Willard’s Ryder Heimbach in 2:41.
“It’s cool to have that winning streak,” said Pulliam, who is 35-0 this season after winning a State title a year ago. “I don’t worry about losing. I go into every match planning to win.”
Pulliam feels losses he’s taken in the summer have spurred him on to success.
“I went to Fargo (North Dakota) and got fourth and I went to the Super 32 and didn’t place,” he said. “It sucks to lose. But it humbles you a lot.”
Pulliam adds while trying to repeat as a State champion he won’t worry about trying to re-trace the same steps he took last season.
“My freshman year I was super superstitious. My socks had to be the same ones I wore previously and my shoes had to be tied a certain way,” Pulliam said. “Even if I was jumping and turned to the left instead of the right, that got to my head. Last year, though, I stopped caring about superstitions. They don’t really affect me anymore.”
Rolla’s Zac Fennel (126) was as relieved as any of the champions. He was happy simply to be on the mat, after a bout with the flu nearly cost him the chance to go for another State berth.
“I was battling some sickness yesterday and was telling the coaches I was going to quit,” said Fennell, who beat Webb City’s Josh Copher 7-1 in the final round to up his record to 40-3. “I was sick and overweight. I was saying, ‘I was done’ and ‘I can’t do it.’ But it’s Districts, you can’t stay home this weekend. You’ve got to wrestle.
“This could have been taken away from me if I hadn’t made weight,” he added. “I got through it thanks to our coaches. We have an awesome staff.”