Platte County senior Shane Leary records a pin in a 157-pound semifinal during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Belton High School in Belton. ROSS MARTIN/PC Preps Extra

Platte County qualifies 9 for state, largest contingent since sending same number in ’19

Despite going 2-7 in medal matches, Pirates have plenty to feel good about with individual champions Shute, Fernandez leading group of 6 finalists from Class 3 District 4 tournament.

BELTON, Mo. — Assessment of a good but far from perfect Class 3 District 4 performance requires balances.

Platte County senior Jake Fernandez wrestles Van Horn senior CJ Nelson in the 215-pound championship match of the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Belton High School in Belton.

Platte County hung around the top of the team standings during the two-day tournament this past weekend at Belton High School, put 10 in the semis and six in the finals and qualified nine for state. However, the Pirates lost a pair of potential qualifiers in winnable consolation semifinal matchups and won just 2 of 9 bouts in the medal rounds — freshman Jaxson Shute claiming his first district title at 106 pounds while senior Jake Fernandez took home a fourth.

The nine qualifiers represents the most Platte County has sent to the Class 3 MSHSAA Wrestling Championships since taking the same number in 2019. The group includes four-time senior district finalists Caden Hulett and Fernandez, five earning repeat berths in senior Shane Leary; juniors Darrell Smith and Evan Maccuish; and sophomores Cole Johnson and Grant Fadler plus the freshman duo of Shute and Jack Johnson.

“I wish we would have won a few more late,” Platte County coach Reggie Burress said. “Looking back, I don’t know if we were favored in any of those matches besides the two we won. We won the two we were favored in and wish we could’ve wrestled a little more competitive in a couple of the matches.

“But nine is pretty close to what we wanted and now see what we can get done. I’m proud of them.”

Platte County freshman Jaxson Shute locks up with Helias freshman Damon Duemmel in the 106-pound championship match of the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Belton High School in Belton.

Platte County went into the final two rounds just two points out of first place but ultimately couldn’t match the late charges from champion Kearney (191) and runnerup Helias (182 1/2). The Pirates wound up with 164 1/2 and were well in front of fourth-place Smithville (137) and fifth-place Capital City (131).

Kearney sends a tournament-best to 11 for state, while each of the top three teams produced two individual champions.

In addition to Shute and Fernandez, Hulett (120 pounds), Jack Johnson (144 pounds), Maccuish (150 pounds and Leary (157 pounds) also made the finals for Platte County, which increased qualifiers from seven a year ago. However, the Pirates not only went 3-2 in consolation semifinals and then 2-7 in medal matches but also experienced struggles in the course of some of the victories.

Yet, that does little to dampen the optimism for a group that has shown strong development the past two seasons.

“A lot of young guys, too, and it’s just cool to see us all are going to be there,” Leary said. “Not a lot of us are here in the stands with emotions of what should we have done, what did we not do to qualify. Putting a lot through means a lot; it definitely feels special.”

Platte County senior Jake Fernandez finishes a takedown in a 215-pound semifinal against Kearney freshman JD Romero in the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Belton High School in Belton.

Fernandez entered as a three-time defending district champion in addition to a Class 3 Sectional 4 title as a freshmen in a different postseason format due to COVID-19 protocols.

As the top seed and overwhelming favorite, Fernandez recorded dominant pins in the first and second round but needed to open up his offense in the final two matches. Kearney freshman JD Romero (28-12), who went on to finish fourth, pressed action in the semifinals but gave up all five takedowns in Fernandez’s 11-3 major decision.

That set up a rematch for Fernandez (38-4) with Van Horn senior CJ Nelson (34-4) in the championship bout. Unlike a defensive 3-1 decision last month in the finals of the Platte County Invitational, Nelson found success with an early takedown and took a 4-3 lead out of the first period after a clasping call against Fernandez.

Fernandez also gave up the second takedown after appearing to slip, but he recovered for a reversal and then three near-fall points in the second period on the way to a 9-7 decision with Nelson spending the majority of the latter half of the match limping with either a cramp or leg injury. That led to a celebration of Fernandez’s 150th career victory on his 18th birthday, even if he clearly hadn’t been pleased with the how reached the milestone.

Platte County freshman Jaxson Shute tries to fend off an attack from Van Horn junior Mlondani Emoyi in a 106-pound semifinal during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Belton High School in Belton.

“He gave up the one takedown where he wasn’t in good position but other than that he did fine,” Burress said of Fernandez, a state championship at 220 pounds as a sophomore and placed third at 215 last year after a quarterfinal loss who has not lost to a Class 3 in-state wrestler this season. “I think he’s going to be fine down at state, too. His attacks are good when he’s attacking.”

