BELTON, Mo. — Even with significant time in between, Jaydon Walls felt the familiarity in his Class 3 Sectional 4 195-pound championship bout.
The Platte County junior achieved a similar if not more dominant victory in a rematch more than two years in the making. Walls bolted to an early lead and used three near-fall points at the end of the second period to score an impressive 15-11 decision over previously unbeaten Grain Valley senior Hunter Newsom on Saturday at Belton High School.
In 2019 as a freshman, Walls won a tight 5-4 decision in a Class 3 District 4 170-pound semifinal against Newsom under the traditional postseason format.
“Hunter, he’s a really good wrestler,” said Walls, who did not medal at state as a freshman, while Newsom came back from his district loss to place sixth before finishing third at 182 as a junior. “Yeah, it was all over again, but I came out really strong this time, got that early takedown and with that set a tone. I was basically running the match until third period when I got gassed.”
Walls capped an otherwise difficult final round for Platte County, which entered with 12 qualifiers from a Class 3 District 8 championship effort two week earlier. The Pirates but five in the finals of Sectional 4 competition with Walls, junior Eli Rocha (145) and freshman Jake Fernandez (182) capturing district titles. In addition, freshman Caden Hulett (106) and junior Blaine Keuhn finished as runnerup.
However, the five finalists ended up being Platte County’s only five qualifiers for next week’s one-day Class 3 Missouri State Wrestling Championships.
In previous seasons, the top four individuals in each weight class in larger district fields qualified for state, but this season due to COVID, the Missouri State High School Activities Association divided teams into smaller districts with the top four moving on to sectionals where only the top three wrestlers at each weight advancing.
Platte County opened the day with six previous state qualifiers, but only three were able to make it back this season. The Pirates went 0-for-4 in third-place matches with senior Hunter Burge (132) and junior Ben McDaniel (152) denied their first state trip, and seniors Drake Lacina and Jesse Schillinger unable to pick up the win needed to add to their previous state trips.
All three of Platte County’s seniors on the roster were a big part of a successful season that included the first Suburban Conference Blue Division title since 2017 but won’t be able to help the Pirates’ state push.
“In my heart it hurts they won’t be called state qualifiers when in any other year all four of those guys are going to state and we’ve got nine kids at state,” Platte County coach Reggie Burress said.
Platte County’s returning group of state qualifiers included Walls and Keuhn, who advanced freshmen but missed last year. Keuhn sat out his sophomore season by choice, while Walls couldn’t wrestle due to surgery on an injured shoulder, which he felt some pain in late in his win over Newsom.
Walls scored a quick takedown in the first period and led 2-0 before adding a reversal at the start of the second period for a 4-1 lead.
“Quote,” said Walls (34-2), who has not lost to a Missouri opponent yet this season with one defeat coming against Kansas Class 5A state champion Brodie Scott of Mill Valley in overtime.
Having opened sectionals with a bye and then a pin of William Chrisman’s Andru Campos (24-13) in just 1 minute, 10 seconds, Walls would end up needing to go three periods. He added two more takedowns in the second period and locked up a cradle to put Newsom on his back and held him there until the clock expired, unable to secure the fall but leading 9-2 at that point.
Newsom (14-1), who had not gone three periods yet this season, outscored Walls 8-4 in the final period to close the gap but never threatened after going to his back.
“I was definitely looking at his shoulder blades wishing for the fall because I knew I was getting that feeling you know when you’re about to cut out,” Walls said of turning Newsom. “I was hoping for the fall but knew I wasn’t going to get it.”
Platte County went just 3-6 overall in its place matches, and the survivors for state were all guaranteed their spots after semifinal wins. That included three juniors with state experience and the Pirates’ two standout freshmen.
Hulett (33-6) competed in one of the deepest brackets and opened with a pin as time expired in the first period against Grandview freshman Michael Wilson (22-23). In the semifinals, Hulett found himself in a familiar 2-0 hole early but came back to pin Belton’s Jaden Lambert (25-10) 45 seconds into the second period.
In the 106 title match, Hulett gave up the initial takedown to Grain Valley freshman Gavin Parks (33-2) marking the third time in his past four postseason matchups but did not recover this time. Parks won the sectional title with a 4-1 decision.
