It was a marquee matchup that was going to determine the seedings for the Class 4 160-pound bracket in the state wrestling tournament.
A lot was on the line, and the ending of Saturday’s Class 4 District 4 tournament came down to the wire.
Blue Springs senior Bret Heil (160) was trailing 7-4 and had 15 seconds to figure out how to make a comeback. He found a way when he caught Liberty’s Greyden Penner in a throw and got his shoulders close enough to the mat for a 3-point near fall as he claimed a 9-7 decision at Staley High School.
That netted Heil an individual district title for the second year in the row and he joined his teammate Zach Hazen (195) as a No. 1 seed for the Missouri State High School Wrestling Championships starting Thursday at Mizzou Arena in Columbia.
“I was just thinking that I had to do something big,” said Heil, who also handed Penner his only loss during the regular season. “So I might as well try it and I did. I just got an underhook and threw him.
“I am confident in myself. I knew I could do it.”
Five others joined those two as state qualifiers for the Wildcats, including Korbin Shepherd (106), who took second; Jett Merlo (145), who finished third; and Ray Horton (152), DeAndre Thomas (126) and Jason Gross (113), who each took fourth.
“There were a couple of other guys that I thought we had an outside chance of getting in,” Blue Springs head coach Bobbe Lowe said. “I felt like we were where we needed to be. Every guy went out and competed and we have some new faces going down to the state tournament.”
Blue Springs finished third as a team with 143 points, Staley was second with 241.5 and Park Hill was first with 243. Fort Osage took fifth with 82 points, Blue Springs South was seventh with 73 and Truman was ninth with 55.
Other local qualifiers included Fort Osage’s Roman Tinoco (138, fourth), Ikani Tuiono (285, third), AJ Sanchez (132, second) and Lee Rodriguez (145, second); Blue Springs South’s Brady Childers (182, third) and Jastin Robertson (113, third); and Truman’s Jeff Molt (195, third) and Jim Molt (220, third).
The Wildcats qualified just one fewer wrestler than it did last year and has a handful of athletes who are ranked in the top six of their weight class in the state and have a good chance of winning a state individual title.
One of those is Hazen, who knocked off Park Hill’s Ashton Sharp in a 5-4 decision in the final. He led for most of the match before Sharp tied it at 4 with a third-period takedown. Sharp elected to release Hazen, giving the senior Wildcat a 5-4 edge with the escape. There were a couple of close calls for Hazen as he was nearly taken down twice in the waning moments. But he managed to stay on his feet to hang on.
“I just kept circling and tried not to get taken down,” Hazen said. “I also looked for some shots here and there. (Wrestling at 220 most of the year) helped me overcome what I was looking for. It also helped me heal up my shoulder because I hurt that last year.”
Lowe wasn’t too surprised that Hazen and Heil were the ones who came away with district championships.
“Those kids are probably the most consistent we have,” Lowe said. “They work hard and come a long way, learning how to be disciplined and be coachable. Good things happen to guys who wrestle hard. And those guys did.”
Three who came close to a district title were Shepherd, Sanchez and Rodriguez. Blue Springs’ Shepherd, who only had three losses coming in, fell to the undefeated No. 1 state-ranked Jeremiah Reno of Liberty 7-2. Shepherd said he knows there is work to be done if he’s going to win a state title.
“I know I have things I need to improve on before state,” said Shepherd, a freshman. “Hopefully I see him again in the finals.”
Sanchez felt the same way about himself as he fell to the lightning quick Austin Kolvek of Park Hill 12-1.
“I think my day went well, but I need to get better on my feet to beat the best like Kolvek,” Sanchez said.
Rodriguez, on the other hand, was ecstatic that he made his first state tournament after falling in the bubble match at districts the previous two years.
“I saw myself winning these matches,” Rodriguez said. “I planned my semifinal match in my head the night before and today before my match. In the first period, I told myself I was going to take him down and ride him out. Then I was going to get a bottom escape and get another takedown. And that’s what happened. Now, I have to go down to state and do something.”
For Indians head coach Brandon Wackerman, he’s pleased to be sending four to state. However, one of his guys, Tinoco, suffered a shoulder injury in his bubble match against Park Hill’s Grayston DiBlasi, who was disqualified for an illegal throw.
“It’s good that we’re sending four kids through,” Wackerman said. “None of them qualified last year and not all of them even made the district bubble match last year.
“We’re going to evaluate and see where (Tinoco’s shoulder) is at. We’re not doctors, but we have to be on the safe side with that. You hate to see a match end that way for either kid.”
For South, Childers gets to return to state for the first time since 2016 as he pinned Truman’s Chase Schroeder, who eliminated Childers in the bubble match last year.
“The past couple of times he’s beaten me in folkstyle,” said Childers, who topped Park Hill South’s Cameron Gillespie for third place. “It felt good to beat him this time around. I didn’t realize how fast it was all going. My body was just going on adrenaline (in the bubble match).”