Call it a catfight, a dogfight, whatever you wish. But the Neosho Wildcats and Kearney Bulldogs are in a fierce battle for the Class 3 title at the MSHSAA Class 3 State Wrestling Championships today at Mizzou Arena.
At the conclusion of Friday’s semifinals, the Wildcats trail the Bulldogs 118.5-116, this after the Wildcats led nearly the entire tournament. Or, at least until the semifinals arrived.
With a whopping seven wrestlers seeing action in the semi’s, the Wildcats were able to advance only two of them -- Nate Rodriguez and Christian Lopez -- to today’s finals. The other six -- Dakota McGarrah won a consolation match to advance -- will be vital to the Wildcat’s bid for the title if they can manage to place on Saturday.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, fared a little better in their semifinal matches, as they’ll send four wrestlers to the finals in Jared Singh (113 pounds), Blake Clevenger (132), Kevin Kinney (138) and Grant Leeth (145).
While every match is a big one at this point, if the Wildcats are to indeed win the title today, you can point back to Friday’s 220-pound semifinal match between Christian Lopez and Jarad Sheppard as being perhaps the key match of the tournament for the Wildcats. Facing the undefeated and state-ranked No. 1 Sheppard, Lopez, himself ranked No. 3, gutted out a breathtaking sudden victory in overtime when he scored a fall of the Hillsboro wrestler and completed the 3-1 upset.
“That was huge,” Wildcats coach Jeremy Phillips said.
The win pushes Lopez into the title match where he’ll face a very familiar foe in McDonald County’s Jordan Moffett, who advanced himself in thrilling fashion with a 3-2 decision over Kyle Muehring (Hannibal). Moffett brings a 48-1 record into the match. His only loss? Well, it came to Lopez in the Class 3 District 3 title match last week in Willard.
There’s plenty of history between Lopez and Moffett. Saturday will mark their fifth time doing battle this season. So far Moffett is 3-1. The Wildcats, meanwhile, will be relying on Lopez to pull it off again.
“We’ve got to stay focused,” Phillips said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re wrestling not just for ourselves, but for the team.”
Rodriguez (54-1) had a much easier road to the 132-pound title match. He won all three of his matches by way of pin, with stops in 48 and 34 seconds before polishing off Jeff Miller (Pacific) in 1:24 in the semifinals. Other semifinalists for the Wildcats who will look to bounce back in consolation matches are Kyler Rea (106), River Buttram (120), Kyle Hostetter (145), Sam Williams (152), and Aaron Clardy (285).
Dakota McGarrah (126) also advanced to the consolation bracket for the Wildcats after winning his third-round consolation match on Friday. He’ll join seven other Wildcats on the mat today. Two Wildcats, meanwhile, saw their tournament come to a close as John Williams (113) and Jacob Brock (182) both lost on Friday.
Page 2 of 2 - “It’s a three day tournament,” Phillips said. “We’ve got to come back and win tomorrow, look for bonus points and stay hungry. I told them it wasn’t a matter of if adversity hit, but when. Now we’ve got to bounce back. There’s not going to be any give-me’s.”