Platte County knew the challenge and the potential reward. The Pirates entered as underdogs and needed a victory in Wednesday’s opening dual against Grain Valley to forge a three-way tie for the Suburban Conference White Division championship.
Opening at 157 pounds, Platte County missed a chance at early momentum but ultimately built up an 11-point lead that wouldn’t hold up. Grain Valley turned over the lineup and pulled away for a 42-26 victory. The Pirates picked up big victories for freshmen Cole Johnson (175) and Quinn Lightle (190), a pin from junior defending state champion Jake Fernandez (215) plus a decision for senior Mar’Ques Brown (285) but needed more in the first half of the dual to have a chance.
“We definitely knew they were going to be pretty bottom heavy,” said Platte County assistant coach Joe King, who coached the Pirates’ 72-11 victory later in the night over North Kansas City with head coach Reggie Burress dealing with family illness. “Starting off with Darrell, the goal is always try to get that momentum going, but it just didn’t happen for us tonight. I think the guys wrestled tough, won the matches we were supposed to win, lost a couple we probably shouldn’t and that was it.”
In between the two duals, Platte County celebrated seven seniors, including starters Brown, Bryan Jennings (165), Draiden Chilcoat (144) and Peyton Nickell (150) plus injured Alexander Escabi-Fullmer (120) and David Olson (150) and reserve Andrew Gjoni. Escabi-Fullmer started all season until suffering a back injury last weekend in the Platte County Invitational, while Olson started a good portion of the season at 150 before also going down with an injury earlier this month.
Platte County closed the home career of the seniors after the ceremony with a dominant nonconference win over North Kansas City with only five matches wrestled.
The opener against Grain Valley always set up to be the featured action of the night with both teams fielding full lineups. The Eagles took an early 3-0 lead that looked important at the time with Justin Deweese toughing out a 5-2 decision over sophomore Darrell Smith at 157. Deweese scored both takedowns and survived giving up a reversal in the second period, extending his lead over Smith to 5-2 with an escape to start the third and controlling the action from there.
Platte County’s deficit went to 9-0 after Tanner Barker came up with a pin at 165 against Jennings. The Pirates then started their run back with Johnson at 175. He led 2-0 after the first period then recorded 13 more takedowns in what became a 28-13 technical fall just before time expired.
Lightle followed with a pin in just 1 minute, 21 seconds, and Fernandez stuck Gavin Barker midway through the second period to put Platte County up 17-9.
“Bonus points were huge for them,” King said. “Shoutout to Cole Johnson. That’s awesome, especially for a young kid.”
Brown, a third-year starter, then added a critical decision at 285. He recorded both takedowns and held on for a 5-2 decision over Aven Aumua to create the 11-point cushion.
“That’s huge for him to win those close ones where in the past he finds himself missing by a step or two,” King said.
Four of five wrestlers for Grain Valley, a former Class 3 rival, in the top six of the Class 4 Missouri Wrestling rankings compete from 113 to 132 pounds, making the task of holding the lead daunting. The Eagles didn’t trail for long after Colston Parks secured a pin at 106, and No. 5-ranked freshman Zack Blees recorded a 6-0 victory over Platte County’s Class 3 No. 5-ranked junior Caden Hulett at 113.
Back within 20-18, Grain Valley took the lead for good on No. 4-ranked junior Gavin Parks’ pin of freshman Liam Franksen, earning time in the lineup with Escabi-Fullmer out. The Eagles ended up winning seven straight including a 9-4 decision from No. 6-ranked senior Brock Smith over freshman Grant Fadler at 126 and a 7-2 decision for Ethan Jones over Evan Maccusih at 138.
Those tight matches helped give Platte County a chance, but No. 3-ranked junior Dru Azcona (132) and Tyler Groves (144) also recorded pins for Grain Valley in the stretch. Nickell closed with a pin at the end of the first period in the 150 match to make the final margin 16 points.
“You hope for upsets in there, but it’s nothing we can’t fix right now,” King said. “That’s a huge thing at this point in the season. Effort’s there. Just have to wrestle the whole match.”
After Grain Valley beat North Kansas City, Platte County’s second dual started at 175, and the Pirates never trailed. Johnson opened with a pin followed with forfeits for Lightle and Fernandez to make it an early 18-0 victory.
North Kansas City’s nine forfeits were enough to make the result inevitable, but Platte County went only 3-2 in the matches wrestled. Brown (fall) and Jennings (technical fall) both suffered losses. The Pirates did receive a strong showing from Hulett at 113. He took Chase Thurston down in the first, turned him three times to build a 10-0 lead and used a takedown in the second to end up with a pin in 2:15.
“Caden definitely had a tight one there with Blees against Grain Valley,” King said. “For him to go out there (against North Kansas City) and get a couple of takedowns, that’s huge for him to end the night.”
From there, Platte County took six straight forfeits and closed with a pin for Smith at 157 and the 21-3 technical fall for North Kansas City’s Kaden Torres in the finale.
Lydia’s Lights Blue Springs South Invitational
Fernandez recorded the 100th victory of his career Saturday morning but ended up as a runnerup with a difficult loss in the 215-pound championship match later in the day.
Platte County’s fifth-place team showing included finals appearances for Hulett (113) and Fernandez, while junior Shane Leary came back from a first-round loss in a six-man straight round robin to claim the 132 pound championship. He finished 4-1 with two pins, a technical fall and a 6-5 decision over Travis Morris of Cabot (Arkansas) that proved pivotal.
Lee’s Summit North’s AJ Wishne pinned Leary in Friday’s first round but forfeited out his final four matches due to an injury suffered in his next match against Morris.
Fernandez dominated Pool A on Friday with a pin, two forfeits and a 9-2 decision over Lee’s Summit senior Aidan Gutierrez. Fernandez’s 100th career victory came in the championship first round, and he advanced to the final with an 11-1 major decision over Lee’s Summit North junior Hank Natali in the semifinals.
That set up a rematch with Pleasant Hill senior Jacob Hanes, who lost a tight match between the two during December’s Kansas City Stampede consolation bracket. This time around, Hanes came up with a takedown in the third period, and after allowing an escape held a 3-2 lead for the final 1:21 while avoiding any stall warnings and a potential winning takedown for Fernandez not awarded in the late stages.
Hulett recorded first-period falls in both of his pool matches at 113 and a technical fall in the championship semifinals to earn a matchup with defending Class 4 state champion Hank Benter, who won a 6-0 decision.
Platte County ended up totaling 292 points but finished behind runaway champion Pleasant Hill, Lee’s Summit North, Hickman and Lee’s Summit. The Pirates didn’t have quite enough success on the front side of the championship brackets with Fadler (126) and Smith (157) placing third and freshman Gabriel Wittel (106), Jennings (165), Johnson (175) and Lightle (190) all coming in fourth.
Fadler recorded pins in all three pool matches but lost in the semifinals to Hickman’s Hayden Benter. Smith won each of his first four pool matches but went into the bracket as a runnerup following a loss to Pleasant Hill’s Lane Snyder, who ended up forfeiting out on Saturday due to match limits. Smith lost his semifinal by fall to Francis Howell North junior Trystan Blenis, who won the tournament with Snyder out.
In the third-place match, Smith needed just 56 seconds to pin Lee’s Summit North junior Owen Barnhill who reached the semifinals by default with Snyder’s spot replaced with a forfeit.