“(Caden) wrestled really well today. Even that last match, that kid has been pinning everybody,” Burress said. “We were in it. We were in a scramble and gave up a takedown in the first period. If we can kind of turn that around, we did a great job riding him out. Caden will make a few adjustments and be ready to go.”
Rocha faced a familiar path to the 145 title to remain unbeaten. Now a three-time district champion and one-time sectional champion, he opened with a second-period pin to reach the semifinals where he faced off again with Smithville junior Ethan Muir (17-6).
Dominant start to finish, Rocha recorded two first period takedowns and then scored 13 near fall points to come up with a 17-1 technical fall in just 3:18.
“I was actually having trouble being able to actually get him in a position where I had a chance to pin,” Rocha said. “I’m going to give it to him. He’s feisty on his feet. He can handfight. He has the shot. Once I got him down, I figured I would just use my strengths, my turns to get those backpoints.”
The 145 final pitted Rocha (38-0) against Kearney senior and three-time state medalist Garrett Deason for a third time this season in a rematch of the District 8 title match. Rocha has won all three by decision with scores of 3-1, but his winning takedown has come progressively earlier in the match.
This time around, Rocha locked up with Deason (25-6) near the edge of the mat in the first period, ducked down and completed a throw for two points. The official waved off any potential near-fall points to leave Rocha with a two-point lead that held up after an exchange of escapes in the final two periods the only other scoring.
“Everyone knows it’s hard to beat somebody three times,” Rocha said. “It just took me focusing on getting that takedown and working on what I needed to get to win that match.”
“It was just instinct. He was pushing in, and I had the over-under so I went for it,” Rocha added of the highlight-reel takedown.
A third-place district finisher as a freshman at 152, Keuhn (29-4) reached the sectional title match in this year’s equivalent tournament with pins in the quarterfinals and semifinals to lock up his second state trip. He earned a rematch with Belton sophomore Zach Attebury (39-4), who handed him one of the three losses on his ledger prior to Saturday.
Scoreless after the first period, Attebury took a 1-0 lead with an escape to start the second. Keuhn chose down for the third period but couldn’t get away in the final 2 minutes and lost 1-0 to finish as runnerup.
“If he gets a takedown, he doesn’t have to go down,” Burress said. “And he knows that. He got to his feet a couple of times, and he’s just got to keep working on that for the state tournament because he’s got to be able to get out in a crucial situation.”
Keuhn started a run of three straight finalists for Platte County.
Fernandez (29-2), who like Walls had a first round bye, reached the 182 final with a 9-3 decision over Fort Osage freshman Gavin Gallman (26-14), who he also beat in a District 8 semifinal. The championship was also a District 8 rematch with Fernandez up against William Chrisman senior and three-time state qualifier Mason Walters (36-8) again.
Much like the first meeting, Fernandez controlled the action and recorded three takedowns on the way to an 8-0 lead that became an 8-1 decision victory. He nearly turned Walters at one point for near-fall points, as well.
The margin of victory increased from the previous matchup two weeks earlier when Fernandez held on for a 5-3 decision.
“(Fernandez) works hard every single day at practice. He’s made great adjustments,” Burress said. “He trusts his offense more, and he can defend his freaking legs, too.”
After Walls closed with his victory, Platte County ended up advancing five of six District 8 champions to state. The only exception came at 138 pounds where junior Jared Parsons (27-9) went 1-2, losing a 5-4 decision to Grandview senior and eventual sectional champion LJ Davenport (41-5) in the semifinals.
Parsons dropped his wrestleback match to Belton sophomore Landon Littleton (15-6) in an 8-2 decision. The disappointment of going from a district champion and 2020 state qualifier to short of the third-place match showed the increased depth in Sectional 4 compared to District 4 a year ago.
“You put Fort Osage and Bolivar into this sectional now, it’s just made it that much tougher,” Burress said.
In addition to Parsons, Platte County sophomore Mar’Ques Brown (10-28), a first-year wrestler who placed fourth at 285 pounds in District 8, went 0-2, and freshman Brody Lueders (12-32) recorded one win by fall in a wrestle back at 126 pounds before bowing out short of the place matches. That meant 11 of 12 Pirates won at least one match, but no team points were kept for sectionals.
“Those two are getting better. Lueders and Mar’Quese in the last two weeks have come a long way,” Burress said. “If we can keep them on that path, they’ll be fine next year.”
