When Christian Lopez stepped on the Mizzou Arena floor just before 9 p.m. on Saturday night, he was a young man carrying a huge weight on his shoulders. A state title sat in the balance, not only for him personally, but for his team as well.
The roar of the crowd was deafening. His heart raced a bit. The sound from those clad in black and gold told him how real this moment was. He was ready to seize it, he told himself.
With his Neosho Wildcats trailing Kearney 152-148 entering the 220-pound championship at the MSHSAA State Wrestling Championships, Lopez stepped on the mat knowing he was the last line of defense, the final hope, so to speak, that the Wildcats had to claim the state title. They needed a win to share the state crown with the Bulldogs, a loss leaving both Lopez and the Wildcats short of their state title dreams.
Lopez stared not only into the eyes of those 100-plus fans in the stands, but also one of the best wrestlers the 220-pound weight class has to offer in McDonald County's Jordan Moffett.
But after being beaten by the big man three times this season, Lopez, still reeling from his win over Moffett in the district title match last week in Willard, scored an escape in the ultimate tie breaker in overtime and escaped Moffett, 3-2, to send himself and the Wildcats to a state title. Officially, the Wildcats are co-champs as both teams finished with 152 points.
That's the first time since 1978 that MSHSAA has awarded dual champions. It's also Neosho's third team title in four years.
"The feeling was great," Lopez said. "I haven't felt a feeling like that in a very long time. Moffett is a very, very good wrestler. He's one of the toughest wrestlers I've ever wrestled. It's just amazing."
That's an understatement.
Moffett closed his prep career at 45-2, with both losses coming against Lopez.
It was an amazing finish to an amazing tournament for the Wildcats. Every match proved to be vital, but their prospects at getting back to the pinnacle appeared to dim on Friday when some shocking upsets perhaps left them a bit more short-handed than they'd expected.
But those still remaining on Saturday wrestled their hearts out. Lost in the excitement of Lopez's match was the state championship claimed by fellow senior Nate Rodriguez, the third state title of his career and win No. 210 of his career -- a school record. Rodriguez also became the first four-time state finalist in Neosho history and the first three-time champion, according to coach Jeremy Phillips.
Rodriguez's win was magnified even greater in that it came over Blake Clevenger of Kearney, 6-3.
"I knew the kid was going to be coached up," Rodriguez said. "I just knew that first period was going to be a battle."
It was a special win for Rodriguez, who is leaving his Wildcat career on top.
"It's special for me because I remember how special it was for those seniors when we won it in the past. It puts it in perspective. It feels good. It feels amazing."
Phillips said he'd been getting plenty of well-wishes from NHS alumni and fans all week, and that his team wanted to win not only for themselves, but for those who came before them as well.
"I told several of our alumni that was wishing us well and luck on the way that our goal was not simply to win it, but just honor those wrestlers of the past, present and future," Phillips said. "Come up here and fight for what we believed in.
"We were hit hard day two, but you know what, we kept the faith and we kept moving forward," he added. "That says a lot about our character. We couldn't have done it without everybody believing."
At 106, Rea opened the final day with a victory over Antonio Escobar (Ladue Horton Watkins) by a 9-4 decision in the consolation semifinals.
He then moved on to the third place match where he was pitted against Shaun Beeman (Ft. Zumwalt North), who entered the match 39-5 overall. Rea opened the scoring with a reversal to make it 2-0 in the early going before grabbing another two points to go ahead 4-0 in the second period. A reversal by Beeman in the third period made it 4-2, but Rea managed to hang on in the final minute to pull out a 4-2 victory and claim third place.
Buttram had his hands full with Staley's Chris Allen in the third place match at 120 pounds. After a scoreless first period, Allen scored an escape in the second period to move in front 1-0. It would remain that way until Buttram made his move in the final two seconds of the second period and scored a reversal at the whistle to go ahead 2-1.
That would be all the momentum Buttram would need to claim the third place crown, as he scored an escape and reversal with three seconds left in the third to grab a 5-1 victory.
McGarrah came close to a fifth place finish, but ultimately came up short after fighting his way back from a 4-0 deficit in his match with Johnny Blankenship (Platte County) at 126 pounds.
Trailing 4-0 in the second, McGarrah got a reversal in the second and allowed an escape to make it 5-2. He later scored an escape and got a takedown to make it 5-5 late in the third. A reversal, however, made it 7-5 and he couldn't recover in time despite a late escape, and fell 7-6 to claim sixth place.
McGarrah got to the fifth place match in another dramatic finish in which he won a sudden victory over Joe Discalced (Kearney) with a takedown in overtime, 3-1.
After losing in the semifinals on Friday, Hostetter lost both matches against tough opponents on Saturday to claim sixth place.
Hostetter's first match came in the consolation semifinals where he was pinned by James Culp (46-10, Warrensburg), before moving on to the fifth place match against Collin Huitt (44-13, Farmington). The showdown between Baird and Hostetter was intense as an escape by Huitt with 45 seconds left in the second period broke a scoreless tie. It remained 1-0 into the third, until Huitt got position and pinned Hostetter in 3:14.
Very few wrestlers have had success against Carl Junction's Nick Koon this season, but Williams managed to dispatch him for just the seventh time this season with a 4-2 decision in the consolation semifinals in order to advance to the third place match against Spencer Baird (48-8, Washington).
In that match Williams got on the board first with a reversal to make it 2-0. Baird responded with an escape to make it 2-1 in the second period, before another reversal and escape in the same period gave Baird a 4-2 advantage. Williams never recovered in the match as Baird would go on to score two more reversals and hang on for an 8-6 victory.
Neosho's big man at 285 pounds, Clardy pinned Caleb Braun (Warrensburg) in 1:31 in the consolation semifinals, before moving on to Saturday's third-place showdown against Mitch Adams (Platte County).
Clardy controlled the entire match, scoring on an escape and a reversal in the second period to go ahead 3-0. He would allow an escape to Adams late in the second, but easily held on for a 3-1 win to claim third.