One challenge for Platte County’s chase of the team title came as a result of Shute’s lack of matches in a six-man 106 bracket that limited his point production. He earned the top seed and a bye to the semifinals, which pitted him against last year’s district runnerup at the weight.

Van Horn junior Mlondani Emoyi (26-13) seemed to have the majority of shots and mat position against a seemingly uncomfortable and hesitant Shute (36-3). The two ended up exchanging escapes, but Shute won a 2-1 decision on the strength of two stalling calls — the second in the final seconds of regulation to provide the winning penalty point much to the dismay of the Falcons’ coaching staff and many in the crowd.

Shute came back in the final and shook off any lingering disappointment in the final two periods against Helias freshman Damon Duemmel (30-8), who led 1-0 after an escape in the second. Shute’s takedown at the 1:09 mark put him ahead for good and also resulted in two near-fall points. He added a reversal and takedown in the third while giving up a penalty point for stalling late as worked to avoid any potential pitfalls with a big lead.

The result ended up being an 8-3 decision.

Platte County senior Caden Hulett tries to finish a shot against Kearney junior Ryder Shelton in the 120-pound final of the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Belton High School in Belton.

“He wrestled well in the finals. Yeah, he was a little nervous, but then he opened up and scored points. When he’s attacking, he’s really good,” Burress said of Shute, who enters as one of four favored No. 1 seeds at state having not lost to a Class 3 in-state opponent this season.

Platte County’s last district champion at 106 back in 2021, Hulett made a fourth straight trip to the Class 3 District 4 finals but has been unable to avoid Kearney junior Ryder Shelton for the past three years.

Hulett rolled into the semifinals after a pin in just 29 seconds against Van Horn freshman Darren Faustian (5-24) in Friday’s quarterfinals. That set up a rematch with Warrensburg sophomore Jaylen Civil (27-12) after the pair battled to a tight decision in the Platte County Invitational. Civil ended up dropping a 3-0 decision after giving up a pair of escapes and gifting a point in the second period for unnecessary roughness for driving Hulett to the floor off the mat on a shot attempt.

In the final, Hulett continued a track record of strong performances against Shelton (38-5), a two-time defending state champion who has won every matchup between the two over the past three seasons. Shelton scored a late takedown to put away a 5-1 decision, but Hulett came close twice to finishing a shot in the early proceedings.

Platte County senior Shane Leary works for a turn against Helias freshman Blaine Curtis in a 157-pound semifinal during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Belton High School in Belton.

“I just wish we could get one takedown to give ourselves a chance,” Burress said of Hulett (32-11), now a four-time state qualifier still in search of his first state medal that could put a fitting cap on an accomplished career. “Shelton’s tough. He’s a two-timer for a reason. (Caden) was in on some attacks, and I like that.”

Leary and Maccuish both earned repeat state bids but made the finals for the first time in their best seasons to date.

At 157, Leary (32-15) entered as the No. 2 seed and won a 5-0 decision over Lincoln Prep sophomore Phillip Fagan (26-10) in the quarterfinals and then experienced a bigger challenge in the next round. Helias freshman Blaine Curtis (25-19) twice reversed Leary off of his takedowns into dangerous positions, the first resulting in two sets of near-fall points that came close to a pin in the opening period.

Leary fought back both times, and despite objections from his coaches and even some teammates matside, he again went a single wing in an attempt to put Curtis to his back. He led both 8-2 and 9-3 but ended up pinned at the 5:06 mark with Leary advancing for a rematch with Smithville senior and two-time state finalist Alex Hutchcraft.

Curtis went on to place third.

Platte County junior Evan Maccuish ties up with Smithville sophomore Tristan Waters in the 150-pound title match of the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Belton High School in Belton.

“It meant a lot. A lot better than last year. Last year was fighting for my life,” Leary said. “A lot better than last year. Last year was fighting for my life, very little hope. This year in the finals a tough match, Hutchcraft. I knew that probably wouldn’t go my way, but you never know what can happen.”

Hutchcraft (42-5) pinned Leary in the championship second in under a minute.

However, Leary built on his comeback story that started with him in the regular lineup as a freshman and playing a part in Platte County’s team district title before leaving the program for a portion of his sophomore year. He finished fourth at 132 pounds last year in the district tournament and advanced to state with a losing record, going 0-2.

“The sport means a lot to him. He’s gotten so much better the last two years and worked so much harder,” Burress said.

Like Leary, Maccuish came out of districts in fourth place last year at 138 pounds and also went 0-2 in his state debut. However, he earned the No. 1 seed this year at 150 as a result of a pin against Smithville sophomore and returning 113-pound state finalist Tristan Waters in the finals of the Platte County Invitational.

