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Tornado's Peden suffers setback in 6A semis

PORTLAND — For North Medford's Kade Peden, the journey to Friday night's semifinals at the Class 6A wrestling state tournament far outweighed his ultimate outcome.

The 171-pound junior was one of only 10 Rogue Valley standouts to make it into the semis at the 6A or 5A levels, and unfortunately suffered a fate similar to most of his peers with a loss during the featured matches here at the Memorial Coliseum.

But none of that truly mattered as Peden gathered up his gear shortly after being pinned by top-seeded Butch Whitaker of Redmond.

"I'm never satisfied with losing to a kid, especially by a pin, but I didn't see myself ever being in this position," said Peden. "I had a horrible freshman season and my sophomore year was so bad I almost quit. I still went to state last year, but I was two-and-out. This year, though, has been all positive."

And quite a journey.

Peden, who is the only North Medford wrestler still in contention at state, began his junior year in Texas. But after a couple months there, he quickly came to realize he missed the comforts of the Rogue Valley: the friends he'd left behind and the football coaches who offered him so much support.

The one thing Peden wasn't willing to miss was a wrestling season, and that would have happened had he remained in Texas since his school didn't offer the sport.

"I needed to wrestle," he said. "It was just burning inside me."

After some family discussion, it was decided that Peden would return to the Rogue Valley to live with his mother — and he hasn't looked back since.

"It just kinda came down to how many things I love are in one place and how many things I love are in another place," said Peden, 16. "And there's more here."

The district champion already had three wins under his belt prior to matching up with Whitaker, but the Redmond senior was simply overpowering Friday night.

"Whitaker is a really tough kid," said first-year North Medford coach Nolan Harris. "He's going to be wrestling next year in college somewhere for sure. I thought we competed well, there were just a couple things that he just had us on."

It was that kind of night for most from the Rogue Valley, with only Brock Gutches of Crater (145) and Robby Mannenbach of Eagle Point (171) advancing to tonight's 5A state finals and Nick Shoesmith of Grants Pass (189) advancing to the 6A finals.

"We've kinda made our own bed," said Crater coach Greg Haga of his team's up-and-down performance in Portland. "It looks like we're going to be battling it out with Eagle Point to try to get a fourth-place trophy."

"The bottom line is we just have to go out and do what we can (today)," added Haga, whose team is vying for its 11th straight state trophy. "If we wrestle the best we can and do a good job, we get fourth. If not, we'll be missing out."

The Eagles, who finished runner-up to Crater at last week's district tourney, head into today's final rounds in fourth place with 89.5 points. Crater is tied with Corvallis in fifth place with 84 points.

Both EP and Crater will have six wrestlers vying for placing points in this morning's rounds, with one wrestler apiece on the big stage tonight.

"It's exciting ... we want it," said EP coach Kacey McNulty of the fourth and final 5A trophy, "but now we have to go out and earn it. It's important that they come back and place as high as they can because we're in a race with Crater right now. It's going to come down to what we do in the backdoor."

Today's consolation placing rounds begin at 10 a.m., with the championship finals set to start at 6:30 p.m.

Hillsboro enters today's action atop the 5A standings with 131 points, followed by Hermiston (123.5) and Crook County (118). The Comets and Eagles are too far back to knock one of those three out of trophy contention.

No team's standing is more secure than Roseburg at the 6A level. The defending state champions are close to being able to take a team picture at tonight's finals, with six of its 10 semifinalists advancing. Roseburg still has 13 wrestlers in contention overall and has amassed 218.5 points to easily outdistance second-place Newberg (132) and sew up another title for coach Steve Lander.

"It's been a pretty good two days," Lander deadpanned.

That understatement could've been used by Peden, too, for that matter.

"My goal coming into this tournament was third place," said Peden. "I thought it was a really high goal, but now it looks like I'm getting there and it's pretty realistic for me, so I'm going after it."

Harris said the key to Peden's success at this year's state tournament has been his ability to open up and use his instincts more than over-thinking his actions on the mat. The experience he gained last year — albeit a short one — has also paid off this time around.

"It just goes to show how important it is to get here early," said Harris. "Kade's my one returner and he was a little less timid and a little less intimidated by the atmosphere."

"Kade's done a great job of leading the team, and he's such a talented wrestler," added the coach. "I think it's important for his teammates to see him have success like this."

North Medford lost the bulk of its seven state qualifiers by early Friday morning. Besides Peden's loss in the finals, the Black Tornado suffered another tough loss Friday afternoon when Ryan Mahoney (145) fell one win shy of becoming a state placer when he dropped an 8-4 decision to Tigard's Jake Harbolt.

None of South Medford's five qualifiers advanced to the final day. Steven Lines (119) and Ken Hyland (152) came the closest, falling one win shy of today's placing rounds.

Other local wrestlers still in contention at the 6A level are Justin Eldred (125), Mike Cowell (135) and Eric Stewart (140).

Crater also advanced senior Brent Espinosa (119), senior Zach Young (171) and junior Brandon Hesse (285) into the semifinals, but none could duplicate Gutches' winning ways. The 145-pound junior will be making his third straight trip to the state finals after mowing down Glencoe's Nathan Mosier for a fall in 1:58.

"I think he just needs to stay aggressive like he was in the semis," Haga said of the secret to Gutches earning his first 5A title. "He was shooting right off the bat to get the ball rolling, and that's what he needs to do (tonight)."

Crater also moved three wrestlers through the consolation bracket in Skyler Prislac (103), Ken Fahndrich (160) and Darrio Mobley (189), but suffered tough losses at 103 in district champion Mike Macuk and at 189, where a disputed call during a 2-1 overtime loss in the quarterfinals to Jordan Hewitt of The Dalles Wahtonka helped bring an end to Logan Brooks' run at state.

The Eagles, meanwhile, suffered a pair of semifinal losses when senior Matt Wilson (135) and sophomore Steven Josephson (160) came up short. They'll be joined in today's consolation bracket by Kevin Leonardo (125), Brady Holland (140), Tony Pinedo (152) and Scott Leonardo (152).

Mannenbach dominated Century's Anthony Juliano at 171 for a 6-1 win to set up the senior's chance at his first state title.

Eagle Point suffered a tough break when sophomore Blake Platt was leading in his 135-pound consolation match against Will Winkler of Cleveland but suffered a shoulder injury and had to default the match. Platt, who finished fourth at state last year, needed a win in that match to advance into today's placing rounds.

Also falling one win shy of the placing rounds were Crater's Nick Ferris (130), Zach Baldridge (145) and Tripp Thompson; Eagle Point's Ben Zomerdyk (112), Trenton Kaiser (119) and Josh Winter (145); and Ashland's Julian Ewald (189).

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com