Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
CENTRAL POINT — Catching Roseburg proved to be a futile pursuit but North Medford and Crater waged a captivating back-and-forth battle on the wrestling mat Saturday in the District 4 Regional Championships at Crater High.
The two local teams took turns reeling each other in and were separated at one time by a half-point before the Black Tornado finally outdistanced the Comets in the championship finals to finish second at the eight-team tournament.
Three-time defending state champion Roseburg, which has won five of the last six Class 6A state titles, had no trouble repeating as the District 4 champ. The Indians advanced seven wrestlers into Saturday's finals — claiming four titles — and amassed 3961/2 points in qualifying 17 wrestlers for the Feb. 22-23 state tournament in Portland.
"That's a good number but now the trick's to win matches (at the state tourney)," said Roseburg's Steve Lander, who was named the regional coach of the year by his peers. "We've got to score points. It doesn't help us if you go and don't win a match."
Match victories were at a premium as the day wore on Saturday for North Medford and Crater. The Black Tornado entered Day 2 of the tournament with a 131/2-point lead on the Comets that only seemed to dwindle with each passing match.
Crater pulled within a half-point during the championship finals, only to have North Medford counter to preserve it's runner-up status by 61/2 points.
The Black Tornado finished with nine state qualifiers and 2831/2 points, while the Comets managed 10 state qualifiers and 277 points.
The top four finishers at each weight class qualified for state.
"I think North had a great tournament," said Crater head coach Greg Haga, whose team placed third for the second straight season. "Their kids wrestled well on the back side (of the bracket) and wrestled well on the front side and just did a great job. We missed a couple opportunities here and there, and missing a couple guys out of the lineup didn't help, but that's the hand you're dealt so you go out and do the best you can."
Thurston finished fourth with 1861/2 points, followed by Grants Pass (169), Sheldon (91), South Medford (76) and South Eugene (55).
North Medford head coach Nolan Harris knows a thing or two about competing at less than 100 percent. His team opened the season strong but injuries and illness took a toll midway through the campaign. This weekend, however, the Black Tornado showed what it's capable of when closer to full strength.
"To get everyone on the same page again is great," said Harris. "This is what we peak for and what we train for and to see them perform like that is exciting."
North Medford placed five wrestlers in the finals — two at 182 pounds — and secured three champions in seniors Austin Mitchell (106), Reid Shipley (170) and Kaden Johnson, who was a 7-6 winner in double overtime against sophomore teammate Trent Wilson.
After Mitchell secured a 10-2 major decision over South Eugene's Jacob Cytrynbaum to open the finals, Harris said he knew his team's hopes for holding onto second place were in Shipley's capable hands.
"I thought Austin wrestled really well and I knew when it came down to Reid Shipley we had it," said Harris. "I told him when he stepped out there that if you win we lock up the team race for second and that seemed to fire him up."
Shipley dominated his final for a 5-0 decision over Thurston's Braxton Arand, who appeared more interested in trying to keep Shipley at arm's length than challenging the top-ranked Tornado.
Johnson and Wilson played it equally close to the vest early in their matchup but the action heated up in the final two rounds to send the match into overtime tied at 5-all. Neither wrestler managed to score in the one-minute first overtime. In the second overtime, Johnson scored a reversal in his 30 seconds from the down position and Wilson could only manage an escape during his 30 seconds in the same role for a 7-6 outcome.
"They wrestled last year and it wasn't too exciting so I was happy to see them go after each other," said Harris. In the 2012 third-place final at 182, Wilson edged Johnson 5-3.
Among the nine Black Tornado wrestlers to make state were runner-up Wyatt Westfall (152), third-place finishers Henry Cox (106), Cole Hornbrook (132) and Jacob Kasper (220) and fourth-place qualifier Avion Maloney (285).
With defending state champion Morgan Walters, 2012 state runner-up Kody Gray and senior standout Tyler Montague sidelined by injury, the Comets were without some potent firepower, but Haga was pleased.
"I'm real pleased with the group we have," said the Crater coach. "The telltale sign is we only have three seniors going, so of the 10, seven are underclassmen. Coming into this year with 12 possible seniors, I didn't think that would be the case, but our young kids wrestled hard and beat some people that have beaten them. I'm real proud of our guys."
Nate Walters (132), Dillon Ulrey (138) and Chase Mackey (160) each were regional champions, with Tyler Thomas (120), Tommy Winningham (138) and Jarrett Baker (220) settling for second.
Thomas, Winningham and Baker lost by a combined five points, while Walters scored a 7-5 overtime victory and Mackey dominated for an 8-3 decision in the finals.