Burge (23-15) finished his only season as a regular in the varsity lineup one win shy of a state trip, thanks to this year’s postseason setup. He lost his semifinal to Kearney junior and two-time Class 3 state champion Eli Ashcroft (33-3) before advancing to the third-place match in unusual fashion with Fort Osage freshman John Newton (19-11) unable to stop his nosebleed and running out of his allotted five minutes of time to tend to the situation.
That meant another matchup with Smithville senior and three-time state medalist JT O’Rourke (26-15), who caught Burge early and recorded a first period pin.
Similarly, McDaniel (29-12) didn’t make it out of the first period of the 152 third-place match, caught and pinned by Fort Osage senior Jesse Newton in 1:37. Newton (29-7) also beat McDaniel at District 8.
McDaniel, a junior who cut weight to make room in the lineup for a senior teammate, came up one match short again. He didn’t reach the district third-place match as a sophomore, moved one step further this season but still didn’t reach state due to this year’s qualification limits.
In his semifinal, McDaniel scored the first two takedowns against Kearney senior Ben Locke (29-3) and led 4-2, intentionally avoiding the top and bottom positions. Locke received a free escape to start the second before getting a takedown and three near-fall to take the lead for good. McDaniel had an additional reversal late in the second period but immediately gave it right back, eventually dropping a 12-6 decision.
“I know deep down that most of those guys that got beat out today that if we wouldn’t have had to do this extra sectional tournament that those guys would be right along with me and Jaydon and the other three on the way to state,” Rocha said.
Like McDaniel, Lacina finished third at District 8 and knew he would need to outperform his seed in the 160 bracket to complete a unique path to a third straight state berth.
Lacina (22-9) lost his first-round match and then trailed 2-0 for a long portion of an opening wrestleback match with Raytown South junior Marek Redding (26-14). Lacina eventually tied it up 4-4 and took Redding to his back and pinned him in 4:13 to stay alive.
Still two wins from a state berth, Lacina repeated a win over Kearney senior Will Locke (14-17) in tiebreakers, this time getting a reversal in one of the periods and riding Locke out in the second to win a 3-1 decision similar to the result of their match two weeks earlier at districts. However, Lacina’s run ended with a 7-3 loss to Bolivar sophomore Trey Brewer (40-6) in the third-place match.
Lacina was looking to make state for a third time at a third weight but oddly going backward in weight each year. He finished fourth at districts as a sophomore (182) and junior (170) the past two seasons and then took on a difficult weight cut to find his spot in the lineup at 160.
“Drake sacrificed dearly for the team this year and so did Ben and they come up a little short here at this tournament,” Burress said.
Platte County’s final chance at a third-place finisher came at 220 with Schillinger (20-12) looking to bounceback from a fourth-place finish at District 8. The draw would be difficult.
After losing by fall to two-time Class 2 state runnerup Drayton Huchteman (38-1) in the first round, Schillinger needed three straight wins to finish third and go back to state. He received a bye and then avenged a district loss with a 3-2 decision over William Chrisman’s Nathan Campos (27-19) to set up a matchup with Smithville junior Mason Crim (21-14) in the place match.
Crim tilted Schillinger, who transferred to Platte County as a junior and wrestled just two seasons for the Pirates, to his back for two near-fall points in the second period — the difference in a 3-1 win that kept Schillinger from advancing.
“(Schillinger) did a good job of getting there,” Burress said. “There were three or four other quality guys in that bracket, and in this situation to not get through, it’s hard.”
Platte County did not have the most state qualifiers out of an extremely balanced Sectional 4 field but will still take high expectations to state. All teams will have lower numbers this season, and Rocha, Walls and Fernandez all receive first round byes, advancement points toward the team score and need just one win to guarantee a medal.
After finishing in an extremely uncharacteristic tie for 33rd last year, Platte County will have three wrestlers with previous wins at state along with two freshmen carrying high expectations. Of the Pirates’ other previous state qualifiers, only Parson had wins, coming up one shy of a medal as a sophomore. Lacina was 0-4 in his career, while Schillinger went two-and-out in 2020.
Rocha has the only previous medals, but Burress believes all five can push for one this year with hopes of returning to the top 10 of the Class 3 team standings and perhaps pushing for the first time since earning a team trophy with a third-place finish in 2018.
“We’ve got to have four or five people place, though. We can’t go down there and not get it done,” Burress said.