Platte County sophomore Jake Fernandez works for a pin in a 220-pound match during the Platte County Invitational on Saturday at Platte County High School. ROSS MARTIN/PC Preps Extra

Pair of sophomores win titles to lead Platte County to 2nd in 50th annual home tournament

Hulett, Fernandez head up 7 total top-four finishers for Pirates in Platte County Invitational’s return to normal format after last year’s COVID alterations.
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A lot went wrong for the hosts over the course of the 50th Platte County Invitational over the weekend.

Platte County sophomore Caden Hulett works for a takedown against Hannibal’s Reign Creech in the 106-pound championship bout on Saturday during the Platte County Invitational at Platte County High School.

Platte County spent the second day without senior star Eli Rocha due to injury, and three other senior leaders came up agonizingly short of individual titles. However, the still-shorthanded Pirates were still able to finish as runnerup for a second straight year to Helias, this time in the normal pool-plus-bracket format after last year’s event operated as a dual tournament due to COVID-19 protocols.

There were certainly disappointments, but sophomores Caden Hulett (106 pounds) and Jake Fernandez (220 pounds) both won individual titles to lead seven top-four finishes in a memorable weekend at Platte County High School for the Pirates and the program’s alumni.

“It did seem a lot more hype and intense, and I feel like a lot of our wrestlers fed off of that,” Hulett said. “And some people had their best weekends that they’ve had all season, including me, so I really enjoyed that, and I thought it was a great tournament for everybody.”

Platte County seniors Jared Parsons (145) and Jaydon Walls (195) also made the finals, while first-year senior Trevor Scott (182), Blaine Keuhn (170) and Rocha (138) all were in the third-place match. Scott and Keuhn finished with victories, while Rocha defaulted to fourth place after suffering an ankle injury on Friday. He had accrued enough results at that point to reach the championship bracket as runnerup in his pool.

Walls entered as an individual champion from his freshman season, while Rocha won a title as a sophomore. Neither were able to repeat, but Hulett and Fernandez joined the club as winners of coveted individual titles in an always-difficult field.

Platte County senior Ben McDaniel squares off with an opponent during a 160-pound consolation match in the 50th annual Platte County Invitational on Saturday at Platte County High School.

“It means a lot,” Fernandez said. “It really shows how hard we’ve been working in the room. It’s awesome that me and (Hulett) both got titles.”

With Rocha out, Platte County’s shot at the team title were dashed, and the Pirates still would have needed to roll out results to finish ahead of Helias in the 12-team standings. The Crusaders ended up with 264 1/2 points to finish 21 clear of the hosts, who ended up the best in a tight battle for the runnerup spot.

Platte County went into the medal round in second, briefly fell behind Carthage (third) and needed some late wins to stave off a charge from Smithville (fourth) and Oak Grove (fifth). Hannibal, a team now bizarrely in Platte County’s Class 3 District 4 despite the geographic differences, placed sixth, and late entrant Excelsior Springs was seventh.

Only 50 1/2 points separated Platte County from Excelsior Springs. In addition to the medalists, Pirates senior Ben McDaniel (160) came back from two early losses to win five straight and place fifth, while junior Bryan Jennings (152) also reached the fifth-place match and came in sixth.

“I think everybody kind of had to do their part,” Platte County coach Reggie Burress said. “We talked about that. If we want to stay in second, we’ve got to get some points from people we didn’t think we’d get it from, and they did a good job of that.”

Platte County senior Jared Parsons grapples with Smithville sophomore Alex Hutchcraft in the 145-pound championship match during the 50th annual Platte County Invitational on Saturday at Platte County High School.

Hulett went unbeaten and turned in one of his best overall performances of the season. To win the A pool, he earned a solid 6-2 decision over Hannibal sophomore Reign Creech in a rematch of a meeting between the two from last season’s Class 3 Missouri State Wrestling Championships — a 2-0 win for Hulett.

Creech then went on to reach the 106 final, as did Hulett with a pin of Helias freshman Aleksander Careaga. In the third matchup of Hulett-Creech, Hulett led 4-0 before giving up a late reversal and holding on for a 4-2 decision victory.

The two will be a potential semifinal matchup in the District 4 tournament in a few weeks.

