Bobbe Lowe's return to Oak Grove High School was a successful one for his new team.
The Panthers’ former coach guided Blue Springs to the team title of the Panther Classic on Saturday.
The story for him wasn't the longtime coach returning to his old stomping ground, it was the success of the Wildcats in the final tuneup before the district tournament, which starts Friday.
“I'm pretty happy how they wrestled,” Lowe said of his Wildcats. “They wrestled really hard. Every kid competed and did what we have been really focusing on the past month. It is not something to peak for, but a good fine-tuning to see where are at before districts.
“I think this helps keep them on a routine. It is a real good tournament with different classes. You aren't seeing kids from your class, but you are still tough Class 3 and Class 2 wrestlers. It is nice to have a little change and tough competition against you.”
Six Wildcats reached the finals and the team racked up 197 points to top a field that included some of the best teams in Class 2 and 3. Smithville, the No. 2-ranked team in Class 3 and 2016 Class 2 champion, was second with 187.5 points. Monett was third, while Oak Grove was fourth – both teams that brought home trophies at state last year.
Blue Springs went 4-2 in title matches and Ray Paniagua brought home his first tournament title.
Paniagua drew DeSoto's Lucas Watson in the 170-poud finals and had defeated him by a 19-9 major decision earlier in the day.
Watson went up 4-0 on a takedown and near fall in the second period and led 4-1 going into the final two minutes.
“He got off to a slow start,” Lowe said of Paniagua. “I think he let the match get into that guy's mode and he had to wrestle back. We talk a lot about not putting yourself in a hole and continue to wrestle hard. Good things happen to those who wrestle hard.”
Paniagua forged a 4-4tie but fell behind 5-4 after giving up an escape. With 14 seconds left, Paniagua got a reversal to take the lead, but drew a stalling call with 4 seconds left. Tied at 6, the match went to overtime.
“I've been really, really tired at practice and to me it was just another 30 seconds to go,” Paniagua said. “It was real exciting. I'm happy … I can go eat now.”
Korbin Shepherd (106), Jett Merlo (138) and Brett Heil (160) also won titles for Blue Springs.
The 106 title match featured two top-ranked wrestlers with Shepherd, No. 1 in Class 4, pinning Monett's Joseph Semerad, No. 1 in Class 2.
Merlo picked up four wins, three of which came against state-ranked foes. He topped Monett's Gunnar Bradley twice, the last on a pin in 51 seconds in the finals against the Class 2 state runner-up. He pinned him in the third period in their earlier matchup. Merlo also picked up a 4-2 decision against Smithville's Mitchell Bohlken, ranked No. 3 in Class 3.
“It is awesome,” Merlo said of the team's success. “This is the first time this has happened. It is homecoming for Coach and it is a good feeling. He has helped us so much and we are working hard and getting to where we need to be.”
The tournament title is the second this year for Merlo, a three-time state qualifier who also won at Winnetonka.
Heil, ranked No. 3 in Class 4, pinned a pair of state-ranked foes on his way to the championship – beating DeSoto's Logan Zimmerman and Oak Grove's Noah Sears.
Heil held a 4-1 lead against Zimmerman, before getting the fall at 1:07.
Zach Hazen (195) and Ray Horton (152) were runners-up for Blue Springs.
Hazen won his first three matches but lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to Smithville's Brian Boyd in the final. The lone point came in the second period for the No. 2-ranked wrestler in Class 3.
Horton dropped a 6-1 decision to William Chrisman's Coltyn Weston, who went up 2-0 after the first period and was up 4-0 after two. Horton got an escape early in the third for his only point.
That was one of two championships for the Bears.
David Toese won the heavyweight title by pinning Fort Osage's Ikani Tuiono in 2:49. Scoreless after the first period, Toese had a near-fall to go up 3-0 in the second period, which led to the pin.
After which, Toese jumped up and screamed, while pumping his fist.
“I think the reason I am where I am is because I don't look forward,” said Toese. “I proved I was the best.”
The two foes met up three times this year, with Toese winning the past two. He won by a decision the previous weekend at the Liberty Tournament, which avenged a loss by a pin in the Independence City Championships earlier this season.
Fort Osage had three finalists and finished with four medalists. Josh Rieck (145) and Gavin Roller (220) also were runners-up.
Rieck lost by a pin to Smithville's Ryan Hampton, a fourth-place finisher at state, in the title match. Roller lost by a pin in 58 seconds to Oak Grove's Tyler Curd.
A.J. Sanchez (132) was third, ending with an 8-4 win against Blue Springs’ Daemon Hegarty. Sanchez lost 4-3 to eventual tournament champion Blake Ackerman, ranked No. 5 in Class 3.
The host Panthers had six medalists, but Curd – a defending state champion – was the only tourney champion.
Anthony Erickson and Tucker MacWilliam each took second, falling to state-ranked foes from Monett in the finals. Joel Martin (195) lost 2-1 in a tiebreaker against Chillicothe's Kayde Burton.
Keegan Scarborough (126) and Sears took third. Scarborough beat Blue Spring's DeAndre Thomas in the third-place match.