Jake Fernandez didn’t encounter a daunting bracket, but he certainly left little doubt about the results.
At the 51st Platte County Invitational, Platte County’s star junior won the first seven of his eight matches in the two-day tournament with falls in the first period, spending just 5 minutes, 28 seconds total on the mat to reach the 215-pound championship bout. Fernandez then controlled a 5-1 decision victory over Blue Springs’ Conor Tindle from start to finish to repeat as a champion at his home tournament.
“The atmosphere here was awesome so it really made it special,” said Fernandez, who won the 220 title as a sophomore under a different system of weight classes.
With Fernandez leading the way, Platte County hung around the team title chase all of Friday and most of Saturday. The Pirates hosted 14 other teams this year in an enhanced field after COVID-19 decreased the participants each of the past two years.
Junior varsity entrants allowed for two eight-man pools at each weight class with the top two in each pool advancing to the championships semifinals and the third- and fourth-place finishers going to the consolation semifinals and battling for fifth.
Platte County put individuals in 12 of 14 weight classes into the top-eight, and one of the empty spots came from senior Alexander Escabi-Fulmer, who injured in his back during his first match Friday and medical forfeited out. Fernandez ended up as the Pirates’ only finalist, while junior Caden Hulett battled to third in one of the toughest brackets (113) for their only other medal and senior Draiden Chilcoat making an adventurous run to fourth (144).
In the end, Platte County totaled 282 points and came in just three back of Helias — a Class 3 District 4 rival this season — for third. Olathe North took the championship 343 1/2 and Hannibal finished as runnerup 338 1/2. The Pirates piled up points with three sixths, four sevenths and two eighths.
“I think, historically speaking, this time of year is where we really start to rise to the occasion,” said Platte County assistant coach Joe King, who led the Pirates’ staff with veteran head coach Reggie Burress in COVID-19 protocol. “We kind of structure our schedule to be really top heavy. December, early January have been really tough. Now we start to pull back a bit more. We like to host this tournament. A lot of tough guys here, but we’re wrestling tough, too.”
Platte County’s chances at a team title fizzled after going just 4-8 combined in the semifinals and consolation semifinals. This included wins for Fernandez, sophomores Evan Maccuish (sixth, 138) and Darrell Smith (sixth, 157) and senior Mar’Ques Brown (sixth, 285).
Hulett kept alive a shot at winning a second straight Platte County Invitational title with a well-earned 4-3 win over Smithville freshman Drew Waters in the final round of pool wrestling Saturday morning. Coming off a 2-0 loss to freshman eventual 113 champion Cooper Collins of Excelsior Springs earlier in the morning, Hulett reversed the result of a recent dual loss to Waters on the strength of takedowns in the first and second period.
Waters trailed 4-2 going to the third period and started on top but couldn’t create a turn. He ended up picking up a stalling penalty point with 10 seconds left in the one-point loss. That leveled the season series between the two, who will be competing for seeding in the Class 3 District 4 bracket and sent Hulett to the championship semifinals, while Waters went on to place fifth..
The 106 champions a year earlier in this tournament, Hulett then dropped his semifinal to Olathe North’s Blake Samuelson, who clung to a 2-0 lead and twice nearly gave up a tying takedown before taking advantage of a desperate shot from Platte County’s two-time Class 3 state qualifier for a takedown and pin with 10 seconds left in regulation. Hulett came back with a first period pin of Blue Springs’ Aleksei Wojkiewicz, who lost the first meeting between the two this season during a dual by a 10-1 major decision.
“To start the day off with beating Waters, that’s huge for him, especially leading into districts,” King said. “I think this is the thing Caden has been waiting for. He’s put in three years here, and all that time and effort in the practice room, he knows that it’s all there; it’s all coming out.”
Chilcoat turned in perhaps the best performance of his career and did so in high-risk, high-reward fashion. He trailed each of his first three pool matches by at least five points before coming back to earn pins. This culminated with a 14-7 deficit against Warrensburg’s Cruz Villegas on Friday night, and Chilcoat went to a feet-to-back throw to score the pin with 22 seconds remaining on the clock.
In the final two pool matches on Day 1, Chilcoat won by fall in 12 seconds and lost by fall in 28 seconds to eventual tournament champion Jace Duemmel of Helias. Chilcoat advanced to the semifinals as pool runnerup with a 5-1 record and five falls. His final two matches also ended in pins — losses to Hannibal’s Peyton Elliot in the semifinals and Carthage’s Kip Castor in the third-place match.
“He had a great first day,” King said. “For him to just stay in matches and just be a gamer is huge for him. To have the boost of confidence by going into the semifinals of the tournament means a lot; it doesn’t matter who is in your bracket. That’s pretty hard to do.”
While most brackets featured multiple ranked wrestlers, Fernandez went in as the clear favorite at 215. The results matched that outlook with six straight first period falls for the two-time Class 3 state qualifier, who went on a run as a sophomore to end up as the 220 state champion after going 1-2 at 182 as a freshman.
Fernandez has not lost since the calendar turned to 2023 with most wins of the short, dominant variety.
“We’re totally OK with it,” King said. “He’s going to go out there with a game plan in his head. He’s definitely confident; you can see it. He’s going to get the first takedown, and if he’s going to let the guy go, the guy on bottom is going to know he’s not earning that escape. Otherwise, Jake’s going to put you on your back, and he’s going to pin you.”
Fernandez did have to go the full six minutes to improve his record to 27-2 with the 5-1 decision over Tindle. Fernandez came up with both of the match’s takedowns in a slightly tighter result compared to his 8-1 decision over the Wildcats’ junior in a dual earlier in the month.
“I was definitely more in shape than him,” Fernandez said. “I was in control the whole match. The guy is pretty tough. He made me work for it, but I was pretty dominant the whole match.”