Platte County freshman Jack Johnson holds up Capital City junior Levi Casey in a 144-pound semifinal during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Belton High School in Belton.

Maccuish (31-13) earned a rematch in the district finals with a pin in the quarterfinal and a tidy 4-0 decision over Helias junior Aleksandr Careaga (23-19) in the semifinals. Waters (32-17) avoided high-scoring scrambles this time around against Maccuish and came away with 9-0 major decision in match that featured a pair of disputed calls that required coordinated discussion from the two mat officials.

“He’s in a better position going into state than last year,” Burress said. “I think his front-line defense is better, and he’s finishing his attacks better. He’s limiting his scrambling so when he does scramble he’s successful more often.”

Jack Johnson gave Platte County a pair of freshmen finalists in a year when Burress expected three to be in contention only for Chase Hulett to suffer a torn ACL in football season that ended his campaign before it started.

In a wide open bracket, Jack Johnson’s key matchup came in the semifinals against top-seeded Capital City junior Levi Casey (20-10) that allowed him to avoid Smithville junior Brennen Green (41-9) until the finals.

However, after a quick pin in the first round, Jack Johnson needed a 7-4 decision to beat Belton junior Diego Suarez (21-21) for a second time this season with both coming by the exact same score. Casey fell behind in the first period and never recovered in a 7-1 loss by decision in the semifinal.

Platte County junior Darrell Smith works for a takedown against Grandview sophomore Aaron Colvon in a 165-pound consolation semifinal during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Belton High School in Belton.

Green pinned Jack Johnson (26-12) in their first meeting at the Platte County Invitational and did so again in 1:26 to take the 144 district title on Saturday.

“That’s a big win over Casey,” Burress said. “He at least put himself in a decent spot in the (state bracket). He’s going to get a third-place finisher. It may not be easy, but at least it’s better than getting a district champion. He did a great job. I told him he had a great tournament; I just wish he finished it off a little better.”

Platte County’s trio of fourth-place finishers each took vastly different routes to second state berths.

At 165, Smith hit his best form in the quarterfinals at an opportune time after struggling with an early-season knee injury that limited his mat time. He entered seeded sixth and drew Smithville senior Nate Lawson (29-14), who earned the No. 3 spot in the bracket partially due to pinning Smith at the Platte County Invitational.

Smith (18-10) led the prior meeting late into the third period before being reversed to his back and pinned.

This time around, Smith hit a lat drop and ended up putting Lawhon to his back for an early five-point move on the way to an 8-4 decision victory. Smith then wrestled close with second-seeded Van Horn senior and eventual runnerup Darrius Page (26-4) in a 5-0 decision loss but came back to dominate Grandview sophomore Aaron Colvon (23-17) in the win-or-go-home consolation semifinal that ended with an 11-2 major decision.

Platte County sophomore Cole Johnson works on top against Kearney freshman Carter Temple in a 175-pound semifinal during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Belton High School in Belton.

Smith and Lawhon matched up again in the third-place match, and Lawhon improved to 2-1 against him this season with a 6-3 decision.

“He had the big win early and lost to the kid late,” Burress said of Smith, who also finished fourth at districts last year and went 0-2 at state in his debut at 157 pounds. “It was a good match (for third). We’ve just got to fire off a few more shots, but Darrell still wrestled well.”

Platte County’s lone third-place finisher at districts last year, Cole Johnson heads back to state again at 175 pounds after going 0-2 a year ago. He owned the No. 4 seed in this past weekend’s bracket and won his first two matches to reach the semifinals.

Kearney top-seeded freshman Carter Temple (33-4) went on to win the 175 title, but Cole Johnson provided some intrigue after a takedown late in the first period to take a 3-2 lead. However, he couldn’t escape for 2 minutes in the bottom position during the second before Temple scored the winning reversal in the third of what ended up a tight 4-3 decision.

Cole Johnson continued a string of four straight results by decision, edging Smithville sophomore Aiden Robeson (20-19) by a score of 4-0 decision to earn a repeat state berth and losing 7-6 to third-seeded Capital City senior Cohen Davis (27-8) in the third-place match. Davis showed repeated frustrations and took numerous injury timeouts that disrupted the flow of the proceeding before holding off a late charge.

Platte County sophomore Grant Fadler holds Belton junior Aidan Moody on his back near the edge of the mat in a 132-pound consolation semifinal during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Belton High School in Belton.

“We need Cole to focus on the positives of the early performances,” Burress said. “He’s a hard out for people.”

Fadler took a more difficult route than Smith and Cole Johnson.

