DES MOINES, Iowa — Agonizingly close to its fifth national title Saturday, the Southern Oregon wrestling team had to settle for second place after a final-match pin by heavyweight Eric Thompson clinched the NAIA team title for Grand View at the Jacobson Exhibition Center.
The Raiders and Vikings were tied at 153-all heading into the final championship bout, which pitted Thompson, ranked No. 2, against top-ranked Brandon Gebhardt of Baker. Thompson lost to Gebhardt earlier this season, but came through in the one that counted. He pinned Gebhardt in 2 minutes flat, giving No. 1 Grand View its second straight team title with 159 points.
"That's why you can't let other people do your work," said SOU head coach Mike Ritchey, who was named the NAIA Coach of the Year.
Southern Oregon has now placed second at nationals four out of the last five years.
The Raiders trailed 93-83 heading into the final day but nearly pulled off the comeback thanks to a perfect 4-for-4 day by its semifinalists: Mitchell Lofstedt (125), Prescott Garner (133), Jimmy Eggemeyer (149) and Brock Gutches (174). All four came through in the semifinals then won their championship bouts as well, with Gutches' 5-2 decision over Jose Alvarez knotting SOU and Grand View atop the team standings.
That made the 285-pound championship match the one that would decide whether or not Grand View would have to share its national title. It didn't.
"It definitely kind of deflates you," Ritchey said, "but then you look around and you have four national champions, and it's hard to feel bad about that. Just the initial shock hurt, but you know, that's life and we move on and it's back to the drawing board."
Lofstedt, ranked No. 1 all season, provided an appropriate finishing touch on what Ritchey declared the greatest wrestling career in the history of the program, pinning fourth-ranked Bryan Lazaro of Dickinson State in the 125-pound final. The dominant senior locked up his third national title and second in row in 2 minutes, 31 seconds. It was his fifth pin in five matches at nationals.
After the slaughter, Lofstedt, who finished the season 37-1 with 27 pins, was named the Outstanding Wrestler of the Tournament for the second year in a row.
"He's the best (SOU wrestler) ever, I'll say it now," Ritchey said of Lofstedt. "It's no disrespect to any past wrestlers, but he set a bar that's pretty high and it'll take a lot for somebody to reach that bar."
The top-ranked Garner, a sophomore, earned a quick pin in his semifinal bout then dominated Cameron Neiss of MSU-Northern — and avenged a loss in the regional final two weeks ago — in the 133-pound final, earning a 16-7 major decision.
After falling in the final last season, Eggemeyer, ranked second, edged third-ranked Isaiah Tatum of Grand View, 3-2, in the 149-pound title bout. Eggemeyer, a senior, began the day with a 15-6 major decision win over Chase Burns of Great Falls.
Gutches, ranked No. 1, then kept the Raiders' team title hopes alive with a 5-2 victory over Jose Alvarez of Wayland Baptist in the 174 championship. Earlier in the day, Gutches pinned his semifinal opponent, Grand View's Thomas Moman, ranked No. 3, in 2:39.
Ritchey credited SOU's four semifinalists with doing everything they could to keep the Raiders within striking distance of Grand View.
"It was a heck of an effort," he said. "We got bonus points in the semis and bonus points in the finals. That's what kept us in the hunt. It was fun. Sometimes, you just come up a little short, but we were just battling."
Along with Southern Oregon's four individual champions, five other Raiders earned All-American honors. Third-ranked Taylor Johnson concluded the weekend with five pins and a 5-2 record, including a 1:43 pin in the fifth-place match.
Ninth-ranked Miguel Baltazar finished 4-2 at nationals to place sixth in the 133-pound bracket after dropping a major decision in the fifth-place match.
Derek Mestrovich earned a 3-1 victory to claim seventh at 165, and Jacob Abrams won the seventh-place match in the 184-pound bracket. Dalton Urrutia dropped a 9-2 decision in the 157-pound seventh-place match to finish eighth.
"That's what it's all about," Ritchey said of the dramatic finish. "Those guys performed well and I'm very proud of their effort and proud of all the kids. It was a team effort.
"That's just the way it goes sometimes. It wasn't our day, although we wrestled like champions."
TEAM SCORES — Grand View 159, Southern Oregon 153, MSU-Northern 104, Dickinson State 84.5, Lindsey Wilson 78.5, Campbellsville 69, Great Falls 67, Missouri Valley College 59, Midland 44.5, Menlo 41.5, Simpson 35, Morningside College 34.5, Oklahoma City 32.5, Cumberland 31.5, Baker 31, Indiana Tech 24.5, Wayland Baptist 24.5, York College 22, Missouri Baptist 20.5, Dakota Wesleyan 18, Life 15, William Penn 13.5, Hastings College 13, Bethany 12.5, University of the Cumberlands 11.5, Benedictine 8.5, Waldorf College 8.5, Calumet 7.5, Embry Riddle 6, Jamestown College 5.5, Briar Cliff 2.5, Brewton-Parker College 1, Hannibal-LaGrange 1.