By Chris Parker & Zach Mason
Neosho finds itself in a familiar spot after the second day of the state wrestling tournament: in first place.
The Wildcats have 123.5 points, which is 13.5 better than second-place Kearney.
Neosho placed four wrestlers into championship bouts, but no match encapsulated what it means to be a Neosho Wildcat better than Drayke Perry’s win in the 182-pound semifinal.
Perry found himself staring down a 7-4 deficit to Rockwood Summit’s Karthik Mogallapu heading into the third period. He would score an escape 27 seconds into the final period to make it 7-5.
Then the clock kept running.
As it wound down, so did Perry’s chances at a state championship.
Perry kept working and looking for his opening despite the long odds. Then, with 21 seconds left, he scored a takedown to tie the match and put Mogallapu on his back for a two-point nearfall to win the bout 9-7 and advance to the 182-pound final.
“I believe in my kids. I expect to win every match. That’s how we train our kids, just go out there and keep wrestling for six minutes, no matter if you have a lead or not. It’s all about the mental prep to understand that the match isn’t over until the final seconds tick off the clock. I wholeheartedly believed we were going to win that match; it was just a matter of getting in the position to do so,” Neosho coach Jeremy Phillips said.
Perry, a fifth-place finisher a year ago, will face unbeaten Sam East from Harrisonville in the 182-pound final.
He will be joined in the finals by teammates Cayden Auch (126), Braxton Barnes (145) and Zane Persinger (220). Auch beat Helias Catholic’s Alexsey Salaz by pin at the 3:22 mark of his match. Barnes won by a 7-4 decision over Warrensburg’s Colby Benge. Persinger pinned Camdenton’s Cort Petty in 2:43.
Persinger will face Union’s Haiden Meyer (45-1) in the title bout. Barnes will contend with unbeaten Christian Zeik (31-0) from Liberty Wentzville. Auch will try to earn back-to-back title against a familiar foe and fellow defending state champion Oscar Ortiz from McDonald County.
Ortiz, who is 43-4 on the year with three of those losses coming to Auch, earned his way to the 126-pound title by beating Rolla’s Zach Fennell (24-2) for the second time in a week. The McDonald County senior pinned Fennell at the 4:48 mark of the semifinal.
Willard was the only other area school with multiple finalists in Class 3 as brothers Christian and Michael Finley qualified for the 106 and 113-pound finals, respectively.
Christian got things started with a 6-0 decision over Ethan Moses from Van Horn. He improved to 50-2 on the season. Michael picked up a 10-2 major decision over Kash Ocobock from William Chrisman in his semifinal.
What makes the brothers’ run to the finals even more impressive is that both missed out on even qualifying for the state tournament last year, which taught both of them valuable lessons.
“I’ve learned not to be over confident and to go out there and just wrestle your match. Just stay focused on your goal,” Christian said.
“I learned that just because people are better than you on paper doesn’t mean they can beat you in a match. If you execute in the match you can make a difference,” Michael said.
Christian will face Kearney’s Eli Ashcroft (43-6) for the 106-pound title. Minutes later, Michael will square off with Farmington’s Austin Wadlow (35-6) in the 113-pound final.
Jonathan O’Connell will be a repeat finalist for Republic after beating Grain Valley’s Mitchell Alexander 2-1. The deciding point came on a stalling penalty in the third period.
O’Connell, who improved to 41-1 on the year, will hope to use the lessons learned from finishing runner-up last season and apply them in search of his own title.
“(I learned) not to be nervous…just get in there, push the pace and good things will happen,” O’Connell said.
He will face Smithville’s Mitchell Bohlken in the 138-pound final on Saturday. Bohlken, who has a 45-5 record, was a third-place finisher last season.
Rolla’s Nathan Pulliam also earned a berth into the finals on the strength of a 5-2 decision over Hannibal’s Tyler Leonard. Pulliam is 26-0 in his sophomore season and has only lost one match in two years. That one loss came last year in the state final.
He will look to get to the top of the podium in the 132-pound weight class against Pacific’s Callum Sitek (51-3).