“It was great to see a district opponent and probably state opponent, too,” said Hulett (18-8), a state qualifier as a freshman who had his lone win over Creech in the first round before losing the next two. “Every match has been close, but every match I feel like I’ve been technically sound, and that’s what I’ve got to do in every match. Just a good match to get my mental back, you know?”

Fernandez (21-8) took a different route to his title with a limited number of participants making 220 a true round robin of seven wrestlers. He won all six matches, including the first five by fall before matching up with St. James Academy (Kansas) sophomore Wade Spencer in the final round.

Down 1-0 after allowing an escape to start the second period, Fernandez came up with a takedown and three near-fall points with a solid turn to build a 5-1 lead going to the final two minutes. He added an escape and a takedown in a dominant 8-1 decision.

Platte County sophomore Jake Fernandez works for a takedown in a 220-pound match during the 50th annual Platte County Invitational on Saturday at Platte County High School.

Fernandez has adjusted to being a young 220 after going to state and finishing with a 2-2 record as a freshman at 182. There have been struggles both physically and mentally at certain points this year but with signs of peaking as he did last year when he won a District 8 and Sectional 4 title.

“It’s been a little tougher, obviously,” he said. “I’m giving up at least 15 pounds. I’m giving up some weight so really I’ve got to stay in there and not force anything with those big guys and wrestle how I wrestle.”

In between the two titles, Platte County dealt with some of the disappointment.

Rocha looked to make the most of abbreviated chances at his home tournament and started with a pair of pins in Pool A. He then faced Helias junior Carson Hayes in the final match of Friday night, scoring an early takedown but injuring his ankle in the process.

Originally hurt in a dual match against Smithville senior Ethan Muir a week earlier, Rocha aggravated the high ankle sprain and came to the tournament Saturday on crutches. He’s likely out until districts and might not be 100 percent for his final chase of a state title after earning three medals in three tries, including a career-best third at 145 in 2021.

Muir went on to win the 138 bracket with a pair of wins over Carthage senior Eli Sneed. Rocha finished second in Pool A and forfeited his two bracket matches. This marks the second injury for Rocha this season with multiple others missing time, as well.

Platte County senior Jared Parsons works for a turn in a 145-pound semifinal during the 50th annual Platte County Invitational on Saturday at Platte County High School.

“We’ve probably trained easier because of this than we ever have, if that makes sense,” Burress said. “Giving more recovery days, more technique days where we try not to torture them, and I just don’t know what to say.”

Parsons continued to battle his own shoulder injury but made a successful run to the 145 final. He won the B Pool with a 4-0 decision over Oak Grove junior Ethan Phillips and a 10-9 battle against Carthage junior Grey Petticrew.

In the semifinals, Parson was in a tight matchup with Helias junior Jace Duemmel when he turned him and pinned him 28 seconds into the third period. Smithville sophomore Alex Hutchcraft, a returning state medalist, won the A Pool and received his first look at Parsons, who was up at 152 while dealing with illness during the teams dual a week earlier.

Hutchcraft and Parsons exchanged one-point penalties in the second period for unnecessary roughness and went into the third period tied. Already dealing with a nagging right shoulder prone to slipping out of socket, Parsons experienced the same issue with the left shoulder mid-match. He had already opted to go neutral in the second rather than risk being in the down position and leaving the joint exposed, allowing Hutchcraft to take the lead with an escape in the third period and then sealing the victory with a late takedown to finish with a 4-1 decision.

“He had a great performance,” Burress said of Parsons, a 2020 state qualifier and 2021 district champion who was beat out at sectionals in last year’s unique two-step postseason due to COVID-19. “Obviously, he’s changed his style because if he takes his shot and his shoulder gets extended it dislocates. At this point, he’s going to fight hard on his feet and see what he can get done, and he’s still pretty tough on top.”

Platte County senior Blaine Keuhn squares off with William Chrisman’s Nathan Campos in the 170-pound third-place match during the 50th annual Platte County Invitational on Saturday at Platte County High School.

Jennings and McDaniel both ended up third in their pool at 152 and 160 to end up in the consolation bracket and limit their team scoring, but Platte County racked up big points with Keuhn, Scott, Walls and Fernandez at the upper weights.

However, Keuhn, who entered ranked No. 1 in the most recent Missouri Wrestling rankings at 170 due to a long serious of uneven results between the top wrestlers, suffered a setback in pool wrestling. Helias sophomore Drake Perkins took Keuhn to his back and pinned him in the first period.

