KEARNEY – With heavy hearts, the Bulldogs took round one between a pair Class 3 powerhouses.
Two schools separated by only 24 miles on Missouri Highway 92, Kearney and Platte County – ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the state team standings respectively – put on a thrilling show Tuesday, Jan. 9, at Kearney Junior High School. Thanks to a few key bonus points, the host Bulldogs edged the rival Pirates, 35-33, in a thrilling affair that will most likely ultimately end the Pirates’ three-year run as Suburban Blue Conference champions.
“Conference is a stepping stone to districts and state,” Kearney coach Jake Hill said. “Beating them here is a good thing for the next two steps which is obviously the ultimate goal. Step one conference. Step two districts. Step three state. One step at a time.”
Step one was no easy task considering Hill’s team had to face extra adversity in addition to one of the top teams in the state. Kearney had wrestled live competition only once in the previous three weeks after cancelling multiple events (including The Clash XVI in Rochester, Minnesota, during the winter holiday break, one the most prestigious high school dual tournaments in the country) due to the untimely deaths of two team managers – Brianna Luft and Saleena Senzee – who lost their lives in a car accident during a family holiday trip.
“This is bringing us together,” Kearney senior leader Chopper Mordecai said. “It’s been hard on us the last couple weeks, and it’s still hard on some of the guys now. But by being together as teammates, it helps take our minds off it a little bit. We’re just trying to be there for each other like brothers.”
Mordecai certainly did his part in the key conference clash. Both teams secured seven victories each in the 14 dual matches, but Kearney registered four decisive pin falls, the final one by Mordecai to clinch the team victory.
Seven state-ranked wrestlers posted victories on the night for Kearney. Garrett Deason (No. 5, 106 pounds) started the dual with a convincing 15-0 technical fall victory against Vinny Cesero ( Watch this match), and James Freitag (No. 3 at 113) followed with a 29-second pin of Nick Maddux ( Watch this match). Caden Green (No. 5, 138) held off Nick Filger, 3-0 ( Watch this match), and Coby Aebersold (No. 3, 145) pulled out a 5-3 overtime victory against Nolan Saale ( Watch this match).
With Kearney holding a slim 17-15 lead after the 152-pound match, the Bulldogs took control by winning three of the next four bouts – all of them by pin. Ethan Locke (No. 5, 170) tied up Jerin Munn in his signature cradle move ( Watch this match), Matthew Witthar (No. 5, 182) overpowered Gabe Harmon ( Watch this match), and Mordecai needed all of 34 seconds to finish off Alex Stearns after applying an arm bar off the opening whistle ( Watch this match).
“This is a big win for us saying they won conference the last three years, and that’s a big conference opponent,” Mordecai said. “We didn’t wrestle the way we should of, but we still came away with a win. From here we just go back to the practice room and fix our mistakes.
“… But this (win) doesn’t really mean anything because the only thing that matters is holding that trophy at the end of the state tournament.”
Platte County proved it will continue to be in the fight as the two teams brace for the final month of the regular season. The Pirates also have a loaded lineup headlined by defending state champions Cody Phippen (No. 1, 120) and Sage Smart (No. 1, 220). Phippen disposed of Pierce Garner with a first period pin ( Watch this match), and Smart picked up a forfeited win. State-ranked Austin Kincaid (No. 3, 132) used a buzzer-beating takedown to knock off Devan Lewis (No. 2, 132), 4-2 in overtime in what turned out to be the highlight match of the night ( Watch this match), while Dakota Schmidt (No. 3, 182) recorded a first-period pin against Colt Post ( Watch this match).
The big upset of the night came in the 126-pound weight class where unranked Blake Bills stunned three-time state champion Clay Singh, 9-5. ( Watch this match) Bills trailed 4-2 in the second period but used a five-point move to turn the momentum of the match, and Singh (who has been of the wrestlers affected most by the team’s tragedy) was unable to recover. Omar Garcia ( Watch this match) and Matthew Knopp ( Watch this match) posted the other two victories for the Pirates.
“Our kids fought, but we just came up a little short in the end,” Platte County coach Reggie Burress said. “Kearney has a good team, and we respect that. We’ll get back to work tomorrow morning.”