Another No. 4 seed, Fadler (26-21) dominated his first two matches — a pin of Warrensburg sophomore Justus Griffith (21-20) and a 9-1 major decision over Capital City junior Parker Jones in the quarterfinals. That put him in the semifinal needing just one win to earn a repeat trip to state.

William Chrisman top-seeded junior Javarien Jeffries (30-2) went on to win the individual title with an overtime decision in the championship, but he also trailed Fadler after giving up the opening takedown in the first period. He pinned Fadler in their previous matchup during a January dual but needed a late flurry of offense this time around to pull away for a 13-5 major decision.

Fadler then faced a familiar opponent in Belton junior Aidan Moody (15-22), a funky opponent who creates problems with scrambling ability who had lost four decisions in four prior matchups between the two over the past two seasons. In the fifth meeting, Moody creatively finished a takedown in the first and then took a 5-0 lead in the second by turning Fadler to his back and seemingly stacking him for a pin.

Platte County fans celebrate sophomore Grant Fadler’s win in a 132-pound consolation semifinal during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Belton High School in Belton.

Fadler survived, and in the third period, he took Moody down three times and to his back twice for an exciting 12-7 comeback decision victory that brought Platte County’s cheering section to a collective standing roar. However, the second takedown and first set of two near-fall points resulted in a 7-6 lead and a restart.

At that point, Fadler granted an escape that tied the score but immediately took Moody down straight to his back again and held him there until only 7 seconds remained.

“I was going into it just as a normal match and then getting put on your back in the second period is pretty rough so I had to bounce back,” Fadler said. “It’s always just trying to get more points, just keep taking that lead down inch by inch. And then sometimes you can score the big one in there with a five and then it can just lead to one thing after another.”

Raytown South senior Norman Schneider (39-5), bouncing back from a semifinal upset loss, pinned Fadler in the second period of the third-place match but only after a state return had been secured.

Platte County sophomore Quinn Lightle wrestles Kearney senior Tyler Jarrett in a 285-pound consolation semifinal during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Belton High School in Belton.

“He’s gutty. He’ll wrestle hard,” Burress said of Fadler, who also finished fourth at districts last year (126 pounds) and went 1-2 in his state debut. “I think experience in past big matches helped him out.”

Platte County’s strong quarterfinal round on Friday mostly carried over into Saturday with all 14 still alive at that point. Only sophomore Quinn Lightle (26-15) came up short of a state bid out of the 10 to reach the semifinals for the Pirates. He lost by fall to top-seeded Grandview senior and eventual champion Derek Joiner (31-1) to drop to the 285 consolation semifinals where he met up with Kearney senior Tyler Jarrett (16-8), who had been upset in the quarterfinals.

Jarrett won a scramble early in the second period that resulted in a pin that ended Lightle’s strong second season after bumping up two weight classes from 190 a year ago.

Platte County sophomore Gabe Wittel also battled back from a quarterfinal loss at 113 to Helias senior and returning state qualifier Parker Lock (23-13), who won both meetings between the two this season by decision. Wittel reached the consolation semifinals and went to overtime tied 1-1 with Capital City senior Austin Feely (16-9), and after a scoreless 1-minute sudden victory, Feely took a 2-1 decision in overtime tiebreakers with an escape in the first 30-second period and riding out Wittel for the second.

Wittel came within one win of a state berth for a second straight year after bowing out in the same round of the 106 bracket last year, while Lightle improved on last year’s 1-2 showing at 190.

Platte County sophomore Gabriel Wittel locks up with Capital City senior Austin Feely in a 113-pound consolation semifinal during the Class 3 District 4 tournament Saturday at Belton High School in Belton.

In the end, Platte County needed more qualifiers and more place-match wins with sophomores Liam Franksen (11-26) at 126 pounds, Jackson Woolsey (4-33) at 138 pounds and Cooper Hammontree (21-25) at 190 pounds eliminated early on Saturday morning.

All three were first-year starters.

“I think the quarterfinals were big,” Burress said Saturday evening. “We got some momentum. I might’ve liked to wrestle a little more last night because we were on a little better roll and a little less so today. Losing Wittel and Lightle hurt. Gabe and Quinn were both right there.”

Still, Platte County’s last trip to state with nine qualifiers resulted in a 12th-place finish to cap the 2018-19 season, and this marks an opportunity to steer closer to 2022’s seveth-place showing with three finalists and two champions, including Fernandez, than last year’s dip to 24th. The Pirates dropped back with only Fernandez, Hulett and Fadler winning at least one match and only Fernandez making the medal stand, albeit after Branson’s eventual state runnerup Cade Grimm pinned him in their marquee quarterfinal.

Hulett and Fernandez have already joined an elite group of four-time state qualifiers, while Fernandez looks to cap his career with more superlatives if he can reach another final and chase another title.

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