Keuhn (23-5) ended up second and matched up in the semifinals with Hannibal junior Trevor Wilson (24-2), a defending state champion out of the ranking all together due to losses to Whitfield’s Reese Callahan (No. 5) and Union’s Bowen Ward (No. 6). Callahan has losses to Neosho junior Eli Zar (No. 3), who had an unexpected loss to Bolivar junior Trey Brewer (No. 3).

Wilson took the first meeting of what could be a preview of district and state matchups. He led 3-0 in the third period with the lone takedown when Keuhn locked up for a potential throw only to end up taken down to his back and pinned in 5 minutes, 22 seconds.

With Wilson going on to dominate Perkins in the final, Keuhn, a state qualifier as a freshman and fifth-place finisher a year ago at 170, came back with a late takedown to beat William Chrisman senior Nathan Campos by a 3-1 decision for third place.

Platte County senior Trevor Scott works in the 182-pound third-place match during the 50th annual Platte County Invitational on Saturday at Platte County High School.

A standout football player and track athlete, Scott had never stepped on a competitive wrestling mat until early December. He was in the four-man Pool A at 182 and went 3-1 with a lone loss to Oak Grove senior Brendan Griffin (11-1 major decision).

That qualified Scott (8-14) for the championship bracket. In the semifinal, he twice fought off his back after Helias senior Connor Wilbers threw him in two different headlocks. Wilbers ended up with the pin on the third go-round and went on to win the title.

Scott came back at for an 8-3 win, scoring all three of the matches takedowns and allowing only three escapes to Olathe North junior Matt Castejon.

“It helps Trevor to see that hard work and staying with it pays off,” Burress said. “After that first match, you saw it when he was about to die. Now it looks like he’s flowing, wrestling and enjoying it.”

A tournament champion as a freshman who missed his entire sophomore season to a shoulder injury, Walls (21-5) sought his second Platte County Invitational title in as many tries due to last year’s one-time format change. He had four first-period pins in pool and needed just 46 seconds to score the fall against Van Horn senior Keanu Sua in the semifinals.

Walls, a 2019 state qualifier and third-place finisher at 182 as a junior, then ended up opposite undefeated Oak Grove senior Zander Brinegar (19-0) in the expected championship match. Walls had the first two points on a reversal but ended up tied 2-2 in the third period on a pair of escapes for Brinegar, a three-time state medalist in Class 2. Then came the decisive scramble with Brinegar winding up on top with Walls on his back for a five-point move. He held on from there to take a 7-2 decision that left Walls as a disappointed runnerup.

Platte County senior Jaydon Walls takes an opponent down during a 195-pound semifinal in the 50th annual Platte County Invitational on Saturday at Platte County High School.

“I thought we were going to get the corner,” Burress said. “But the guy was a little deeper than normal, didn’t get to the corner, and that was the match.”

Other individual champions included Carthage sophomore Dylan Huntley (113), Hannibal sophomore Tristen Essig (120), Smithville junior Kolby McClain (126), Excelsior Springs seniors Landen Davis (132) and Ayden Dolt (152), Helias sophomore Logan Montoya (160) and Oak Grove junior Caleb Groff (285).

McClain earned the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler award after a tight, well-earned 2-1 decision over Olathe North junior Cael Alderman. The 126 bracket also included Hannibal standout sophomore Cody Culp and Carthage sophomore Bradyn Tate.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the tournament, Platte County invited all alumni back for special recognition during a planned break on Friday night. The 2000 and 2002 Class 1A-2A state championship teams were also inducted into the Platte County Wrestling Hall of Fame, joining the record-setting 2001 team as inductees.

Burress praised everyone from the coaching staff to members of the girls team running the tables to the booster club and administration team for pulling off a successful weekend of wrestling.

Platte County now returns to dual action Tuesday at Kearney minus Rocha and sophomore Brody Lueders (appendectomy) but with motivation. The Pirates fell behind in the Suburban Conference Blue Division title race with last week’s tough 38-33 loss to Smithville, which then lost to Kearney this past week to muddy the standings.

With a win, Platte County can force a three-way tie for the title but will have a tall task based on the projected matchups.

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