Maccuish wrestled just four pool matches but went 3-2 with a medical forfeit in the final round to advance to the consolation semifinals as a No. 3 seed. He then used a tight 1-0 decision win over Oak Grove’s Rudy Whitehead to reach the fifth-place match where he lost 11-4 to Belton’s Mario Nunez.
Brown took an extremely turbulent path to sixth at 285. After a loss to Class 2 state-ranked Caleb Groff in his opener, Brown came back for a 3-3 record in pool, closing with two wins on Saturday to reach the consolation semifinals. He survived losing to Warrensburg’s Tatum Davis by fall 18 seconds into the third period of a late Friday night match he led 5-2 before being turned on bottom and pinned.
Brown reached the fifth-place match with a 7-4 decision over William Chrisman’s Ezias Poli — his second win over him of the week — before losing by fall to Olathe North’s Braden Hales, who locked up the Eagles’ team title with the result.
“It was good to see our guys getting after it,” Fernandez said. “We wrestled a lot of matches so it’s a tough tournament.”
Platte County actually ended up with two in the top eight at 157. Smith led the way, going 3-for-3 in pool, while senior Bryan Jennings competed for the Pirates’ junior varsity and wound up in eighth place.
Smith avoided a meeting with his teammate after a pin of Carthage’s Trey Nye in the consolation semifinals to set up a rematch with Excelsior Springs’ Hunter Scoma, who ended up with wins in both by decision — the first 3-0 in pool and the second 2-0 in the fifth-place match.
Jennings went down a weight with junior Kevin Taylor taking the 165 spot for what will be his final tournament of the season. Taylor stepped up again and earned a spot in the consolation semifinals and finishing eighth.
“I think it shows the depth of our room and how hard we work,” King said. “If someone goes down, someone is right there. We try to stay solid and coach guys to be solid.”
Platte County’s six wrestlers in the seventh-place matches also included junior Shane Leary (seventh, 132), while the other four were the promising freshmen starters — Gabriel Wittel (106), Grant Fadler (126), Cole Johnson (175) and Quinn Lightle (190).
Fadler started strong and scored a second important victory Friday over Smithville junior Trent Hallett, a returning Class 3 state medal winner. Fadler appeared don track to reach the championship bracket but lost a 3-2 lead late against Belton’s Aidan Moody on a stalling penalty point that sent the match to overtime. Moody then prevailed with a takedown in the 1-minute sudden victory period.
After a loss to Helias’ Carter Prenger in Saturday’s pool finale, Fadler ended up fourth, while Hallett went on to place fourth. Fadler lost his consolation semifinal then avenged the loss to Moody with a 5-2 victory in the seventh-place match.
Wittel was also fourth in his pool but dominated the 106 seventh-place match in a 17-6 major devision over Jervin Riddle III of William Chrisman.
Johnson and Lightle were both third in their pool.
At 175, Johnson started 4-0, including sudden victory overtime wins against Lucas Hudson of Hannibal and Joseph Juitt of Belton, but faded late. Johnson then dropped his final three matches with a tiebreaker relegating him to the consolation bracket despite just one loss to that point.
Hudson won the rematch between the two by a 10-6 decision in the seventh-place match.
Lightle went 3-2 in pool with three pins but losses by fall to Brodie Purtle of St. Michael the Archangel and Luca Riley of Belton — both state ranked. Lightle’s consolation semifinal went all the way to ultimate tiebreaker.
After going to overtime tied 2-2 with William Chrisman’s Terry Baker, neither scored in sudden victory, and each recorded a 30-second rideout in scoreless tiebreaker periods. Baker scored first in the match with a takedown allowing him the choice for the 30-second ultimate tiebreaker, and after quite a bit of discussion, he went down and scored the winning escape with Lightle needing to stay on top for the entire period to earn the decision in that scenario. He tied up the score with an escape and penalty point.
“Especially for those young guys, I don’t know how many times they’ve been exposed to two-day tournaments where they’re wrestling up to nine times,” King said. “Nine rounds, that’s a grind. You don’t really get exposed to that when you’re a kid. You’re in high school, and this comes with maturity.
“The future is bright for all those guys.”
Suburban Conference White Division dual recap
Belton 50, Platte County 27
The hope for a conference title took a hit when Belton pulled away for a win back on Wednesday, January 12.
Starting at 175, Belton built a 12-0 lead behind falls for ranked wrestlers Zach Attebury and Luca Riley over Johnson and Lightle. Platte County then took a 24-12 lead with four straight victories with maximum bonus points — pins for Fernandez (215) and Hulett (113) sandwiched around forfeits for Brown (285) and Wittel (106).
Platte County would win just one of the final eight matches, a 12-9 decision for Chilcoat at 144 over Diego Suarez. Belton led 35-27 at that point and secured the dual victory with Brady Littleton’s 22-7 technical fall at 150.
In what always shaped up as a three-team race for the White Division title, Platte County goes into this week still with a chance to earn a share of the championship but will need an upset of Grain Valley, which already beat Belton in their matchup. Platte County duals Grain Valley and North Kansas City this Wednesday.
Platte County 74, Raytown 6; Platte County 78, William Chrisman 0
The Pirates lost just one match in a triangular Wednesday in Independence and came up just six points short of a perfect score against the hosts.
Against Raytown, Platte County received five forfeits and added pins for Escabi-Fulmer (120), Fadler (126), Jennings (165), Lightle (190), Fernandez (215) and Brown (285). The Pirates added victories for Chilcoat at 144 (16-1 technical fall) and Smith at 157 (13-6 decision).
The lone win for Raytown ended up being a pin for Kaseem Bedford at 132 against freshman varsity debutant Andrew Lanier.